I am a huge fan of:
• Rogério Coelho because of his expressive shape language, textural drawing and rendering, and fantastical compositions
• Pamela Zagarenski because of her mystical/lyrical compositions and layered multimedia textures
• James Firnhaber for his wonderful use of light, his line quality, and his compositions
• Frederic Pillot for his everything
• Arch Apolar for his capacity to channel J.C. Leyendecker
• Johan Egerkrans for his mythic storytelling poster prints, his style, and how he is a working artist marketing his own stuff as much as he is a freelancer working for others.
I find more favorites every day.
But I should point out that at no other point in history are we, as artists and illustrators, exposed so easily and completely to the portfolios and bodies of work of so many other artists... Unlike just 25 years ago, most artists found other artists through books, libraries, periodicals, and museums. They might peruse several industry-oriented "collection volumes", but no one could pull out a phone and stream through the best works of an artist they just discovered 2 minutes ago. Multiply that times millions of artists both professional and amateur...
I have to wonder what that's doing to our internal understandings of how we're inspired, what we prefer, how we study those we like, what we learn from our inspirations, and how we then in turn create work that so many others can see so very easily and quickly and then move on... That hasn't ever happened before... On a smaller scale with advertising and periodicals, of course, but never on the scale and magnitude we can find in our own back pockets on our phones 24 hours a day.
Newer illustrators of today aren't developing in the same way they did a couple decades ago. They're experiencing a very different path that is sometimes hard for older artists and illustrators to fully comprehend.
For me, personally, I think it makes it harder to make choices. It feels harder to have clear favorites, and to emulate those favorites. And It affects my capacity to deeply contemplate those favorites because there's so much more to look at.
Food for thought.