A Quick Insight into the Creative Process - Inspiration and Reference

I’m on a number of art groups on Facebook, many of which have new or part time artists who are learning their craft and discovering the creative process. What’s interesting is that it seems a lot of young artists think that creativity just happens, that us artists who get paid to art, just open up a sketch book and an image just magically erupts from our finger tips. I can say that I believe most artists don’t function like this. Yes, there are times when an idea seems to grab you by the shoulders and doesn’t let up until it’s done but most of the time it’s a process. We rarely open up a sketch book, look at the blank page and just start drawing. For me the creative idea has been brewing in the back of my mind for days if not weeks, slowly forming into something meaningful before I ever put pen to paper.

The Sketch


And when I do it generally looks something like this sketch. Super rough, with scribbled notes and ideas for colours. It’s a quick sketch to capture the bones of the idea, often a posture or rough composition. I don’t get precious about my sketch books, they often look awful but they make sense to me!

After the sketch stage I have what I refer to as the ‘Inspiration’ stage. That might be a case of looking at reference books I have, Art Of Movie books and the like, but more often than not, I go access my Pinterest hoard.

The Inspiration Stage

A lot of new artists worry (or don't worry enough!) about stealing from other artists, copying other art and or using them for reference as they build up their toolkit and their skills. 

I find, searching for inspiration specifically to be a bit like filling a bucket. I'll have a nugget of an idea - or sometimes a fully fledged idea and I use my inspiration folder to flesh out that idea and/or put a pin in something that I need to remember - creative thoughts can be so fleeting, and as a visual thinker, it's key for me to have some visual way points to remind myself when I'm in the thick of painting and detailing that I wanted to do something specific. Similarly if I'm jumping between projects or if there is a gap of time between working on it, it's good to flick through that folder and remind myself what the heck I was thinking.

These collections of images often have nothing to do with the end image and could look completely disparate to someone else looking at it but to me they make sense. They also go hand in hand with the initial, extremely loose sketch that is the foundation of all my work.

Here’s an example of one of my inspiration folders:


Here’s what I was thinking when I saw them:

Starting from top left:

1) Other than just loving this image in general, I grabbed this image purely because of the colour scheme which is similar to where I want to go with my piece.

2) Another colour scheme sample

3) Perhaps some badass colour bands on her wings

4) The door frame around the angel I would like to sculpt similar to this

5-8) Another colour scheme grab - I'm hunting for rich energetic colours, balanced by cool tones

9) This one will probably get cut, but I liked the decorative elements

10) Same as above - costume reference ideas

11) Composition idea - I wanted the circle of the archway to be flowing through across her body - this is to remind me of that

12) Costume detail ideas

13) I just love this guy's work - always an inspiration to me, his painterly strokes - Oh and the way his hair is moving in the wind... that's why I picked it...see I forgot already!

14) Light study

15) Pure inspiration because I love Susan Seddon Boulet

16) Light study for background

17) More costume and colour reference

The creation stage

Naturally, this is the most lengthy stage and there can be many bumps and side-tracks but hopefully you can see from this almost finished screenshot where that inspiration played a part.


This unfinished piece is part of the new Angel Oracle deck I am in the process of developing with Kyle Gray and Hay House UK. Be sure to keep an eye out for more announcements about this exciting project!