I didn’t always know I wanted to be a graphic designer. And honestly, I didn’t even really understand what one was until I was in college. One thing is for sure though, I’ve always had a strong interest in the visual.
Looking back, I remember things that I just LOVED the look of—a web comic, photography style, illustration, specific poster. I was totally captivated and inspired. These are the things I printed and covered my bedroom walls with, glued in notebooks and collaged my lockers with. I thought it would be interesting to delve back into my early art and design influence and re-examine the things that carried me into the world of design.
One of my earliest childhood memories of being captivated by design was flipping through the pages of a book of Polish Cyrk posters my parents had. I had no idea what graphic design was, but I could not stop looking at these images. I didn’t understand any of the words on the posters, but I didn’t need to. The ultra bright, garish colors and bold illustrations, some psychedelic, some more modern and minimal, communicated perfectly the events they were advertising. My parents didn’t remember why they even had the book and they let me cut out the posters I like best to add to my bedroom wall collage.
In middle school, my love and obsession with Tim Burton movies eventually led me to his illustration work. I bought a copy of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories, a book of bittersweet, dark and humorous poetry describing a variety of strange, hybrid outcast children. I loved the delicate and unfussy illustrations. They were slightly disturbing, but also sweet and earnest.
My love of the macabre also brought me to another illustrative inspiration, Edward Gorey. It all started with the Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabet book detailing the gruesome deaths of a band of unlucky children. (At one point my AIM screen name was GashlycrumbTiny7.) From there, I dove into his other work and was always delighted by his grim humor and ultra detailed, textured, illustration style.
The early internet days gave birth to some completely dumb and pointless stuff. And I loved it all. The early 2000s were the age of random and creators seemed to take the most unrelated, ridiculous things, animate them and absolutely slay us with bizarre and low brow humor. Before youtube, I spent hours watching Homestar Runner, Weebl’s, Ebaum’s world and other strange creations. We watched the same videos hundreds of times and it didn’t take much to bring us to tears of laughter. The executions were crude but I think these early computer graphics had to have some design influence on me wanting to design and illustrate through digital mediums.
Along with a lot of pointless and utterly uncomfortable dribble, the internet also cultivated some really beautiful and interesting web comics and art projects. One of my favorites was A Softer World. It was a weekly online comic strip featuring lo-fi photography overlaid with bittersweet and strange narratives. I looked forward to the new strip every single week. The dreamy photography, strange humor and melodramatic stories resonated deeply with my little angsty emo heart. Each one was it’s own micro story and I was blown away by how so much could be communicated by so little.
I found a lot of my early art loves wandering the aisles of my local Barnes and Noble. I was always on the hunt for something weird and wonderful. I loved pawing through the magazine racks filled with endless glossy publications. Juxtapoz instantly captured my heart.
The magazine featured urban alternative and underground contemporary art and I was always drawn to the bizarre imagery and striking colors within its pages. Camille Rose Garcia was one of the first artists I really gravitated too. Her sickly and slightly sweet color palettes, dripping shapes and layered compositions influenced my style even into my college years. Audrey Kawasaki, Jeff Soto, Gary Baseman and even BMSD president Becka’s favorite, Mark Ryden were other early loves.
Another early visual obsession of mine was lomography. As digital cameras took off, a growing number of artsy kids rebelled by taking to more analog mediums of photography. I bought a few cheap plastic toy cameras and joined the fun. I adored the unexpected results. Light leaks, double exposures, colored flashes and unplanned, unexpected compositions were the name of the game. I learned about letting go and not to try to control the outcome of the photograph. Sometimes I’d get a roll developed and everything was trash except for 1 or 2 stunning shots. What you got was what you got.
These two fisheyes are actually ones that I took.
It’s fun to look back at all the things that captured my eye and inspired me. All these things hold a place in my heart and I sometimes still think about them when I’m creating. Even though the design influence is subtle, I recognize these things as conductors that led me to a career in design.
Are you a designer or artist? If so, what was your biggest design influence? My thirst for cool inspiration has only grown with my work as a graphic designer. I’d love to hear and see what you’re into. Drop us a line in the comments to share.