By Lauren Panepinto

I know you’ve all been excited about the Typography for Illustrators posts, and I’ll keep going on those,  but it just so happens I’m on the road this week, so I’m going to post on a topic relating to traveling: getting away from the computer, and getting in front of some art in person. And the closer you can get to seeing it in situ (in the place it was created or meant for) the better.

Mucha’s Medea poster (Getting up close to an original print can be as swoon for us designers as getting close to brushstrokes is for you painters)

Now, before we start, I know that some people have advantages in this regard – some of us live in awesome places like NYC, which has more museums and galleries than any person can see in a lifetime. And some of us can afford to travel to places to see amazing art in far-away places. I am acknowledging my privilege. However, there is original art in museums and galleries very close to most people reading this blog. And you should make it a part of your life to periodically get out and see it.

Municipal House, Prague. Did you know Mucha designed a whole building? Me neither! And I wouldn’t have known about it unless I had gone to the Mucha Museum. You don’t get much more in situ than that.

Why? Three reasons. One, you lose so much of the artist’s process in reproduction. Whether it’s in books or on the web, you can’t see brushstrokes and printing artifacts. And those bits of process is what an artist really learns from. You know how you can tell a working artist in a museum? They’re the ones nose-distance away from the piece. They’re the one walking up to it at different angles to try to catch the surface reflecting in the light. They’re usually the ones making the security guards in a museum super jumpy. Trust me, the guards at the Mucha Museum today were really happy to have me the hell out of there.

Mucha’s jewelry sketches

Two, it’s an inspiration shot to the guts. You know how you know you’re an artist? (Besides the crippling self-doubt and relentless desire to burn your portfolio at least 5 times a year?) You go see a master’s work in person and it makes you want to run out of there and get home and MAKE SHIT RIGHT NOW. It doesn’t even have to be a master in your own medium. The inspiration just literally burns you up inside. This is really important to remember when you’re feeling burnt out. When you need to reset a book or internet searching is like methadone to a heroin addict. You need to get to the source, get to that art in person, and rub it into your gums. Metaphorically, of course.

Unless I saw this in person I wouldn’t have realized it was life-size. Also, god, those berries!

Three, you are going to stumble on work you didn’t expect to see and it could affect you (and your work) in epic ways. Of course you’re going to go see the pieces you expect to see in the museum you go to visit — that’s why you’re going. But I’ve never gone to a museum or an exhibition of an artist’s work and not been surprised by something I didn’t know was going to be there — or didn’t even know existed. I was in Paris at an Art Nouveau exhibit at the Museé d’Orsay, and I found a poster there I had never seen before by an artist I didn’t know, and it became such a favorite I now it tattooed on my arm. Today at the Mucha Museum I saw a bunch of Mucha’s reference photos and I had no idea how gorgeous they were. They’re absolutely artworks in their own right and I bought a book of them to take back home with me.

Some of Mucha’s reference photos

So next time you’re feeling stale try to plan some time in front of some original art — whether it’s a local gallery, museum nearby, or even a friend’s studio. It’ll always pay back the effort of going in person exponentially.

That type! Swoon! But more lovely is the accidental variation in the printing inks,
which you never get to see in repro, because they tend to even out and clean up the art.

Now I’m going back to the Mucha hunt through Prague…if I’m not back in time for my next post, I’ve expired from Art Nouveau overload, and died happy.