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The Blurry Line Between Inspiration Vs. Copying

If you’re a visual artist, you probably know all too well the sometimes not-so-clear line between inspiration vs. copying. 

You may be really into a specific artist and studying everything they do. Then you suddenly find yourself creating work that is eerily similar to theirs. 

Soon enough, you start to wonder if your curiosity has turned into downright thievery – even if that wasn’t your intention. The whole scene can get pretty tricky.

The Standard Practice of Copying

Students who study art know that rising artists often apprenticed with more established ones. It happened for many centuries. Possibly longer. Verrocchio had Leonardo da Vinci as his apprentice, for instance. In fact, apprentices were often encouraged to copy their masters so that they could learn from them and attain their skills. 

But the copying stopped there. As apprentices ‘graduated’ from their masters, they were required to find their own voices and expressions in their work. 

Things are a little different today. The internet provides endless images of work from artists all over the world. And it’s easy to start feeling that you’ll never be able to produce anything original with such a glut of creativity at your fingertips. That’s just not true though. 

As long as you remain true to your voice (and, of course, aren’t setting out to intentionally copy someone else’s art), your work will always be singular to you. So where do you begin? 

Seeking Inspiration Vs. Copying

It’s necessary to study other’s art to better understand your own. In some cases, you’ll be indifferent to what another has created. Sometimes you may be downright repulsed. But then there are those that move you and inspire you. 

At this point, ask yourself what it is that moves you. Is it the composition or the subject matter? Are you taken with the concept behind the art? Do you absolutely love the color palette or how the artist chooses to make his or her mark?

Once you’re clear on the reasons you’re moved, you can begin to privately copy some of these elements to try them on for size and get a feel for the process. Because it’s not coming from you in a natural way, it may feel a little inorganic at first. 

But in time, you may start to groove with certain aspects that you can bring into your own work. In essence, you’re taking whatever it is that inspires you and pushing or morphing it into a work that’s uniquely yours. 

There are several ways you can begin to explore how inspiration can become a tool for your own development and growth. 

1. Copy Yourself

Sit down and take a look at your own art. Then try to copy it. You’ll likely find that you repeatedly produce variations of the same composition. This is completely normal. It’s what makes your work yours.

In doing this exercise, you’re able to dive deeper beneath the surface of what you originally created and deliver a new message.

2. Approach Your Subject From Different Angles

If you’re like most artists, you probably stick with a subject that excites and motivates you. Have you considered approaching it from different angles? If you typically have a straight-on approach, why not try upside down?

Then maybe zoom up very close to one part of the subject and make a study from it. By contrast, you can pull much farther back – even challenging yourself to create that which you can’t fully see. Perhaps try some quirky angles or repeat the subject in layers.

The objective is to find a perspective that perks your interest. By experimenting with so many different ones, you might be surprised that what you thought was going to move you doesn’t at all. Meanwhile, you may be swept into a whole new level of inspiration with another perspective.

3. Experiment With Various Lines and Marks

Are you taken with the way an artist executes a certain mark or line? There’s no rule that says you can’t experiment with it. Reproduce it using your non-dominant hand, draw it with a stick, try to execute it using a variety of other media, or create a pattern or a block with it. These are just a few explorations that open up new possibilities.

4. Play With Your Color Palette

Compile an array of work by an artist you love or who inspires you. Adopt three or four of the colors from their primary palette into your own work. Some might work, others not so much. But one of them just might spark something. 

Another way to play would be to expand your palette if you tend to stick with only a few colors. On the flip side, if you insist on a huge palette every time, experiment with narrowing it down to only three or four. What can you produce in the confines of these limitations? The answer may surprise you.

The World Needs Your Art!

 Working within the parameters of inspiration vs. copying is part and parcel for every artist. For young artists though, this can be challenging.

If your child has plans to be a future artist, give him/her/them the education required for success in this challenging field. 

Contact us today to find out how our arts academy middle school and high school can give your child the advantage he/she/they need to navigate the world of art.   


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