by Matthew Stawicki
As an artist and illustrator, I watch the world around me for reference points for paintings or illustrations. There are many things that inspire me for many different reasons. Some things inspire me because of their look, others because of what they represent, and some because of a mood that they evoke.
One of my greatest influences is nature. When I can, I like to take photographs of trees and streams in my local area. Lots of details jump out at me; for example, the bark of a tree. The texture might be especially striking or the way the light is hitting it might be the element that draws me to it. But there is something usually specific that attracts my attention. I find that these are the things that I want to incorporate in a piece of art that will help lend it believability. Photographs also allow me to appreciate nature from far-off places. The scale or color of a huge snowswept mountain can provide a very dramatic setting for art of many subjects.
Determining the narrative of a reference and how it can inspire is more subjective, making it a little harder to narrow down. As an example I will refer back to the tree. If I were trying to create a forest scene that was dark or spooky, I would look for tree references that perhaps have unique twists and turns in them. The color of the bark might be dark and have a more ‘razor-like’ texture than the average maple tree, which could suggest some impending danger. Again the lighting is something that I also look at closely. It may be that the light or color suggests a night scene which can represent a hostile environment. Or maybe the colors help express a peaceful and placid environment. Some abstraction can also be applied: the tree, for example, might look like a big knife, giving off a vibe of violence that is relevant to the image.
The mood that a visual piece evokes is, for me, the most important characteristic it can possess. It is also something that is much harder to define and is also usually more personal—and one of the more difficult things to consistently achieve in a piece of art. Adjectives like scary, safe, bold or lush are just a few that might be used to describe a certain piece of art or photography. Many times these feelings are based on a personal experience or reaction to the image.
A painting I did quite a few years ago comes to mind. I did a cover for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The sea, and especially the alien world under it, is something that has always generated a little fear in me. I think that it’s the fear of not really knowing what’s down there, as well as not having much control over whatever is down there!
With that background, I went off to do my usual research. I found myself drawn to references of underwater shipwrecks and other things that seemed very ghostly and alien. The light is very different in the undersea world, which had a great effect on this piece. I think this was a result of what my impression of that world was. There are, of course, other elements in the art that reinforce this. I have divers gasping at the sight of a giant squid and excitement of buried treasure. When it all came together I was happy with the outcome. It definitely captures the feeling and mood I see for an underwater piece.
Objects of inspiration are all around us. Just keep your eyes open for things that catch your interest or evoke an emotional response. It works for me, and I hope it might inspire you!
About the Guest Author
Matt Stawicki graduated from the Pennsylvania School of Art and Design in 1991 and has created many images for a wide range of products and clients. In 2001 Matt won the Silver Award for Advertising in Spectrum 8. The first book of his work The Art of Matthew Stawicki was published by Cartouche Press. Matt’s work has also been showcased in The Masters of Dragonlance Art and Dragon Art published by Flame Tree Publishing. When not painting, Matt enjoys playing guitar and wood working. Matt currently resides in Delaware with his wife Cathy and their two dogs.