It’s been a busy few months, peering solemnly out at the summer rain and working hard on projects I can’t yet talk about. There are new maps and storybooks and TV props all waiting to be revealed later in the year…In the meantime, the dim weather and hard work has got me thinking of travelling, the need to explore warmer, stranger places. Not only is the adventure good for the soul but good for creativity too…For example, I’ve always found Asia a strong gold seam of inspiration and a trip to Tokyo and Kyoto a few years ago deepened that interest. This post talks of how I used my experiences there to be creative and how it has influenced my work since.
Oh Tokyo! The small details of unfamiliar lives, the juxtaposition of urban neon with tiny red and gold shrines, the happy rubbing together of the electric present with the carefully tended, lantern-lit past…Sketchbooks lend themselves to such places and Japan was a rich inspirational source for drawing. Travel gives time for sketching, just sitting and looking, perhaps making connections with curious passersby. Of course, the marks you make are individual and uniquely show how you feel in that moment – something that photographs can’t replicate.
Without doubt, photography IS ubiquitous and travellers click away, almost mindlessly. I did take loads… (!) But apart from documenting a time and place, I wonder how often a ‘creative’ pursuit it actually is . However – when places are too dark or crowded, photos can be useful if sketching for a long time isn’t an option. I sometimes use them as a reference to fill in the gaps for a finished piece of work if my drawings aren’t helpful enough. This painting was a commissioned piece for a private client where the photo came in very useful.
My time in Japan was also spent wandering through historic temples and wondering at traditional prints in art galleries. I loved the prints especially – they came from all over Asia, from different cultures with different stories. The flat areas cleverly balanced with heavy decoration, the gently mounded hills and indigo patterned seas, the subtly gradiated skies… Travel also opens your eyes to the eyes of others and how they see the world in a different way to your own.
That gold seam of inspiration has stayed with me and I can mine it whenever I’m commissioned to illustrate Asian folkstories. These images below were created for Scholastic for a couple of Japanese and Chinese tales. I wanted to emulate those flat colours, areas of high decoration (often using origami paper as collage) and gradiated skies that I saw in the prints.
I will forever be grateful to Asia for allowing me to experience such a beautiful world. Travel really did encourage creativity – I walked and sketched, took photos and painted and learnt so much from the great oriental masters in a wealth of art galleries. Those drawings and photographs, those experiences in the art galleries are still useful and still inform my work today.
And now the sun has finally come out here in familiar England and I should get outdoors. Perhaps a small scale adventure will be as creatively inspiring as a grand oriental tour. You never know.