5 Local Artists Share Their Inspiration

Even the most artistic souls need fresh inspiration from time to time. Five local artists share their go-to sources to kick-start creative thinking.

Ty Tover

While many artists tend to choose one medium per work, Ty Tover is open to mixing and matching whatever feels right. “I have been known to use acrylic paint and ink pens all on the same canvas. I use what I need to tell the story,” he says. The result is a collection of work that is striking in both style and subject.

Tover moved to Mobile at age four. He went to school at Williamson High School and attended Bishop State Community College on its very first fine arts scholarship. He was a lead dancer and choreographer, and spent over a decade in California, exploring painting and serving on art boards, including at the Walt Disney Museum. “I never thought I would end up back here in Mobile,” he says, “but I believe I have been called back to the Gulf Coast to share in my journey.”

Tover received a certificate of special mention for his piece titled “Alone,” which he displayed at the “WHO Futures Art Exhibition: Envisioning the Future of Health in 2050.” Locally, Tover’s work was prominent in several LODA ArtWalks, and he was the featured artist at the Mobile Arts Council Gallery during the last two months of 2022. His work was dedicated at an event held in honor of the recent opening of the Africatown Heritage House. He also conducts art therapy with the Mobile County Health Department.

10 Things That Inspire Me

1. Southern Night Jasmine 
I love the smell of the jasmine and watching the woody fingers of the vines climbing over obstacles in my backyard. The blooms are sweet but have a slight hint of lemon. Much like my life climbing hurdles and staying sweet but a little tart. 

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2. Imagery
I always look for signs and symbols in my life. The imagery I look for places direction in my life, letting me know I am in the right space
at the right time. 

3. Starry Nights
Staring up at the Southern starry night sky makes me feel small, but also important all at the same moment. Space is the ultimate abyss full of darkness but we are here, much like stars, to shine a little and try to create some light in the world.

4. Music
Some of my favorite performers include Sade Adu, Erykah Badu and Billie Holiday. Because of its positive mood effects, gospel music is yet another go-to of mine to put me in a relaxed and creative space. Gospel music contains positive messages of healing for the soul and mind, sharing hope, love and faith. These messages lift my mood and provide comfort. 

5. Bellingrath Gardens
Bellingrath Gardens is a treasure trove of inspiration; all the growth and new life and greenery is infectious. You can’t help but be lifted by all the natural beauty.

6. Family and friends
Being with family and those who mean the most to me and have supported me on my artistic life journey. And FYI, yes, in case you were wondering, I am a hugger… all of my favorite people, friends, family and colleagues get hugs from me. And yes, even strangers do too sometimes. 

7. Cold soul food
Specifically from the fridge late at night. Macaroni and cheese and fried chicken can wake me up at night. Some of those late-night cravings lead to even later-night paint creations. 

8. Blue light
I use blue uplight ambient lighting in my studio to help set the mood. The art that is in my studio is illuminated, soaking in and helping set the mood for the creation in process. 

9. Meditating
Sitting still with measured breathing is a way that I can signal for and speak to my higher power. When my mind becomes relaxed, I am purposefully letting the positivity around me connect with my state of being and connecting with my natural spiritual rhythm.

10. Unique people
The uniqueness of people inspires me daily. I enjoy hearing people’s life stories; each person is so different. I oftentimes view them as my creative muses.

Arie Vandewaa

Young Arie VandeWaa never considered becoming a professional musician. “As a child, I was never really aware that being a full-time artist was an option,” he says. Raised on the Eastern Shore, he majored in pre-medicine and minored in music at the University of South Alabama (USA) but was inspired by the faculty to further study music. He now works at USA as the assistant professor of trombone. He is also the bass trombonist for the Mobile Symphony Orchestra and lower brass coach for the Mobile Symphony Youth Orchestra.

The Bay area provides plenty of inspiration for VandeWaa, but one of our most treasured traditions shines particularly bright. “I’m compelled to mention Mardi Gras as a wonderful source of inspiration,” he says. “As a performer, there is something incredible about playing and hearing your own music bounce off of the buildings Downtown during a parade!” He has performed with the Excelsior Band and the Mobile Second Line Society, among other iconic bands. 

10 Things That Inspire Me

1. Family
I am incredibly lucky to live so close to my family. They have always supported my artistic journey, and as I get older, I realize how lucky
I am to have that support. 

2. Friends & colleagues
Music is a wonderfully communal activity. I am constantly inspired by the musicianship of my friends, my peers in the Mobile Symphony, my colleagues and students at USA and by so many other incredible musicians I’ve had the privilege to meet and hear on the Gulf Coast. 

3. World-class trombone playing
I listen to great recordings by Joseph Alessi, James Markey and Jörgen van Rijen daily to provide inspiration in my classical playing.

4. Great singer-songwriters 
My favorites are Paul Simon, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Willie Watson. I was raised on Paul Simon albums through my parents, and “Graceland” helped me through my 20s, while “The Rhythm of the Saints” is getting me through my 30s right now. Though I’ve listened for years, Paul’s writing always hits me when I least expect it. His current album, “Seven Psalms,” feels like an embodiment of the concept of something you’ll understand when you’re older, and I can’t wait to connect with that album more when I’m ready.

5. Brass band music
The energy and unique sounds of a great brass band are completely electric. In addition to the great traditional second-line music of Mardi Gras, contemporary brass band music embodies the spirit and soul of the Gulf Coast.

6. Malcolm Gladwell
I have been a fan of Gladwell’s podcasts for years, prior to reading any of his books. “Outliers,” “David and Goliath” and “Talking to Strangers” are the books that changed my life when I read them. 

7. Van Gogh and Monet
On a recent trip to Chicago, I saw several Van Goghs and Monets in person. I was so overwhelmed by the combination of colors in Monet’s “Stacks of Wheat” (specifically, the sunset and snow effect) and how electric the reds in Van Gogh’s self-portrait were that I cried in the museum.

8. Running
Though I’m not particularly fast, I love running because it takes me to new places while exercising and seeing how far I am able to go is extremely motivating. 

9. Water
I grew up swimming and still love it — the ocean, the river, the Bay, the Gulf, pools. I love being around water. 

10. Brooks Lake, Michigan
Brooks Lake is a small lake in Brooks Township in Western Michigan. It’s is the home of my family’s tiny cottage. Built by hand by my great-grandparents, we make a pilgrimage back to the cottage at the end of every summer. Some of my fondest memories come from Brooks Lake. 

Missy Patrick

Missy Patrick’s paintings expertly reflect the Bay area’s landscapes and still life. “I am a plein-air painter and belong to a group in Mobile that shares the same interest,” she says. The group paints together outdoors once a week, weather permitting. They have painted in various locations, including downtown Mobile and Fairhope, the Delta and Dauphin Island, to name a few. “I work from small paintings, sketches, photo references and memory to create my larger work,” Patrick says. 

Patrick was born in Clearwater, Florida, and raised in Mobile, living in the Bay area for a majority of her life. She majored in art at Auburn University and art history, printmaking and painting at the University of South Alabama. “The Mobile Bay area has always inspired my work,” she says. “Old historic buildings, rivers and bays, ancient trees, ships and boats, and, of course, the people.”

Represented by Sophiella Gallery, Patrick works primarily with oils. “My favorite thing about oil painting is how versatile it is,” she says. “The image can be scraped and sanded to make corrections and add new elements. The color can be achieved through direct application and glazing. Texture can be added with thick paint using a palette knife, brush or anything that will work.”

10 Things That Inspire Me

1. Art museums
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas are standouts I have visited. I am also inspired by those I hope to see for myself one day.

2. Books
I favor historical fiction, mysteries, personal stories and my collection of art books, including “Composition of Outdoor Painting” by
Edgar Payne, “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting” by John E. Carlson and “Color Choices” by Stephen Quiller.

3. Mobile Botanical Gardens
I love to visit to see the diverse plants and flowers, and observe the expertly executed landscape design. It brings me joy.

4. Yoga
I have been practicing and learning from my teachers for many years.

5. Walking and hiking
I enjoy traversing the wild landscape or just walking in my neighborhood at different times of day.

6. Art shows
I get especially invigorated by the art shows of my fellow artists and artists outside this area invited to showcase their talents.

7. Painting outside
Plein-air painting brings obvious inspiration to me, especially when I am able to paint outside alongside my fellow artists.

8. YouTube videos
Searching through YouTube for inspiration in the art field, and learning about new and experimental work, gives me a new perspective.

9. The Symphony
Live classical music is a huge motivator and gives you a renewed sense of energy.

10. My home and studio
Home is where the heart is; the studio is even better.

Brian Tan

Brian Tan’s playful artistic style stemmed from his hobby of doodling as a child, albeit during mostly inopportune moments. “Sometimes it would get me into trouble, whether I was drawing on walls or not paying attention in class,” he says. “My work now is really just a continuation of the doodles I would draw as a child.”

Tan was born and raised in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, a first-generation Filipino American. He was living with his fiance Grace in Brooklyn when the pandemic hit. The couple decided to move to Fairhope to be closer to her family and where she grew up. “Before moving to the Bay area, I was afraid no one would be interested in my artwork,” he says. “But I was proven wrong. I’m grateful for the local people and businesses who have supported me and continue to allow me to draw on things.” 

One of Tan’s local projects is a decorated electrical box in downtown Mobile. “I discovered how to apply to work on one through the Mobile Arts Council,” he says. “It took about a week to finish and was definitely one of my favorite projects. I believe prioritizing the arts and local artists is directly related to the health of a community. I’m honored to be a part of Mobile Bay.”

10 Things That Inspire Me

1. Artists
Keith Haring and Sam Cox (aka Mr. Doodle) have been inspirational to the kind of work I make. I also admire the work of Shantell Martin, Vinnie Hager, Jahlil Nzinga and David Choe.

2. TV shows and movies 
I enjoy memories of watching cartoons and movies with my brothers — “The Simpsons,” “Dragonball Z” and most of the 90s Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network shows. The “Rush Hour” series are some of my favorite movies.

3. Music
Music is a necessary part of my creative process. Cliche to say, I listen to everything. I truly enjoy all genres of music — my current rotation ranges from Boygenius, Loyle Carner, Samara Joy, Retch and 80s Japanese city pop.

4. Skateboarding
I grew up skateboarding and am indebted to that community for exposing me to a world that continues to influence me today. Skateboarding has played a pivotal role in discovering many of my core interests.

5. Cooking 
My mom worked my whole life as a personal chef to wealthy Manhattan families, so understanding how and what we eat has always been a part of my life. I admire her work ethic, and I’ve had the privilege of learning how to cook from her. I hope to one day help open a Filipino food restaurant and popularize Filipino cuisine in the South.

6. Fashion design 
In high school, I was interested in sneaker collecting and streetwear. I would skateboard around SoHo and frequent stores like Stussy, BAPE and Opening Ceremony. I couldn’t afford their goods, but I admired the designs and marketing of these brands. Many artists I follow collaborate with big fashion houses, so hopefully I can follow in their footsteps. 

7. Galleries and museums
On hot summer days, I would spend a lot of time skateboarding Downtown, going from gallery to gallery
to stay cool. I’m inspired by the variety of art that exists, but also by the worlds and cultures art helps create and promote.

8. Thrifting
I can spend my whole day going through other people’s ‘junk.’ I try to keep my eye out for interesting things that I can draw on. From
vintage vases to leather jackets, anything can be a canvas if you try. 

9. Nature Walks
I enjoy searching out hiking trails in the Mobile Bay area and spending whole days out with my fiance and our dog Blu. 

10. Loved ones
Spending time with friends and family is vital to my well-being and gives me a much-needed chance to recharge my creative energy. Also, I can’t scientifically prove this, but Filipino people are the funniest people in the world. 

Katia Garza

Mobile Ballet Artistic Director Katia Garza is constantly surrounded by artistic inspiration by nature of her job. “The creativity and hard work of many people have to come together to make an idea happen,” she says. “I believe Mobile has amazing potential as a city, especially — but not only — in the arts, and its people are quite special and kind.”

Dancing since the age of three, Garza has a long and storied career that includes a stint as a principal dancer for the Ballet de Monterrey in her hometown in Mexico and the Orlando Ballet. The documentary surrounding her life of dance came out in 2018, the same year she became Mobile Ballet’s new leader. She gets a special spark from creating new ballets and putting the pieces of a show together, as she is doing for the company’s fall production. 

Teaching the students at Mobile Ballet, though, is her core joy. “Bringing my joy and love of dance to the community and making it accessible for everyone is my goal,” she says. “The best part is the little kids, their joy and honesty when they get to be part of a big production. As a teacher, I love seeing the face of a student feeling successful. The satisfaction on their faces is my best paycheck.”

10 Things That Inspire Me

1. Music

Dance steps come easy to my imagination if I identify with the music. My favorites are the violin, piano, cello and drums. As soon as I hear a song, I start putting steps to it.

2. A dancer’s artistry and personal struggles 
I love to create new movements from what I can sometimes see in the body of another dancer. For example, if a dancer is super flexible, I use that as inspiration for new movement.

3. Silence
Quiet moments are the best, no distractions. The sound of nothing usually helps me clear my ideas and create new ones.

4. Kids’ imaginations
They always inspire me to create something new that they might want to see on stage or just make the choreography better. Kids see things more simply than adults, but simple is more. 

 5. Go-To dance Products
For ballet class, I love the Bloch Performa stretch canvas ballet shoes. For teaching, Sansha Hi-Step dance sneakers. And a must-have, Bloch rosin spray to add grip for pointe shoes. 

6. The audience 
For “The Princess and the Frog,” I incorporated Mobile and Mardi Gras. I just think of what a community would love to see onstage, and that nudges the muse in me. 

7. My past
I have danced so many pieces and want my dancers to have those experiences, so I create pieces with the same flow. I always like to revisit older pieces I created and make them better.

8. Performances
The best way to learn is by watching. I love to see as many performances as I can to keep updated with what is happening in the world.

9. Pre-show rituals
Before I am ever performing, I will lay in bed and listen to the entire music of what I will be performing and imagine myself doing it, with and without mistakes. And I would always have a little gold Virgin and a saint that I’ve had since I was born hidden inside my costume to protect me. 

10. My mom
she is a strong, independent woman and she never accepts no for an answer. My mom taught me to do things well. Watching her work with her students was my best education. 

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