Chapter 15: Food for Thought: Tasteful Thieves

Hi, my Autumn Artists!

I’m so excited to see us that far in our Online Retreat! I can’t thank you enough for your active participation in our live sessions and all the encouragement and support I get from you daily! The transformative process we go through together, and all the stories which unfold in front of us are equally fascinating, beautiful and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing your art and experience with us!

Our last Art Date was filled to the brim with admiration we have for our own progress and creative evolution. Looking into our artistic past, we have unlimited access to an abundance of inspirational content: techniques, colour palettes, elements, and stories to tell. We can take handfuls and handfuls out of this source and get fueled for a long time, mastering our skills and techniques and polishing our style… but what happens when we take inspiration from other artists? How can we balance what is “ours” and what we “borrow” from others? How to make sure you feel comfortable while using the projects of others as a reference when it is so easy to be called a copycat?

Let me share some of the important knowledge with you – I hope it will help!

Food for Thought: Tasteful Thieves

One of the worst creative blocks many artistic souls have is the fear of being unoriginal.
We all want to expand our horizons, learn from the “masters” we admire, and add new techniques and solutions to our skillset – but it is so often we hear it may lead to being “influenced” too much and not being able to create artwork which will be original, exciting and fresh.
Fear of being called a copycat can block us from interacting with others or looking for new ideas, while on the other hand, “starving” ourselves may cause our creativity to dry up!

This “inspiration” and “imitation” dilemma is widely discussed in the creative world, and although there is not a chance to draw a fine line here, there are some good, healthy ways to address the problem – and I’d like to share some of my favourite ones!

How to get inspired by others in a “healthy” and respectful way? Be a Tasteful Thief!

I know the word “thief” here may sound a bit dramatic, but I build my views on the suggestions and opinions you can find in Austin Kleon’s fun and helpful book – “Steal Like an Artist”.
I only know the content he created from the reviews and his TedEx Talk – but it was enough for me to understand the simple truth he is trying to tell us: NOTHING IS TRULY ORIGINAL.

We are naturally curious creatures and tend to follow the topics and ideas that spark our interest or things we consider beautiful. We keep consuming art of all kinds daily – both intentionally and unintentionally. Ultimately, our tastes and preferences are a mix of all the content we explored over the years. This truth is tightly tied with the concept of “the full package” – our personal stories we carry along the creative way. Although we may get exposed to the same source material, we can still produce a different result due to our unique talents, skills and experience.

You may think that all the stories in the world were already told – but the point is, they were never told by you! You add the unique flavour, the key ingredient in making exceptional, original projects!

How does it work?

In true creativity, the sum is greater than the parts.
It may sound unbelievable, but some important factors make this impossible maths possible!
You are the one who is making it happen and can filter, transform, and finally produce the content which feels fresh, attractive and truly yours!
Here are the essential steps:

1. Learn from multiple artists, sources and genres!

The more source material you have, the more likely you will come up with original, inspiring content yourself! Naturally, creators are collectors of all kinds: we are drawn to the things we love, and the more diverse sources we can find, the wider the horizons and more exciting results. The abundance of inspiration and relying on your skill of choosing the best essences out of them is the right way to create artworks which feel genuinely “you” and can inspire others to take the concept further.

It is a good practice to let the ideas “brew” for some time before you start working on them – it is a way to give your brain the time to process the concepts and mix them with the content you already know well and used in the past. Instead of focusing on the source material and taking it all very literally, it is much better to rely on your memory and imagination – this way, your creative soul will have a chance to “fill the gaps” in the inspirational material with your unique voice and personal choices. Taking the time and thinking the idea over is a valuable part of the process – instead of copying, it is more of creative “recycling”!

2. Imitation is not flattery – transformation is!

The creative process starts in the gap between our source materials and inspirations – this is when our own voice and skills come into action, and we can produce the content that has our strong fingerprint and feels “just right”. It doesn’t happen instantly, of course – there is some practice needed, multiple attempts and a bit of experimenting and having fun with the source material, but it is all necessary – it helps us grow and evolve.

The most significant difference between imitation and transformation is in our mindset and the effect we want to achieve. We have to master some skills to add them to our toolset, so taking classes or researching how some results were achieved is necessary – but we need to see these are the steps taking us to our goal, not the goal itself.
It is good practice to focus on finding and using the “ingredients” – inspiring elements in the art of our “masters” – instead of the ready-to-go “recipes” and recreating the projects we admire. Your transformative creativity pushes the world forward and inspires others to start their own creative journey, so trust your guts and your inner artist who loves to play and discover. Creativity is an ongoing, neverending process, and there is no way the sources will dry up!

3. Discover your “creative voice by “making” instead of “thinking”!

Inspiration exists – but it has to find you working. No matter how much you love planning and imagining the results, there is no other way to get confident with your skills and polish your talents and techniques than to put them into regular use. Things like “muscle memory” and creative habits shouldn’t be taken for granted – the more we create, the easier it is for us to relax, let go and get into creative flow. Small acts of art such as sketches, notes, gathering elements and preparing the workspace have a huge value and shouldn’t be dismissed as unimportant. Whatever pushes our brain into creative thinking should be taken seriously – the critical factor here is a good balance between gathering “fuel” and the creative process itself. This solution works when we have just enough to create, and we won’t get stuck in the endless cycle of looking for inspiration. Overstimulation and consuming too much similar content can be harmful, so switch between multiple sources and take some time for rest and creative “brewing”.

I know it is a lot to think of, but I believe these guidelines may help when walking on your creative path and looking for a unique style and voice. This down-to-earth approach has so much common sense, and it can be adopted by creators of all kinds and skill levels.

I want to give you one more idea, written by Austin Kleon himself – this feels just on point and gives the simple answer to so many questions we have on our creative path:

“Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes; you want to look like your heroes. 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. If you just mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be anything more than a knockoff.”

If you are ready to give me ten more minutes of your attention, I recommend this short speech by Kleon, explaining the concept of inspiration, transformation and “stealing like an artist”. I think it is worth watching!

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