It’s no secret I’m a big fan of simplicity. I’m a believer in minimalism and less-is-more as I’ve mentioned before. However, when it comes to art, I think simplicity is the trickiest thing. I still generally believe simple is better in art and design, but it has to be done well otherwise it feels like cheating in a way. I’ve been kind of struggling with that lately as I examine the things I create and the works of other artists that I admire. Sometimes when you step back and look at more minimal art, it starts to beg the question of what constitutes art, and whether you can really communicate a vision or higher skill level with something that is not outrageously detailed or complex.
I mean, this is coming from someone who wants to be a children’s book author, so I guess I admire art that is almost childlike in simplicity no matter whether I think it’s a particularly impressive type of art. But still, sometimes I get that little bit of pride creeping in and I think, hmm, I should draw something really detailed and photo-realistic just so I can share something that proves I can do “real” art. Which is silly, because like I said, I’m a believer in simple art as well as complex art, and I don’t necessarily think one shows more skill than the other, because they’re both tricky in different ways.
Ultimately, I find that my favorite artists hit that beautiful balance of simplicity and complexity–there is enough detail in their art to keep the eye moving, but not too much that it becomes overwhelming. I like just enough detail to make an image feel alive but not so much that it feels like reality. Sort of an alive-but-in-another-world kind of vibe, the kind that makes you wonder how it can feel so real and yet so unreal at the same time. The ones that come to mind are all my favorite 20th century children’s book illustrators, such as Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Dahlov Ipcar, Tove Jansson, Ludwig Bemelmans, Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter, even Tolkien. Some more detailed than others, but all with an inherent simplicity of spirit. (Beatrix Potter and Tolkien, you might argue, put quite a lot of detail in their illustrations. I would argue back that though more realistic in style, they still maintain some restraint, keeping to simple vignettes with not too much going on in one frame.) All with the alive and otherworldly quality to their images. Modern illustrators that I enjoy following on instagram for the same reasons are Oana Befort, Teagan White, Dinara Mirtalipova, Maggie Cole, Anna Bond, Jon Klassen, Jacob Escobedo, and Rebecca Green.
Now that you just skimmed over all those names, rolling your eyes and thinking “what a geek!!” haha…I must say, it’s true, I’m a total illustration geek. It’s starting to feel like my industry. Just like I admired and researched the innovations of Charles and Ray Eames when I was interested in industrial design, now as an aspiring illustrator I find myself drawn to poring over the work of artists that inspire me, some that captured my eye even before I could read. As much as I feel the need to prove myself by doing a little bit of everything, I think I can’t escape an inherent simplicity in my own work. Is it laziness, incompetence? I don’t think so. I think those inclined to complexity will just make everything complex, and those inclined to simplicity will not be able to go into extreme detail without it feeling forced. Neither one is more “real” art than the other; the opposing style can be a good exercise but it does not “prove” true skill, per se.
I know I’ve hit another slow period on the blog, this is just what’s been on my mind recently, waiting to be worked out in writing, on the topic of art and my future aspirations for my own illustration style. Lots of pondering direction and not enough actual experimenting, which I will hopefully start to change soon, though my calendar is starting to pick up with a lot more events and plans lately. I still have a long way to go, but I’m going to embrace my natural inclination for simplicity, enjoy the journey and note the progress along the way. I’m not sure this post will be all that interesting to anyone not inclined to nerding-out over illustration, so if you actually read this, merci beaucoup, many thanks and kudos to you for supporting my rambling. 🙂
(P.S. Christ is Risen and Happy Bright Week!)