Monday, December 31, 2012

Copy Cat

I am blessed to be enjoying a second or perhaps even a third act in life.  For many years my work as a pediatric physical therapist was my calling.  Then, with the birth of my second son and my father’s ailing health, I left my physical therapy career behind for a labor of love as a full-time homemaker.  My two sons are grown and mostly grown, and I am busy injecting some creativity into my life and work. I make things.  I am an artist.

Since I am a self-taught photographer, much of my education has come from copying the work of photographers and pictures I love.  Over the last few years, I have wrestled with my conscience over my copying.

Imagine my relief as I a scanned the library shelves for new books and this title called out to me.  Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon.

“Where do I get my ideas?"

"I steal them."

“If we are free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”

I have a folder full of bookmarks for artful blogs.  I visit these online journals seeking role models.  I hang pictures from my favorite artists in my studio. 

apron picture

Kleon traces the genealogy of ideas.  “You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.  You are the sum of your influences.  The German writer Goethe said, ‘We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.’”

the ones we love picture

“The artist is a collector . . .   The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by."

“Carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go.  Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations.  Copy your favorite passages out of books.  Record overheard conversations.  Doodle when you’re on the phone."

I keep a scrapbook and cut and paste things into it.  If I need a little inspiration, I open the Idea Book.

glass bottle vases with flowers picture

“Nobody is born with a style or a voice.  We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are.   . . . We learn by copying."

“We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism – plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own.  Copying is about reverse-engineering.  It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.“

pansy pictures

“First, you have to figure out who to copy.  Second, you have to figure out what to copy."

“Who to copy is easy.  You copy  . . . the people you love, the people you’re inspired by, the people you want to be.  . . . What to copy is a little bit trickier.  Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style.    . . . The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds.  That’s what you really want – to internalize their way of looking at the world.”

pitcher on quilt

“A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies.  Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives.  That is how we evolve."

son in bookstore picture

Kleon's secret to life?  "Do good work and share it with people."  Sounds good to me.  Think I'll copy that, too!


  1. Every one of those quotes is going in *my* notebook. Maybe "emulating" is a better word than "stealing"? I've emulated my favorite writers for years, buying extra copies of their books so I could write in the margins, take them apart, my own form of reverse-engineering.

    Like you, I'm studying my favorite photographers, but also reading about them to understand better how they work, where they're from, and who influenced *them.* It makes for a richer, more compelling journey.

    I think your photos are better than the inspirations, but maybe I'm a little biased. Okay, a lot biased. No, your Queen Anne's lace and pansy pictures *are* better.

  2. Candice, Maybe you should have written this book! The very next chapter, entitled "Imitation Is Not Flattery," addresses your point.

    "At some point, you'll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing."

    Unlocking my creativity has brought a fullness to life, an abundance and a passion. You are one of my role models and your encouragement means the world to me!


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