Steal Like an Artist, not a Creative Copycat
“Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing.” – Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
I’ve been drawing well before the first Power Rangers came out in ’93. I was fives years old when it released and I wanted to be Jason, the Red Ranger, until Tommy, the Green Ranger, came along.
Growing up, I mimicked everything I saw and redrew it. Yes, I even traced things like Pokemon cards—guilty as charged.
When you’re a kid, copying is second nature. It’s a harmless and innocent way to express yourself and develop some artistic skills.
When you get older, copying is no longer so innocent—especially when you pass someone else’s work off as your own.
You get in trouble when copy someone else’s test.
Especially in college, you’re in deep shit if you plagiarize your paper.
If you’re a creative copycat and present someone’s work as your own…prepare yourself because you could have an angry mob show up in your inbox.
I’m an observant person. I’m the weirdo who stakes out a perfect spot at a restaurant to people watch.
Lately, I’m observing a lot of things on social media that leave a gross taste in my mouth…because they remind me of the old me.
Long ago, I was the creative copycat who rode and stole waves, but now I know there’s a better way.
That’s why, today, we’re going to talk about riding waves, stealing waves, and making waves of your own.
Don’t die a copycat and be a different breed.
Important: Credit When Copying
When is it okay to copy?
If you’re early in your creative grind, you’re going to be tempted to copy. Honestly, it doesn’t bug me and I’m all for it on one condition—you give credit where credit is due.
When I first got into social media, I was ripping people’s compositions and plugging in my own words without knowing how to correctly handle this situation.
I thought there’s no way this person from Indonesia is going to see this, and boy was I wrong! I learned the hard way that it was a pretty dick move to not credit the original artists.
Places like Instagram, Dribbble, and Behance are tight niche communities. People look out for one another and are quick to call out plagiarism.
It’s not flattering when people rip your work and pass it off as their own.
It is flattering when people imitate your work and give you proper credit in the caption. That’s pretty cool, and I’ll always go and leave some love.
Now that we have that taken care of, let’s talk about riding waves.
Riding waves means riding someone else’s success and copying it within your own work.
I understand the reasoning behind it, but when so many people ride the same waves, the sea becomes saturated with the same look and feel. It gets boring, dull, and unoriginal.
For example, I see the same flat lay mockups with digital artwork imposed in the center being used over and over. I have a hard time picking the artist out from the sea of saturation, and I scroll right past it.
We live in a digital era now, so I’m not going to knock mockups when used tastefully. I’ll even use them from time to time, especially when I’m pitching clients.
However, when thousands of people have the same composition and style…I find it discouraging because it feels like people are cutting corners.
When you see a flock of people swerving right to bite a trend, be different and go left.
This one should be self-explanatory, but since I see it’s still a huge issue, it needs to be addressed.
Don’t copy someone’s work and pass it off as your own—especially don’t try profiting off it! THIS IS PLAGIARISM.
I’ve dealt with this, and I’ve seen angry Instagram mobs tear people down. Worse yet, you could get into legal issues because you’re infringing on someone’s copyright or trademark.
People work hard to build an audience, style, and voice. Don’t steal their thunder and pass it off as your own, as you didn’t invest the time to earn it.
If you’re going to copy someone’s work and share it, please do yourself and everyone else a favor and give proper credit.
Crediting is EVERYTHING.
Making Your Own Waves
Many creatives think the best way to stand out is to fit in. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this.
Let’s break down the second part of Austin Kleon’s quote:
“Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing.”
To me, I relate this to pizza—of course.
Anyone can make a pepperoni pizza. I could copy the same exact recipe and ingredients as my neighbor. Better yet, I could go one step further and add my own unique signature twist. I could find the finest pepperoni in the world, combine it with my own harvested garden ingredients, and grill it.
Ya, I did make a pepperoni pizza, but I did it my way.
That’s what I want to encourage you to do: do it your way.
I find inspiration all the time through Instagram, Dribbble, Pinterest, or the design around me. I pluck what piques my curiosity, then inject my flavor of message and detail into it.
Sure, someone else started the wave of hand-lettering, detailed illustrations, and Procreate drawings. However, I’m using the momentum from that wave and making my own waves with it.
Creative Copycats Don’t Make Waves
When I make my own waves with my work or the podcast, I’m blazing my own trail.
Most definitely, I’m fueled by inspiration I see from others, but I’m always looking at how I can make it my own.
If you’re riding someone’s wave, I challenge you to think differently and make it your own.
If you’re stealing someone’s wave, please make sure to credit and pay tribute.
Being creative is a gift.
Creativity, at its core, is about problem-solving.
By living as a copycat, you’re abusing your own gift.
Be a different breed, and make your own damn waves.
- Book: Austin Kleon – Steal Like an Artist
- Listener of the Week: Ryan B Art
- Podcast Editor: Aine Brennan
- Shownotes Editor: Paige Garland
- Podcast music: Blookah
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