Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon is a book I am highly fond of. It has helped (and continues to) during those I’m stuck in a creative rut situations. But what really does it mean to steal like an artist? When do you draw the line between inspiration and just outright plagiarism?
Not too long ago, I scrolled upon a viral tweet of someone posting “her” fanart of the Kdrama, Weightlifting Dairy Kim Bok Joo. You know, when it was in full hype and everyone’s like ~suweeg~! The photo the girl posted seemed all too familiar. I knew I’ve seen it somewhere before, so I check my Instagram liked photos because it’s where I’m most likely to find art I’ve saved both digitally and on the back of my head. I do follow a handful of artists because #support and #inspo; so endless scrolls later, I’ve found it–the almost exact same drawing.
I tried to push it off and move it at the back of my mind. It’s just a drawing. People copy drawings all the time. I do it too. They’re “inspired by it”. Should be nothing wrong with that, right? But I’ve checked this girl-I-wouldn’t-want-to-name’s tweet again and god forbid, no one was pointing it out to her, and a famous local artist even retweeted her photo and was like all praise, but she replied to her own photo, like a defense mechanism or something, with a screenshot of the episode scene where the drawing was from AND said “my screen had this on the whole time i was drawing it was so hard not to squeal every time i looked at it” Hell no guuuurl, I bet you were staring at @diana1992d’s photo instead. Y lie? Guilty much?
So my troll senses continue to tingle, not for the sake of just trolling but because I just felt so bad for @diana1992d–a struggling artist who everyday may doubt if her work is ever good enough to put out there but might never know that people like this ate kaloka ka girl are stealing them from her. I mean they’re so alike! The 4 hearts, the only colored thing being the ribbon hair tie, the blush, the folds of the clothes, the photo filter, the omfg mechanical pencil at the mid bottom of the photo! (Pati ba naman yun di ba?) I’m not a complete bitch though, so I just messaged the Twitter girl privately, asked her if her viral drawing was inspired by @diana1992d and if so, she should credit her. I was even all fake kind saying “Love that you love WFKBJ though. ❤️” Ugh. I should have been bitchier. Artists (esp not famous ones) rarely get the acknowledgement they deserve. It’s not just a drawing all the time. But instead, she replied to me saying “I used a different reference photo for mine, but thank you anyway! ✨” KAPAL MO TEH! Is it that difficult to give credit? I feel passive that night and didn’t want to argue and shame her, so I just let it go and it ends there. Cut. Her photo is still posted, maybe still getting retweets, and @dianna1992d may never know.
Some might still be looking at me as over-reacting. It’s still just a photo/drawing and she didn’t even make money out of it, so why do I keep typing hate and explaining all this? What is it that I want to point out?
As a creative, I both seek for inspiration and am also potentially can be ripped off of my works. I resonate with both the burglar and the victim. While the latter is highly unavoidable, it still is disappointing when it does happen. Imitation is not always flattering. But we must note that copying is something that at one point in time, will be done by any artist/person. It is a way of growth. Probably, the way to growth.
The right way to copy (verb) an inspiring piece is to break it down and see how it works, how it was made, how it came to be. If you’re copying to get to the same end or a same final result–to an imitation or copy (noun)–then you’re doing it wrong. You want to copy their thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Never just the drawing.
To gain inspiration, we look at other things–be it photos, memories, a scenery, or an already finished work. To create something inspiring, we look into ourselves: something someday, others will find worth looking at. Steal anything that inspires you, imitate that work, but don’t forget to put a piece of yourself in it. Combine what you know, and what you think the person you stole from knows. Do not just duplicate. And worse, do not claim another’s work as your own. To steal like an artist is to do so ever flawlessly. If you’re leaving breadcrumbs, might as well turn yourself in: give credit. In your copying/growing stage, give credit to all these people who are helping you find out who you are. Build branches until you bear your own fruit and grow your own tree.
I personally screenshot a lot of photos and Instagram art, and scroll through those in my phone whenever I need a boost. A lot of my practice sketches and watercolors are products of those. *Cole Sprouse just tweeted outtakes from his shoot: Saved! Instant inspo!*
Nothing will ever be original. I come to love the line I’ve read in the same book, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” And like how happy is glad is joyful is cheery and merry, there will always be new ways of saying the same thing. Be inspired, then inspire. Never settle for just plain imitation.