I have always been in awe of a small sect of artists. In fact, they absolutely fascinate me. Many would say they are not necessarily traditional. For me these awe inspiring artists are tattoo artists, air brush artists and those who create with graffiti. Given the choice between an art museum and a tattoo shop I would choose the tattoo shop every time. Not because I have a tattoo (I do not), but because the skill they show in creation is astounding to me.
It is not a simple case of ignorance either. I had taken numerous drawing and painting classes in both high school and college. I have had art history studies and been to the National Art Museum in Washington D.C. The museum was fascinating in it's own right, but I cannot say I left feeling overly inspired. Traditional art is just too huge a departure from the fantasy world my artistic imagination stems from.
What truly inspires me is those artists who can draw strictly from memory or thought. I can draw, but only if I can SEE what I am drawing. For cover design I use stock photography, so again I am working with elements I can look at. I always envied the boy in school who could easily draw a meadow and deer while I fumbled through photographs for ideas or cheated with the projector. Perhaps I was trying too hard at realism... case in point: above is the only image I ever created from scratch that I felt was worthy of saving.
An excellent example of why freehand artists awe me could be contrived from a tattoo show I recently saw. A client entered and wanted a dead mermaid vampire, holding a nautilus shell with the apocalypse behind her. The artist chuckled and went with it, creating a beautiful (but dead) mermaid tattoo. As a cover designer I instantly started thinking about the stock that I could use if I had a client with a similar request. I think I will need to work on such a design, if for no other reason than to challenge myself.