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Smashing Conf Barcelona

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Breaking Out Of The Box Colorful Inspiration For Gray Days: Illustration And Photography At Their Best

If it’s still snowy where you live, then you’re probably tired of the cold weather by now. Winter may be in full swing but that shouldn’t stop us from hunting for inspiration. While the gray days always seem to find a way to make us more and more anxious for springtime to finally arrive, it’s also a time we can use to reflect on our work and perhaps better decide what it is that we hope to improve or change in the next months.

Believe it or not, some of these photographs and illustrations are the starting point of a design that I create. They are the spark that sets the process of creation in motion. It doesn’t take much; it can be any part of an element that catches my eye, be it a particular color, style, texture, or anything really. You’ll find a bit of everything in today’s selection: Architecture, colors, some of the best photographs from 2016, and more. I hope you’ll like my playground! ;)

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

Drowning In Thoughts Link

I’m admiring the textures and colors here. Wonderful to get some new ideas for backgrounds.


Image credit: Kathrin Honesta6

Rooftop Link

I really like the style of Bodil Jane. This piece of beautiful artwork looks almost like a collage of separate items that is glued on a canvas.


Image credit: Bodil Jane8

Draw Everyday Link

Some good advice that I can totally get behind. Cleverly translated to something else you do everyday.


Image credit: We and The Color10

Shop Magazine — Karolis Link

The view angle is so well done in this illustration, as well as the shadow and light effects. A few other gems in here, such as the transparency of the bag on the desk and the wooden floor under the desk.


Image credit: Folio Art12

Vita Sackville-West Link

Beautiful book cover illustration. How deep she is in her thoughts is just so inspiring.


Image credit: Gosia Herba14

Fire In The Sky Link

A wonderful advertisement for planet Earth. Look at that fire in the sky! Purdy.


Image credit: Dan Rubin16

The Golden Bicycle Touch Link

One of my own pictures shot during a morning bicycle ride. The best kind! Those colors are just wow!


Image credit: Veerle Pieters18

Twins In The Forest Link

Creating hair is among the most difficult things to achieve. It takes a long time to get it right. That’s why I always study the ones who master it. The hair is simply gorgeous in this illustration, especially those braids.


Image credit: Ezgi Pamir20

The Best Photos Of The Year Link

Some fantastic photographs in this Strava collection of 2016. Hard to pick just one, but after much deliberation I chose this one. Isn’t it marvelous?


Image credit: Strava22

The New York Times Gift Guide Link

The first thing I noticed is the wonderful color palette. I’m also admiring all the different buildings created with very little elements. Imagine how it would look like if it was brought to life. Well, look here23!


Image credit: Florent Hauchard25

Sitting In Green Link

Perfect scenery for some daydreaming. The texture used in this illustration is awe-inspiring.


Image credit: Xuan loc Xuan27

The Law Of Attraction Link

Not your typical color palette. They really work quite well together. Lovely shapes, too!


Image credit: Martin Azambuja29

Modelle / BBDO Moscow Link

Using negative space in illustration is one of my favorite things. I’ve personally never done it, but would love to one day. This is one of those nice examples to look up to.


Image credit: Cajsa Holgersson 31

Jenna Arts Link

I love the style in which the illustrator doesn’t draw perfect characters. It’s an illustration style that embraces the awkward. Hard to pull off right.


Image credit: Eye On Design33

Tuff Shed Link

First thing I checked out was the pattern on the guy’s shirt. I also love the use of sharp angles for the arms, legs and other elements in this scene.


Image credit: Brian Miller3735

Tuff Shed II Link

Just like the illustration above, this one also features the sharp angles, but also some interesting textures. Look at how the shadows and highlights are applied. Truly amazing!


Image credit: Brian Miller3735

Space: Planets, Stars, Rockets Link

The choice of colors and shapes are well considered here. Simple, yet effective.


Image credit: Tasty Vector39

Lofoten, Norway Link

Such an incredible spot! Beautifully captured with some gorgeous light.


Image credit: Fredrik Meling41

Jun Takahashi | Square Up Link

Speaking of the use of sharp angles and shapes, Tokyo-based illustrator Jun Takahashi uses this technique to create geometric sports characters. All this with a muted, contemporary palette of colors. His series is called Square Modern.42


Image credit: Jun Takahashi44

Merkur Magazine Link

Some fine details in this cover such as the dotted stripes on the pants of the male character. Another is the tree bast structure.


Image credit: Orlin Culture Shop4846

Merkur Magazine II Link

Very appropriate since we are still in the middle of winter. This snow landscape is just beautifully executed. Works so well with this pinkish mood/sky.


Image credit: Orlin Culture Shop4846

Mount Fuji Link

Splendid shot! Stunning light, colors and lovely composition.


Image credit: Takashi Yasui50

Light Of A Spring Sunset Link

Beautiful smooth water and great sunlight colors.


Image credit: Aleksei Malygin52

Sports Link

What makes this interesting is the way this illustration is compiled: the mix of lines and fills, in combination with a limited color palette. Clever.


Image credit: Xoana Herrera54

5 Seasons Link

So delicate and beautiful! Colors, subtle use of gradients, everything is inspiring.


Image credit: Killien Huynh5856

5 Seasons II Link

I like the atmosphere in this fall like scenery. Many great details such as the way the collar and sleeve patterns are created. It creates a lovely accent.


Image credit: Killien Huynh5856

IBM Data Vis Guidelines Link

This is gorgeous! Loving the colors for this first set of Data Visualization Guidelines from IBM. Great composition and geometry.


Image credit: Patrick Lowden60

Time Travel Destinations Posters Link

If time travel was possible it would look like this. Jurassic Age is part of the Time Travel Destinations Posters. There are a few more, and some are animated too. Go have a look61.


Image credit: Expedia.ca63

City Streets Link

Really diggin’ the stylized perspective. It creates a nice composition.


Image credit: Matt Carlson65

Tin Star BBQ Link

Great character in this clever logo illustration. That type is great – it really fits the tone of the logo.


Image credit: Steve Wolf67

NYU Travel Link

So many details in this colorful illustration.


Image credit: Owen Davey69

Business City Link

Admiring the simplicity in this illustration.


Image credit: Vilolett Stolz71

Colorful And Minimalist Miami Rescue Towers Link

If you love minimalistic architecture and colors like me, you’ll appreciate this work by Paolo Pettigiani. The new series is called “SHAPEGUARD”.


Image credit: Paolo Pettigiani7573

Colorful And Minimalist Miami Rescue Towers II Link

A second one from the new series called “SHAPEGUARD” by Paolo Pettigiani.


Image credit: Paolo Pettigiani7573

Bitch Magazine Link

Wonderful duotones at work, especially to create the feeling of the movement of the water. Those swimsuits are not too shabby as well.


Image credit: Eleni Kalorkoti77

Red Dwarf Sunset Link

For the sci-fi fans among us. A hi-tech village on a transparent hill, enjoying a dramatic red sunset of a class M red dwarf sun. Those gradients and the glowy sun is so perfect!


Image credit: Nina Geometrieva79

Sunset Curving Up Link

Talking about being in the right place at the right time. Sunset curving up a wave!


Image credit: Historic Lovers Club81

The Martian II Link

One more for the sci-fi fans. A special color palette and a great illustration style.


Image credit: From Up North83

We The People Link

Shepard Fairey, whose iconic posters supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 election and won him Design of the Year, has a new offering. The American graphic designer has applied the same posterized style and palette of red, beige and blue of the Hope imagery to three new designs, created for a nonprofit organization called ‘the Amplifier Foundation’.


Image credit: Design You Trust85

Feel Good Swing Link

Loving this muted color palette and the organic style.


Image credit: Michele Tenaglia8987

Lindy Hop Link

If you love your classics you’ll recognize the Lindy Hop in this wonderful illustration.


Image credit: Michele Tenaglia8987

Sky-High Images Of Los Angeles At Dusk Link

Creative Director and photographer Dylan Schwartz‘s point-of-view is high above the cities he photographs, capturing the bridges, sports complexes, and tips of high rises from the cockpit of a helicopter.


Image credit: Colossal91

Rolling Images Of San Francisco’s Fog Link

I’ve featured an image of San Francisco’s fog here before. The waviness is almost surreal.


Image credit: Colossal93

Charles Manson Link

When Charles Manson and The Beach Boys‘ Dennis Wilson meet. So beautifully stylized!


Image credit: Owen Davey95

Sweater Friends Link

Such a great concept to have a panoramic scenery on the sweaters.


Image credit: Make The Big Eye97

Rough Day At Work Link

How does one look like after a rough day at work? I think this illustration pretty much nails it.


Image credit: Today I love This99

Hong Kong Link

Great view on the hustle of Hong Kong. The flow of the water is greatly executed. Lovely color palette, perfectly executed.


Image credit: MUTI101

Magazine Italiana Link

Riccardo is a regular guest here. Love how he works with flat colors and sharp-angled shapes.


Image credit: Riccardo Guasco105103

Magazine Italiana II Link

One more of Riccardo’s recent work. Brilliant as always! I also love the retro touch in all of them.


Image credit: Riccardo Guasco105103

Multicolored Architectural Photography In Spain Link

The Swedish photographer Jeanette Hägglund seems to have found a nice playground in the city of La Manzanera, near Alicante. She plays with the architecture, colors, and light and shadows. Be sure to see the rest of the series.


Image credit: Fubiz107

(yk, il)

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Veerle is one of the fascinating minds behind Duoh!, whose love for design in all its various forms shines through. She is a graphic/Web designer hailing from a small but beautiful European country called Belgium. You can follow her on Twitter and read her blog at

  1. 1

    Good to see that design is still well on its way around the globe. Is there somewhat a repository where we can view these inspirational visuals? These seem to showcase what the world has to offer and would be great to be inspired for infusing them with great web design. :)

    Kind regards,


  2. 3

    Really liked the “The Golden Bicycle Touch” picture. Where was this picture taken?

    • 4

      Veerle Pieters

      February 4, 2017 10:43 am

      @Marwan, that picture was taken in Zomergem, Belgium during one of my morning rides.

  3. 5

    It is really good article explained very well with practical examples & images. I was just searching more about photoshop & photography so I visited this link I felt that this link might be helpful for Graphic designer.

  4. 6

    Mmmm, bacon pencils #Draw Everyday

  5. 7

    Thanks For sharing. It contains a lot of information


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