Inspiration: Helpful Advice from Maxfield Parrish
Daybreak, by Maxfield Parrish. Possibly the most-reproduced art print of all time.
One of my favorite artists is the “Golden Age” illustrator, Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966). During the early 20th century, Parrish’s prints hung on the walls of one in four homes in America. One in particular “was the decorative art sensation of the 1920s. It netted Maxfield Parrish a staggering $100,000 in royalties in its first two years of print sales. The piece was Daybreak, and it is Parrish’s best-remembered, and is believed to be the most-sold art print in history.” (Thanks to Aaron Art Prints for the quote.)
I’ve been doing some research on Maxfield Parrish for a book I’m writing, and came across a rare interview with him which I’d like to share with you. Parrish was a very private man, and hated to give interviews. In 1931, however, he did agree to be interviewed for a publication called “The Classmate: A Paper for Young People.” At one point, he is asked for some advice for the young artist trying to get a start as an illustrator. Here’s what Maxfield Parrish said:
“How to get a start? That’s the most difficult kind of advice to give. There are three or four thousand young people tramping the streets with portfolios under their arms. But there are too many of them, or there is not enough work to go around, although we have more magazines and others users of art in this country than in any other. But until young artists become known, it is very difficult for them to dispose of their work. So many young artists look through the magazines, see what is there, and imagine that is what editors want. Well, most editors would be delighted to find something just a little different –not freakish, you know, but something with imagination. Young artists seem to to fear to put their personalities into their work; they seem afraid to be themselves.
“There was a time when [Charles Dana] Gibson had a great run, and, as a consequence, he had thousands of imitators: people whose idea of what editors wanted was the head of a pretty girl on a magazine cover. The country was filled with artists trying to do what Gibson was doing well, but doing it very poorly. And all the time what editors wanted was not little Gibsonians but something entirely different and with imagination–something expressing the artist himself.
“Some artists have very fine technique, they have the faculty of making excellent drawings, but they have nothing to say. They are like those bright pupils in school who memorize what is in the books and what the teachers says, but they are not able to use their knowledge or their skill intelligently, imaginatively.”
What Parrish is saying is easy to understand: be yourself. Create your own style. Follow your inner voice, and create what only you can create. I think we all know this, but we’re sometimes afraid to follow through. But it’s the “secret” behind the success of every illustrator, matte painter, character designer, cartoonist, or digital painter working today. Did these artists have a vision of what would sell? Did they draw or paint in a style they knew would be popular? No. They simply painted and drew what was in them to paint or draw. As Parrish said, they “put their personalities into their work.”
Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.
Copying the work of those you admire is a great way to learn. It helps you learn how to paint, how to use color, how to compose, and so forth. But at some point, you’ve got to step out on your own, and see what YOU have to say. Fill the blank canvas with something the world has never seen before.
Go forth, and create!