I read a lot. I read a lot of blogs, a lot of magazines, and a lot of books. I read a lot through social media too, especially Twitter. I read a lot of design blogs, news and contributor sites. Stuff like I Got Birds, Dark Roasted Blend, and Medium are on my daily radar sweep of the Internet. I read a lot about creativity, inspiration, tutorials, reviews, commentaries, and reflections. All of this reading exposes me to a ton of new ideas. I am particularly fond of reading about how artists, designers, photographers and writers got inspired to do what they love. It’s one of the most honest and personal subjects that someone can discuss and share with others.
I am a big fan of Austin Kleon. I bought his book Steal Like An Artist and read it front to cover on my train ride from Harrisburg to New York City. I had never heard of him before until I saw his book at Barnes and Noble. I didn’t know he was the newspaper blackout poems guy. I had seen those before but I guess I didn’t make the connection. Steal Like An Artist is a fantastic book for any creative of any ilk. It was one of those books that hit me in the right place, right time in my career. I was struggling with some inspiration in my life and in my work. It was a slow period for my studio and I took that time to focus on my design projects, but I was feeling empty. It sucked.
So I delved into the tubes of the Internet and learned more about Austin Kleon. I came across his talk at UX Week 2012. He started off his talk about a childhood hero of his named Winston Smith. Smith did the cover art for Green Day’s “Insomniac” album. When he talked about being a child in Ohio and being immersed in his passion for Green Day and this crazy art by Winston Smith, it resonated with me greatly. I too enjoy Green Day very much and grew up in a small town but my inspirations came from a very different source.
If you have read any of my older posts, you will come to find that my appreciation for Austin Kleon goes back pretty far. My previous posts mention another man who is influential in my life named Dave Stencler, my mentor in Philadelphia. While Austin’s book, twitter feed, and website helped reenergize me and Dave Stencler showed me the path of a designer, this post is dedicated to what actually inspired me to pursue creative work in the first place. Be warned, reading any further will certainly be nerdy for many of you.
Growing up in Mechancisburg, Pennsylvania is not the most exciting or stimulating place. I would play in the backyard with my sister, which would end up 9 times of out 10 just me annoying her immensely. When we weren’t outside playing, I’d be in my room either drawing or playing with my Lego bricks. I would draw up designs for castles; underwater bases, ships, submarines and robots than go and create them with my bricks. To honest, I was pretty horrible at drawing then but I was always fascinated by art. I tried emulating the styles of illustrations that I would see in National Geographic, from the dinosaur articles by James Gurney. It wasn’t until Dinotopia came out that a paradigm shift in my head happened. The blending of technology, science fiction and fantasy gave way to more interesting worlds in which to illustrate. Now I could take influences like Willow, Star Wars, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and Back to the Future and put them into the tumbler in my head and create interesting new amalgamations. The influences were there, but the real work that captivated didn’t happen until I read R.A. Salvatore’s book Homeland.
R.A. Salvatore was a huge influence on me as a 5th grader. He introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons. Salvatore’s character of Drizzt Do’Urden ignited my imagination. I promptly begged my parents to let me get the Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. After some convincing that I wouldn’t turn into a Satanist (Thanks to the media for making everyone who played an role-playing game into a psychopath) I poured over the manuals and fell in love with the works by Jeff Easely, Clyde Caldwell, Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson and my personal hero Gerald Brom. R.A. Salvatore created Drizzt Do’Urden, Brom made the character come to life in his painting Dark Elf. I was a rabid youngster whose imagination was always rampant with ideas, almost to the point of pain. Well, it wasn’t that my imagination was hurting me; that was actually due to migraines. As I read more and more and devoured more visual stimuli from the artists that fleshed out these worlds, the inevitable outcome of all of this was the creation of my world, replete with storylines and visual aids. From the age of 10, I have dreamed up monsters, gods, heroes, worlds and artifacts. Further inspiration drew from movies and television. Movies such as Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, The Flight of Dragons, The Hobbit (the Rankin and Bass animated version) and Star Wars fed the fantasy engine in my mind. At the same time, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess were a pop culture gem at the time I discovered my love for world mythology. This confluence of stimulus fed me in ways that helped me sharpen my focus and skills as I became the ever more discerning fan and critic of my work.
At the end of 2003, I am enrolled in classes at Harrisburg Area Community College in the Fine Arts program. I am now painting still life’s and hating life at the same time. While I did enjoy drawing and painting, the subject matter and aesthetic bored me. I took some time off, played in a band for several years then came back the world of art and design when I enrolled into Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia. After two years of wanting to become a famous illustrator, I switched paths and went the route of a designer. Do I regret it? No. I thoroughly enjoy my work. Design is a passion of mine. Now when I look at my Dungeons and Dragons books, I can appreciate the layout design, the font choice and marriage between art and copy. Do I still illustrate? Yep. Right now I am focusing on my product. A line of custom illustrated talking boards (think Ouija™ boards) that I’ll be putting up on Esty.com. I typically illustrate more for my own interests then commercial work, but if the chance to do some work for Wizards of the Coast ever came up, I wouldn’t shy away!
So the beginning of my work started firmly in the world of fantasy. On my bookshelf sits my cherish Doyald Young Typography book and next to that sits my copy of The Player’s Guide to Greyhawk. My O’Reilly Press books on CSS and Python are but up against my Complete Paladin’s Guide and Deities and Demigods. So if you even want to talk to about kobolds or the Deck of Many Things, please pull up a chair.