How to find inspiration in the flood of information?

Life of an Artist – Blog 13

How to find inspiration in the flood of information?

What Gets Your Creative Juices Flowing?

As an artist we constantly need to feed our mighty river of creativity, so that it doesn’t dry out. Sometimes, however, that river can get clogged-up with gunk due to information overload. So how to find inspiration without getting overloaded?

Even though inspiration is all around us, it’s so easy to get bogged down in the sea of amazing art and start feeling discouraged. I experienced this recently as I’m starting to explore a new direction for my artwork. Too scared to start, I procrastinated by ‘doing research on instagram’. Not a good idea! It seemed to have dragged me into a bit of a creative block. My river was all clogged up. The little algorithm beavers had built a dam, which was not easy to break through.

Sometimes, whilst browsing through social media it feels like ‘what’s the point of making any more art, there’s already so much out there’. But it’s easy to forget that that’s only the digital reality of an artist. That’s what we’re most interested in, thus it gets presented to us on a shimmering platter. People who don’t follow lots of artists don’t see this version, they see whatever it is that they’re interested in. I try not to spend too much time scrolling through social media as it burns tiny holes into my mental health.

So where do I go to find inspiration?

What motivates you to pick up a paintbrush?

Have you ever looked at an artwork and felt the sudden and immediate urge to get to your desk or easel and test that medium, that colour combination, that effect or whatever it may have been that awakened your muse? That’s the kind of treasure you’re after!

When searching for inspiration, look for things that actually inspire rather than discourage. There’s so much artwork out there, so it’s a good idea not to waste too much time on artwork that doesn’t speak to you or artwork that is completely out of reach. Maybe it’s not the kind of art you aspire to create but it’s really popular so you may start thinking you need to create that kind of art. Maybe the artist has been practicing their skill for 60 years, and it just leaves you feeling inferior or demotivated. Don’t be disheartened, we’re all at different stages of our artistic journey.

Whenever I need an immediate motivational pick-me up, I spend time searching for artists, who are on a similar journey to me, just a few steps ahead. They may have an artistic voice that speaks to me, and I can try to figure out why it speaks to me. I also enjoy artists, who are just within reach of my artistic skill level, so I know with a bit of practice I can get there, too. That’s the spark that will light your fire.

It works for me anyway. Some artists just absolutely fascinate me and seeing their work silently urges me along on my own artistic journey. Sometimes it can be a video on Youtube, sometimes an illustration in a book from the library or a piece of art hanging in a museum. To be honest, often times museums and galleries inspire me to paint, because I see some of the art in there and think to myself “I could do that!” or even “I could do better than that!”

Here I’ve gathered a few artists that feed into my creative river and make it strong enough to break through the dam of the algorithm beavers, which tend to block my creativity. I feel like these artists are within my artistic realm, I can imagine them hanging out in the same metaphorical cafe as myself.

Let’s have a closer look, examining the art in terms of themes, technique, rendering, color palettes, compositions, line work and most importantly, why does it speak to me.

Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is by far one of my favourite illustrators, and has been since my tutor at University introduced me to his work back in 2009. His art is both whimsical and elegant. Funny, yet thought-provoking and the colours and detailed rendering really appeal to me.


His themes are surreal and playful, creating a beautiful juxtaposition between the ordinary world and the delightfully odd and emotional creatures he creates. He also addresses very real-life problems, like in his books Cicada or The Rabbits. Cicada is about a cicada, who lives a very boring and monotone life, working in an office cell. The monotony is further enhanced by the dull colours and repetitive words “tok tok tok” throughout the pages. Using the cute, little, bright green cicada as the protagonist is a great way to give this reality a twist and add a touch of comic relief.

The Rabbits is an incredible children’s book by James Marsden and Shaun Tan, addressing the terrible colonisation of Australia, by the British. The British are represented by militant rabbits, all of the images are incredibly stylised. It is so well done, it actually stirred me to tears the first time I read it.


According to an article I read about Shaun Tan’s techniques it states that,‘Tan starts his paintings with thin layers of acrylic over white lines on a dark background, working from dark to light and continuing with oil for the final rendering.’ 1 This is very insightful and often it is hard to figure out the technique of an artist, as they can be quite secretive. That’s why I find painting videos on Youtube very helpful, because you can watch how they achieve the effects that they do. I have been experimenting with the technique of starting off with an acrylic under-painting or background and then building on top of it with oils. It’s a fantastic way of creating contrast and texture.

Rendering, Colour Palettes:

He has a very polished finish to his artworks, with a lot of emphasis on fine details and painterly brushstrokes all through out, creating beautifully textured backgrounds and creatures. His colour palette tends to be fairly muted, utilising colour temperatures to express the ambiance of the situation. The colours are fairly limited, relying upon strong contrasts of values to draw attention to the focal points.

Composition, Line Work:

His compositions seem to often be based on the rule of thirds, and are quite traditionally structured, lending to a believable quality of these otherwise surreal and dreamlike scenes. His line work is organic and very delicate, blending the line between fine art and illustration perfectly. His use of large shapes against small shapes is very effective at creating interest and depth.

Why does it speak to me?

His beautiful images speak to me, because they invoke a dreamlike atmosphere, with a delightful wit about them. They are both imaginative and very well observed. His mastery of painting blurs the line between fine art and illustration, and the textures he creates makes me want to explore those mediums more, to achieve those kind of effects. His subjects speak to me, as I can relate to the situations and emotions of the characters. I love how he’s not afraid to address serious and relevant themes, but in a beautiful and artistic way that lightens the subject matter without detracting from it.

Mateo Dineen

With this artist’s work, I’m just going to sum up the things I like about Mateo Dineen’s art, instead of breaking it down into sections like above. It’s a good way of recognising what you are drawn to and what aspects you might want to incorporate and experiment with, within your own art.

I first noticed this artist in a little Bar/Cafe here in Dunedin, and was immediately drawn to his amazingly weird and playful characters and the interactions they have with each other. I admire his textured rendering of fur and grass with acrylic paints on wood and how he uses underlays of writing and text collaged on the wood before painting, to create interesting textures. The colours he uses are quite muted, which is what I’m trying to explore more within my work. I love his lovely pastelly pinks in combination with this fairly dull greyish-blue, which lifts the brighter colours.

A lot of his backgrounds are also tonally neutral and fairly flat, which makes a great contrast to the coloured, textured subjects, which therefore stand out better. But the thing that tickles my fancy the most is the lovingly goofy expressions on these giant fluffy monsters. I’m also intrigued with the concept of blurring the line between ugly and cute.

Lina Kusaite

Lina Kusaite is an incredible artist I discovered through Pinterest. I rather enjoy browsing different artists via Pinterest, as its quite good at recommending similar styles that might spark inspiration.

Lina’s work really spoke to me, as I adore the delicate and detailed line work, coupled with the organic flowing shapes she uses. It’s the kind of work where you can stare at it and keep discovering recognisable objects and characters tucked within the waves of the artwork.

As well as patterns she is very good at creating characters with relatable and captivating expressions, placed within surreal and dreamlike compositions.

She uses a vast array of different compositional devices, such as using bold black shapes against warm, subtle background colours, or balancing heavily detailed areas with sparse, empty spaces to create beautiful contrasts. I also enjoy the use of gold in the background of some of her works, due to the added texture and sheen it creates.

In Conclusion

To avoid copying an artist, it is a good idea to look at a variety of artists that inspire you, and take small elements from each of their work to inspire your art. There’s certainly a common theme in all of the artists work I have chosen here, which is the surreal aspect of all of these works. My artwork already draws from the surreal, which is probably what attracted me to the artists in general.

The elements I aspire to adopt within my work is more based on the colours and line work of the artists. Inspired by these artists, I’d like to experiment with different colour palettes, such as the pastel colour range and earthy tones. I’d also like to explore collaging different textures into the backgrounds of my artworks, as well as pursuing my love for characters. These artists show me that there is a place for painted characters in the world of art.

Here’s an example of work I did inspired by the artists without copying them. I used the collaging technique for the building and added texture and tried to keep my palette in earthy tones.

Happy Creating
With love from

Natalie xxx

‘Ye Olde Crustaceous Inn’ by Natalie J. Cheetham

What are your thoughts on this, where do you find your inspiration? Have you ever been bogged down by overwhelm and if so how do you overcome it? I’d love to here your thoughts on this in the comments below!

Instagram links to the Artist Pages:

Shaun Tan:
Mateo Dineen:
Lina Kusaite:

  1.,oil%20for%20the%20final%20rendering. ↩︎

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