Arning, like many self-taught artists, used magazine advertisements and illustrations as models or inspiration for his work. Nonetheless his work is highly individual; the link with the original source is often difficult to discern. Most of the print sources for Arning's drawings have been saved. Institutionalized for most of his adult life, Arning was introduced to drawing in 1964 by a hospital worker who supplied him with materials. Arning's medium from 1964 to 1969 was Crayolas. In 1969, he switched to oil pastels, or "Cray-pas." Regardless of his media, Arning always worked in the same manner, covering the entire surface of the paper with dense strokes of color. He stopped drawing in 1974; a year after leaving his nursing home.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990)