illo talk: Learn, create, repeat: how to better study inspiration and reference

I wasn’t exactly sure what to name this video…

How to study inspiration How to breakdown reference How to learn from your idols How to reverse-engineer composition

Or go with something sensational like, “How pinterest is killing self education” or “the millennials’ guide to consuming everything while never learning anything”

Ultimately, I went with something simple: Learn, create, repeat: how to better study inspiration and reference.

I see a lot of beginners failing to understand the basic idea of deconstructing professional work. In anything that you’re learning to do well, you have to figure out how to close the gap between creative ability and the pros ability. There are two questions that you should ask when comparing your work to professional work

What am I doing that they’re not? What are they doing that I’m not?

While this seems overly simplistic, this type of study is crucial and often overlooked. Now, in no way should you copy other people’s work or try to mimic someone else’s style… BUT, someone who is producing work at a professional competitive level has learned how to solve visual problems and they’ve learned what, when, how and why to do things AND what to avoid.

Most people view art, illustration, photography, etc by speeding past hundreds of examples. People used to go to art galleries and sit and look at a single piece of work for long periods of time. Now, with google images, pinterest, tumblr, instagram, etc, we have access to an infinite number of images to consume.

But you have to understand something extremely important: spending a few minutes browsing hundreds of images is NOT studying. This is merely eye candy, empty calories that make you feel full, but offers absolutely no nutritional value. This type of visual snacking is the educational equivalent of eating ramen noodles every meal of every day… sure, it makes the hunger pains go away, but you’re going to die a ignominious and malnutritioned death and if you want to grow up to be big and strong you need to eat your vegetables (and I don’t mean mixing a can of peas in with your ramen)

By studying their work and looking at their process, you can begin to learn how to do professional work. By doing this often while you are creating work of your own, you will begin to internalize what you’re seeing and eventually you will be able to apply the things you’ve learned without thinking too much about it.

As you begin to dive deeper and deeper into the study of quality work, you’ll begin to see deeper levels and how the elements work together.

Level 1: identifying good work Level 2: recognizing that there is something that makes the composition work Level 3: identifying the elements that make up the composition Level 4: understanding how individual elements of the composition work Level 5: understanding how those elements work together as a system

  • Spend time on a single image at a time
  • Do draw overs
  • Write your observations down by hand
  • Constantly be creating your own work (don’t get into “learning paralysis” where you fool yourself into thinking that you’ll get better solely by study without creating your own work”

Study > create > study > create

And each time you go around this cycle you'll bring greater knowledge and skills from the last time