Hooray for Morgue Files!

September 13, 2008

Doesn’t that title sound pretty morbid, readers? Well, call it what you want but we’re visual people and we tend to amass a lot of junk and images that inspire us. From postcards of fellow illustrators to random scraps of paper, it’s not uncommon for us to take little things and hold them off to the side to inspire us. There are many different ways to showcase all this stuff; some people put together inspiration boards and hang them on their wall. Many illustrators in the past would keep full filing cabinets of the stuff and just refer to them. Me, I’ve had a very disorganized take on the whole thing– papers scattered here and there, magazines held off to the side in bins, and a few folders filled with printouts and clippings. Let me just say that I rarely ever looked at this stuff, which defeats the purpose of holding onto it in the first place! If there was a fire, there would have been a lot of kindling.

my new files

So yesterday I decided to do something about it– relatively cheaply and easily. I went off to Staples and bought two 1″ binders, along with a pack of 200 sheet protectors. Originally I hadn’t considered making them look nice, which is why they are different colors. But I had some sample wallpaper pieces I had obtained a year or two ago that fit perfectly for the covers, and after cutting some scrap cardstock down, edging it all pretty and lettering the titles on them, they look better than they did at first!

my new inspiration files

Side view of the binders; slipped in some fabric samples I got from a kid’s bedding company recently to make them look a little nicer.

my new inspiration files

Interior of the color file: with one of my favorite quotes about color, from interior designer David Hicks:

The first thing to be said about color is that clashing colors do not exist. The whole idea of certain colors conflicting violently with others was nonsense dreamed up by a lot of genteel women in the 1930s. Colors do not clash–they vibrate…So do not be afraid to use color freely. Have courage. As with drawing, painting, acting or any creative activity, you must attack with strength.”

I think that having a color file can be a godsend for illustrators– especially if you’re like the majority of my peers from college who were more nervous about color than black and white. Me, I am the total opposite, but I love to be inspired by different color combos and keep them in mind for future screen prints and illustrations. The color file is predominantly filled with pages from Domino magazine, whom I’ve subscribed to for a while now purely for the way they mix colors and styles together. However, I had about 20+ back issues just sitting in my bookcases that I never read because they took up space and I didn’t want to flip through all the pages I wasn’t interested in to find something inspiring. Now, that’s not possible! I also have a few pages from old issues of Lucky, Print,  the now defunct Blueprint– taking stock of great color combinations and patterns I might like to incorporate later. There’s also some fun photos of people that I might refer to later.

my new inspiration files

The inspiration file is a little more hodgepodge– but no less important! Inside I have images I’ve printed off from illustrators I admire to learn how they make their marks, photos from fashion magazines for various poses/outfits, older reference photos I printed out for old assignments, illustrations I found in magazines I’ve received,  and a lot of pages torn from National Geographic.  (I grew up in a household that always received it in the mail, and currently has most of a huge bookcase filled with them from the last 20-30 years!) Previously these things were sitting in a small hanging file on my floor– but I never looked at them until I remembered I might want something, and then fumbled around to figure out where I might’ve put it. Now, I have a concrete place to put images and refer to them later!

So for the cost of about $30, I put together two great inspirational sources that I plan to refer to often from now on, whenever I’m stuck and think “I can’t think of anything.”

Check out an extended look at my files here: this just scrapes the surface though, as each book has about 150 images in them already!


6 Responses to “Hooray for Morgue Files!”

  1. fraunie said

    I usually just cut and paste stuff into my sketchbooks, but this seems like a better method for both time and money. Good tip!

  2. Eloise said

    This reminds me of what might actually be RISD’s best resource (besides some really excellent faculty): the Picture Collection. Hundreds of thousands of clippings, sorted by category. I guess I need to start building my own.

    Also, RIP Blueprint. Domino has been growing on me, but it’s no replacement.

  3. Hey I do this too – just using binders. Well, I just punched holes in a bunch of copy paper and stuck it in (rather than buying sheet protectors), then I scotch tape stuff onto those pages as I find it. The binder needs a second one now though, since it’s pockets are stuffed with odd items too. Working in Seattle, I often collect those party flyers that people stick all over cars near the clubs. I have quite the collection of “just for the love of it” design now!

  4. This is such a great and simple idea!

    I’ve been illustrating for over 20 years and have the usual file cabinets full of images. They are categorized, but the clutter and difficulty of seeing everything renders it pretty much useless.

    Your idea will make ‘going to the morgue’ much more fun and productive.

    May I post a link to your article on my blog one day?




  5. OMG I have that wallpaper in my living room Here’s my blog entry if you’d like a look http://excessmemory.blogspot.com/2009/07/blog-post.html
    Just came here from Pikaland. Just going through your stuff now. Nice work.

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