Sunday, 15 September 2013

Work Stages (Design Inspiration 1)

A famous ancient proverb states: "There is nothing new under the sun." Any designer worth his salt will admit to this or he is just taking you for a ride. The best definition of design I have every encountered states that; design is merely the rearrangement of existing elements. I agree, nothing new under the sun but an infinity of possible rearrangements. One has two sides to design, contrived and inspired and neither is worse than the other, it boils down to function and personal enjoyment. Typically any designer will be artistic and pursue joy in exercising his skills and expressing his talent. When he is paid to do so it may be more contrived and functional and about making a client happy while in his spare time it will be for his own pleasure and might never be sold.

So what sources may a designer draw from in order to get inspiration or ideas for either a client job or for pleasure? The word inspiration literally means to be filled with a spirit, or to be stimulated to feel and do. There are several sources of inspiration.

Even your imagination cannot conceive from nothing. Just like a bank account cannot give you money if you don't first deposit but it can give you back what you've put in and can even give you interest. The biggest source and constant input into our minds is our daily surroundings and even if you live in a city, you are surrounded by air, dust, insects and the sky is over your head. Therefore nature must be our biggest source.

Nature has often inspired my work and I find it easiest to do as references are ready available in my head. Even a small child can recognizably draw a spider or the sun.

Viper drawn on A3 paper with ball point pen. 

Ring design rendered in colour pencil and pen inspired by a skull which counts as a nature reference.

The floral and vine motif surrounding this cameo can be said to be nature inspired. By the way, humans are "natural" and as such fall in the same category. 

Next up I would say our biggest influencer or inspiration source must be our upbringing. Every person has a reference from his personal demographic whilst growing up. For example a city slicker may be inspired by high rise buildings while a farm upbringing give you a penchant for nature. In this sphere religious, financial and social demographics also play a huge part. The political leanings of parent, whether they were strict or not and so forth shapes our database of references in our minds that will be available to a designer/artist when he does his work.

This logo concept I designed for myself as a monogram exemplifies my upbringing. My surname is Swanepoel and it clearly alludes to a swan. The crown links it with a European descent and still hints at imperialism and colonization as part of my history. The swan also looks like a letter "D" which stands for my name Daniel but shows my subtle artistic ability and finally the lightning bolts come from a Biblical reference that has deep personal meaning to me. 

I grew up wealthy and my grandfather's smart cars inspired me as a child and to this day gives me an eye for automotive design. I like Rolls Royce above all cars and enjoy drawing them. The picture above is in marker pen and ballpoint. 

As a young child I loved animated series on television and one of my favourite was the Three Musketeers. This inspired me to eventually do fencing. The particular European Royal court with swords, knights and crowns serves as a massive inspiration throughout my life. The above picture was done in Microsoft Paint and touched up in GIMP. 

World History
World history plays a massive role in everybody's life and mind. This may also inspire an artist especially propoganda art. However, historic reference influences fashion and by extension the fields of design . One particular aspect that I enjoy is the historic reference of a tiara as worn by a bride/princess. I wish I got far more commissions to design tiaras.

This tiara was made for a client to wear on her wedding. It is in solid silver and set with synthetic cubic zirconias. 

One of my favourite historic references is ancient Egypt. The above sketch is of recognizable Egyptian inspiration and was a quick sketch done in marker and ballpoint for fun. I tried to capture the arrogance a Pharoah might experience when considered to be a god. 

The media bombards us daily with adverts and entertainment on our phones, billboards, movies, television and newspapers. Almost anything goes and it is hard to distinguish between fact and fiction. However it is a massive source of inspiration and if your filters are up it is a goldmine rivaling nature itself and may be used very effectively.

This picture in water colour and ballpoint, was directly inspired by the television. I was watching Fashion TV and as a model came down the runway she paused, struck this pose and turned to walk away. The pose was so inspiring to me that from memory within an hour and a half or so, this picture was completed. My aim was to allude to the famous "Babylon the Great"  from the Bible. 

When the soccer world cup came to South Africa, even I was inspired to do this picture with the intent that it may carry a very deep symbolism of the idea of teamwork as exemplified in a successful soccer team. It is done in acrylic on canvas. 

Other People
One of the most direct sources of inspiration is other people. We all have idols, mentors, teachers and far away celebrities that we look up to. Artist/designers have celebrities too and in today's information age we have these people's work on call. Growing up comic book artists and anime was a huge influence and remains a constant and permanent inspiration.

This picture in water colour and ballpoint is of obvious comic book inspiration. One might say, it's very " Iron Man".

Personal Preference
Our own personal preferences develop from our upbringing into our old age. We pick up things that we like as time goes by and these elements receive a lot of our attention. As such these areas of data in our minds are often the most developed and exercised and may serve our work as one of the best sources of inspiration.

I think crowns, doodle crowns, draw crowns and want to make crowns all the time. The one here is doen in ballpoint. 

My obsession with crowns has led me to make tiaras and crowns for Barbie dolls. This hobby started when I was 12 and eventually led to me becoming a jeweller. 

I love Spanish dancing. I do Spanish dancing and drawing it is a favourite. 

Paying Clients
Practically speaking there is no greater source of inspiration than a paying client. Where this keeps the pot boiling it is very rare that you will enjoy this inspiration as it has nothing to do with your personal preferences or expression. Here the client is to be kept happy and you may find solace in your payment but far more importantly you may find inspiration in you quality of work. It give me great pleasure to make a ring to an exceptional level of quality even though the style might not be to my liking.

A silver and gold dress ring set with synthetic stones as per design requirements of a client.

You will note that even though most of my time is spent working a regular day and week like everybody else, very little of this money-for-a-living aspect serves to inspire me. Which brings me to my personal greatest inspiration and also the last category in our discussion.

There are unconventional, one might even say abstract or esoteric forms of inspiration. These may scare some or at least challenge some people but they are and have always been part of the human social experience. Many people go to church or the like, seeking something spiritual and even physical science allows for the field of scientific study called quantum physics which is the closets science has ever ventured to what may seem a spiritual study. All our minds struggle or even entertain the abstract. We all fear, have doubt or worse become irrational. This weird world of the human psyche may even inspire design and art. I love this particular source especially if you take it to the max and consider the ultimate, GOD.

Remember, we are talking about inspiration. This enigmatic word that attempts to define, conjuring thoughts, seemingly from nowhere and then manifesting those ideas in actions and creations that may be shared by others. It seems very weird and spiritual to me. To explain my interaction with this " source" I will share an experience of I had that began with a picture that came to my mind. This picture I described in a poem.

City of Gold. 

A breathtaking landscape sculpted by the Maker
Wildlife serene
Potential, eternally supreme

A hillside ridge, contains a blessing
Arrogant man
Will never obtain it

There is a black and ancient worm
Beneath the ridge
In bowels of gold

The darkness chokes the treasures shining
Presumptions keep
The blessed in bondage

Upon his back a city sprawls
Its people consumed
Consumed by boring

The worm bleeds dry their toil
And sweat
Blinds them with false gleaming

Great is the treasure held in this nest
More so
Those kept in his bondage

But God

The Maker of the ridge in beauty
Calls forth
The gold to shining!!!!!

Fire comes rushing pure and bright
Consuming dross
Consuming filth

The city shakes, the worm’s grip breaks
Blackness flees
Before the light

Bent knees as man turn to the Maker
Who waits
Who always loves

His design is spoken to ears
Now open
Golden chains fall broken

The worm as master was your own lies
The gold
As glory, rot and flies

See now prepare as vision breaks open
The worm
Purple wings of fire disperses

All treasure, belongs to its Maker
Oh man
To serve His mighty purpose

Your hearts in freedom will be His crown
The gold
Eternal roads to fly on

Then I drew the picture somewhere in 2003/2004.

I believe I was inspired by a socio-political economic atmosphere. Subconsciously, my mind tried to congeal my experience of South Africa at the time of the early millennium and even dared to postulate a future. This future also, very spiritually, had the option of including or excluding the God-factor. Weird or not, I drew it, shared it with one or two friend who can cope with my weirdness and I left it. 

In 2013, I was asked by Beakthru Life Church to do what they call prophetic art. i was going to do a digital work in Microsoft Paint projected directly on the wall during the service.

This is what I was " inspired" to do. I had forgotten about my Black Worm and a butterfly seemingly popped out of the 10 year old chrysalis.

Again, I think my mind was manifesting a subconscious idea. The struggle with a worldwide economic crunch. The laziness and greed that led the human race into it. A seemingly miracle requiring hope to get through it. Funny how something as weird and spiritual as this is actually just a plain and simple inspiration from nature. A butterfly's metamorphosis is plain to see by any child who has ever had silk worms. It brings the whole package of " inspiration" full circle.


  1. O.k. I am officially inspired. Great Job Your Royal Highness!

  2. I now know about inspiration - what's next?