Artists Who Inspire Me to Write

I take my inspiration from many places, though few things send stories and passages rolling out of my brain like sound and sight. Today I want to talk a little about images, specifically the work of three artists: Arthur Rackham, Michael Whelan, and John Bauer.

Arthur Rackham

In the United States, Rackham is best known for his illustrations of Richard Wager’s Ring cycle. For those of you not familiar, that’s the one with Ride of the Valkyries in it. For those even less familiar, it’s the song old cartoons commonly played over dogfight scenes. Rackham didn’t do any plates for the particular opera the song is from, but now you know basically what I mean: The pictures to accompany music like that.

Rackham used a method unique to himself to create the blended, muddy colors over his gritty, realistic lines. The level of detail in his work is astounding, especially when you take into account how personalized his style was.

Something about Rackham’s grungy, earthy art holds a great deal of majesty for me. It is fantastic but not garishly colored; it seems so much more real and tangible. As a slight nod to Rackham, the hero of my current project has the same absurdly curly blond hair as Siegfried in the above Wagner plate.

Michael Whelan

Whelan may not be an old master like Rackham, but his work has affected me all the same. You may recognize his style from scifi and fantasy covers. I know that’s where I first saw anything he did, being fourteen and having no real admitted interest in art.

If Rackham is my subdued but majestic inspiration, Whelan is my extravagant and fantastic inspiration.

Whelan’s greatest strength, to me, is in conveying a sense of place. He illustrates some of the strangest, most gorgeous landscapes in a way that, for the barest moment, transports me.

Around two thirds of my current story takes place in a world that is not our own, and even when I don’t intend to I feel I must be siphoning off some of Whelan’s imagery, pulling out choice snatches of sight from memories of earmarked covers of books I bought for the pretty picture.

John Bauer

To the casual observer, Bauer’s work looks a lot like Rackham’s. His colors are earthy and washy and his lines are fairly detailed. However, Bauer’s work has a softer, loopier feel than Rackham’s gritty illustrations. It’s not as realistic, it’s much simpler. Lots of curly, wavy lines.

Above all, I appreciate Bauer’s depiction of natural things. The shapes strike a good balance between realism and stylized loopiness, and the combination just draws me in.

I know a few writers follow me, so I’m wondering: What images, if any, stir inspiration in you?

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