Colorful Inspiration For Gray Days: Illustration And Photography At Their Best

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. When he is not writing, he’s most probably running front-end & UX … More about Vitaly ↬

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Gray days always are a great 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. 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. We hope you’ll like Vitaly Friedman’s playground! ;)

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! ;)

Drowning In Thoughts

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

Image credit: Kathrin Honesta


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 Jane

Draw Everyday

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

Image credit: We and The Color

Shop Magazine — Karolis

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 Art

Vita Sackville-West

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

Image credit: Gosia Herba

Fire In The Sky

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

Image credit: Dan Rubin

The Golden Bicycle Touch

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

Image credit: Veerle Pieters

Twins In The Forest

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 Pamir

The Best Photos Of The Year

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: Strava

The New York Times Gift Guide

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 here!

Image credit: Florent Hauchard

Sitting In Green

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

Image credit: Xuan loc Xuan

The Law Of Attraction

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

Image credit: Martin Azambuja

Modelle / BBDO Moscow

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

Jenna Arts

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 Design

Tuff Shed

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 Miller

Tuff Shed II

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 Miller

Space: Planets, Stars, Rockets

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

Image credit: Tasty Vector

Lofoten, Norway

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

Image credit: Fredrik Meling

Jun Takahashi | Square Up

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.

Image credit: Jun Takahashi

Merkur Magazine

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 Shop

Merkur Magazine II

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 Shop

Mount Fuji

Splendid shot! Stunning light, colors and lovely composition.

Image credit: Takashi Yasui

Light Of A Spring Sunset

Beautiful smooth water and great sunlight colors.

Image credit: Aleksei Malygin


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 Herrera

5 Seasons

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

Image credit: Killien Huynh

5 Seasons II

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 Huynh

IBM Data Vis Guidelines

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

Image credit: Patrick Lowden

Time Travel Destinations Posters

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 look.

Image credit:

City Streets

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

Image credit: Matt Carlson

Tin Star BBQ

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

Image credit: Steve Wolf

NYU Travel

So many details in this colorful illustration.

Image credit: Owen Davey

Business City

Admiring the simplicity in this illustration.

Image credit: Vilolett Stolz

Colorful And Minimalist Miami Rescue Towers

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 Pettigiani

Colorful And Minimalist Miami Rescue Towers II

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

Image credit: Paolo Pettigiani

Bitch Magazine

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 Kalorkoti

Red Dwarf Sunset

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 Geometrieva

Sunset Curving Up

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

Image credit: Historic Lovers Club

The Martian II

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

Image credit: Oliver Barrett

We The People

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 Trust

Feel Good Swing

Loving this muted color palette and the organic style.

Image credit: Michele Tenaglia

Lindy Hop

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

Image credit: Michele Tenaglia

Sky-High Images Of Los Angeles At Dusk

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: Colossal

Rolling Images Of San Francisco’s Fog

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

Image credit: Colossal

Charles Manson

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

Image credit: Owen Davey

Sweater Friends

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

Image credit: Make The Big Eye

Rough Day At Work

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

Image credit: Today I love This

Hong Kong

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

Image credit: MUTI

Magazine Italiana

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

Image credit: Riccardo Guasco

Magazine Italiana II

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

Image credit: Riccardo Guasco

Multicolored Architectural Photography In Spain

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: Fubiz

Further Reading

Smashing Editorial (yk, il, mrn)