Too close to my inspiration?



  • I have been making illustrations in very different styles during the last year or so. I constently change how I make images, because I feel like I have not find "IT" yet. I followed Lee's advice in his dream portfolio lecture, and it was a game changer for me. I have been looking at a lot of defferent artists and trying their styles out in my own images.

    But I often get insecure/uncertain when I use other artists solutions to solve the challenges in my own images. I know it is totally fine if I do it just for myself, but once I want to put an image into my portfolio, I feel like there is a fine line between stealing in a good way, and stealing in a bad way. I would like to get your opinion on this particular image: The image to the left is my illustration for Godzilla's challenger. The story is very differnt from my inspirational image, but my composition is very similar to John Klassen's image. I also borrowed texture/rendering techniques from Lee's image. Is this too close to my source of inspiration, if I use this image in my portfolio?

    compare to the inspiration.jpg


  • Moderator

    I wonder if there are some reflections you can ponder to help answer some of your questions.

    1. What is it about these specific inspirational images that help you achieve what you want that other inspirational images don't?

    2. What is it about the specific texture/rendering technique that is absolutely required for you to help tell your narrative?

    3. What is it about the inspiration's composition that helps tell your story, as opposed to a different composition?

    I agree that the inspirational images are lovely. But I wonder if there aren't also other inspirational images that might potentially also jump out as strongly communicating your narrative. Might it be a good exercise to contemplate and articulate exactly what the narrative is? That might help you tell your story without relying upon the assistance of the inspirational imagery so strongly. Sticking so close to the inspirations may be a choice, but I'm not sure it's as strong a choice as you might make. The final image is indeed gorgeous, but is it you who is telling your story, or are you inadvertently deferring to your inspirations to do the storytelling?

    Just some food for thought. 🙂

    FYI, there is a great book called Picture This by Molly Bang. It shows how shapes and colors and composition are used to help elicit emotion. She breaks down the story of Little Red Riding Hood into a simple image, and uses shapes and colors to communicate relationships and narrative. It could be a helpful resource for quandaries like this. We use it in our Fundamentals of Theatrical Design class I teach at my university. It's well worth reading, and might shape how you think about solutions to challenges like this.

    Here's a vid about the book, too.



  • @Coreyartus Hi Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Great questions, thank you. The book you mentioned looks really interesting.



  • Hello,
    You have produced such a beautiful piece of work there, and in my opinion I think it is strong enough to be your own unique style. Yes you have taken elements from Lee's example and John Klassens, but I think you've interpreted it in your own way by adding the wonderful texture and character.
    Yes your composition is similar so you can always tweak that a bit more but I think the two styles you have mixed together work really well and I think it's definitely a portfolio worthy piece 🙂
    I think I would make your character pop out a bit more though by increasing the saturation of his outfit or something as he doesn't jump out at me.



  • @hannahmccaffery thank you so much. I like the story of this piece, and would really like to develop it further to a portfolio piece. So crits and suggestions are more than welcome.

    I also felt there is something not quite right about the main character. My first attempt was to reduce the value of the tree, but I did not get the result I wanted. But I guess making the character pop a bit more is another way to go about. Will definitely try out.

    In terms of the composition, I think I will try to move the whole scene to an empty playgroud (slider, bench, etc instead of trees), but keep the lighting and long shadow. I think it will be more fitting to the story. Now I am getting excited to actually redo the image :-).


  • SVS OG

    What I see of the story is that two children are playing on a seesaw in the snow, and apparently they have had an argument, the girl has ripped up the teddy bear, and she's walking off. I guess my question would be, Why are they in the snow? Why is there a seesaw in the middle of the woods (or is it a backyard)? How long have a they been there for there not to be any other footprints than those of the girl walking away?

    In the case of Lee's image, I get that the treehouse looks well-lit and welcoming for the guest who is arriving (2 sets of tracks), and in Jon Klassen's, it's obviously a solitary nature scene with a fox and no humans at all. Your scene is unusual enough to make me curious as to what happened, but I need some more storytelling clues help me understand what's going on. My first thought is maybe to add a house in the background that the seesaw belongs to, but that's by no means the only option.

    The image itself is really lovely and I don't think there's a problem with borrowing ideas or techniques to put them together in a new way!


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    Hey, thanks for asking this question. It's is an interesting topic and I'd like to offer my thoughts. Many people end up with this question once they start doing the "dream portfolio" so it's an issue that needs to be discussed.

    There are 3 questions that I typically use to see if an image is too close to the source images. And that is:

    1. When people see the image, do they immediately think of the source image or artist?

    2. Is the inspiration from an artists overall body of work, or 1 specific image?

    3. Is the artist you chose as inspiration working in the same genre you are getting into?

    In this case, I think the answers to these are yes to all of them, so I probably think your image is too close. When Lisa (our svs admin. and my wife) saw the post she immediately thought of my tree house image. When I saw it, I thought of Jon's layout for this fox image.

    Both Jon and I work in children's books exclusively and it's fair to say that most of our publishers will be VERY familiar with the work we are doing. So in this case, I think it's probably too close to the inspiration for a portfolio image. This is a very subjective thing, but I would use those 3 questions each time to check your work as you guide yourself through building a portfolio.

    Now, that doesn't mean this is not a great image and I sure wouldn't abandon it. When I looked at it, I actually think the snow scene is not essential to this image. In fact, it brings in more questions that another setting could possibly solve. Your cute characters and the overall story is what is important here. So I would draw up another setting that makes more sense to these characters and what they are doing. In my piece, the snowy day at the tree house is essential to the image because that is what it's about. Having a snow day out in the woods. For jon's piece, I'd argue that it makes more sense too. So I think there is probably a more interesting thing to do with these characters and would get you away from the problem you are having. I see in your above response that you might move them to a playground or other setting and I think that sounds great!

    Use those 3 questions as your guide and you can't go wrong. Everyone is inspired by different artists. Everyone I know looks at other people's images and I totally recommend using that as a springboard to finding your style. That's why I made the video on how to do that. The snag comes when students start looking at just one or two artists and then focusing on one or two of their specific images, so the work starts to become too specific to that one artist.

    If you look at a wide variety of artists and then also look at their whole body of work to inform, then you start to avoid becoming too tied to that. When I look at an artist as inspiration, I make a list of the things they are doing. How are they treating value, how are they treating edges and shadow, what is the palette? I make notes about all this stuff and then I typically put their images away when I am making a new piece. I will refer back if I need to, but I try not to unless I'm just totally stuck. And if I do get stuck, I'll look to a lot of different artists to see how I might solve it. So in this case, I just think the source images were too limited so your image became a combo of Jon and I's images.

    Keep charging ahead. I'm a big fan of the work you are doing and can't wait to see what you come up with! : )



  • @xin-li Yes maybe reworking the story a little bit and adding more of playground scene as you say, will help to really make this piece your own, but I do really, really like your snowy atmosphere so maybe you could have a different story going on here and then use your characters for a different playground scene? It would be a shame to lose this piece as it's so beautiful!



  • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. And thank you @Lee-White for providing additonal guidences. It is really really helpful advice for me to grow and find my style.

    I felt both very happy and very clumcy when making this particular image. But the biggest learning for me with this image is that I think I find something I really like - focusing on design, and less on rendering. This is very valuable information for me. Very excited to find time to redo this piece.

    @LauraA My initial thoughts was to use the footstep as a solution to connect the girl and the broken teddy bear. But I see what you mean, the snow scene creates more questions.
    @hannahmccaffery I can defintely use a snow scene for something else later 🙂



  • Hi Xin,
    I enjoyed your ideas here! A minor point to make the footprints look different from your sources: people past toddler age tend to have tracks in closer to a single line, not two parallel lines. You could also try a lower and closer perspective, which might emphasize the story. The tracks and tree tilt/branches could be used to draw attention to the distant figure.
    I started a piece, but didn't feel inspired until the day before the deadline. I'll still finish it, as I've been too busy writing since Lee's class ended to get much else done. Like you, I'm still trying to "find my style."



  • @Laura-Brown wow. Very interesting observation on the footprints. Thank you for sharing.

    "Finding my style" used to be a big frustration for me, and I think Lee's class really changed my perspective, and reduced a lot of pain. I still worry about not having a consistant portfolio yet, and worry about how to present myself to portienal clients, etc. But at least, the process of exploring a new approch to image-making has just been fun and exciting after Lee's class. :-).
    Have fun with your writing project, and looking forward to see your piece.


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