On influence, inspiration, and style.
I’ve been carrying this image around with me for some time now. Not literally… but in the back of my mind (and in the cloud). I can access this image — and any of the other clippings I’ve saved — on my phone, any time and anywhere. I’ll reference this library every so often when I’m looking for visual inspiration. This image has turned out to be pretty sticky, and I find myself returning to it repeatedly.
A couple weekends ago I sat down to draw some lettering. When I pulled up my clipping file, I settled on this image again. It seemed like a good chance to see if I could create my version of this composition from 1921 and maybe get it out of my head. So, I opened illustrator, turned on the document grid… but what came out is NOT the same as what I intended to make.
I started out with the idea of recreating and expanding on the letterforms from this composition, and what I ended up with was something else entirely. Of course it’s different, because what I did passed through my filter. Everything I’ve learned and experienced about design influences the work that I create.
This is the closest I’ve come to understanding the idea of style in graphic design. Often students have asked me about style: “How do you know what your style is?” My response has always been something about how your work should be in response to the brief at hand; that it should respond to the client and not your artificially imposed aesthetics. At Thirst, we call this “being one with the subject matter.” I think my response is a little different, but my answer to that question isn’t any easier. You only find your style by doing the work, and a lot of it. Over time you’ll discover that you respond to design briefs in a way that’s unique to you. If you are aware of this uniqueness, then you can refine it, developing your own style along the way.
It’s this “you filter” that makes your work original. When I began this lettering assignment, I intended to recreate something that had been done before. I intended to get into the creative space that Lajos Kassák was in when he drew this composition; to let his sense of composition seep a little bit into my work, and maybe find something new in the process. This mixing, this combination of inspiration, results in something new. Maybe not something wholly original that sprang forth from heaven in a jolt of creative inspiration, but something that recognizes the reality of our collective creative consciousness. Everything’s been done before, but not everything’s been done by you. When it passes through your filter, you change it. Then you put it back out there for the collective, and someone else does it and they add their voice. The important part is knowing your influences and being very aware of that gray space between inspiration and plagiarism.