Art Schools teach us to do it. Copying the art of the masters has been one of the traditional assignments in art college for decades. Many of the most famous artists practiced this. They copied what they admired to learn from it. And yet, as a culture, we focus so much of our attention on the new and inventive that the act of copying has a negative connotation. Artists create, the rest of us “just” copy. But I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit, and artists perhaps too much credit. They were once beginners who imitated others, too. Not convinced? Here are some reasons copying is actually good for us, and how copying can jumpstart your creativity!
Copying makes us think like the artist.
Copying is a way to learn from others through doing. Through copying, you experience the creative process of the artist or designer who’s work you’re copying. This focuses our vision on one small area of the work at a time. It gives us insight into the million-and-one decisions the artist made.
One of my first assignments in a college art class was to choose a work by an artist I admired and copy it. To do that I had to start with the big shapes and then slowly build the composition stroke by stroke. In the process I noticed how the artist would place one color side by side with another for maximum impact. Or he would use bold marks in some areas and washes of colors in others.
I noticed this, because I had to copy it.
Copying helps you discover your own style.
Trying on different styles (or ways of creating) helps us to explore the possibilities to find those we like. It also helps us discard those we don’t like. Many artists not only copy the work of others, but they’ll try it on for a while. This is often pivotal in their journey to discovering their own personal style. Picasso, for example, had his “Blue period” and “Rose period,” before he pioneered Cubism. The Beatles explored the American Blues, as they developed their own personal sound. We can experiment with others styles. We SHOULD experiment to find our own.
Copying can challenge you without overwhelming you.
We put a LOT of pressure on ourselves, when we create. So much so, we often suffer a form of analysis paralysis. I wrote about this a little bit in my post, How to Survive Art Anxiety. I also talked about the completely unrealistic and kind of tragic expectations we put ourselves under.
Twice this week, I received emails where the sender seemed to feel guilty for purchasing art supplies that they haven’t used. I get that. My Silhouette Cameo sat in the box for almost a full year before I took it out. Instead of my initial excitement over the possibilities, over time I just felt bad that I’d spent that much money and wasn’t using it. Often we think we have to make our money back, so we create to sell when we really only wanted to create for the sake of creating.
If we give ourselves permission to just play and learn, then we enjoy the experience of creating so much more. Paint by numbers sets have been gaining popularity again in recent years. They take the concept of the coloring books as relaxation a little bit further. You paint the colors and in some cases mix some of them, but the major decisions are still made for you. The design is set, and the color palette has already been chosen. You get the challenge of painting without the process overwhelming you, and you may discover you can paint something never thought you could.
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
Regardless of who said it first (Picasso?) or who said it best (Steve Jobs?); the idea is the same. We should take the time to learn by imitating and exploring others’ work. I never start to bake without looking up a recipe, even if what I end up pulling out of the oven has so many substitutions it could qualify as a new recipe. Good bakers start by reading someone else’s recipes.
Copying should inspire you as you’re learning but be aware of where the line is between copying in this context and copying for gain. It shouldn’t just be a blatant copying of someone else’s work with the goal of passing it off as your own for profit. We’re not talking forgery or a copyright violation. If you post your project it’s a great idea to mention or link to the work that inspired it! That creates community.
There are so many great tutorials online today. With my new YouTube channel up, I’ve found myself watching more videos there as well. When I have a question about a technique, I search for it. Learning from others is just smart. Standing on the shoulders of those who come before is something innovators do regularly. They build on what already is to create what could be.
Copying can jumpstart your creativity.
Taking it to the next step, from imitating to innovating, isn’t something everyone does. And not everyone needs to go there every time they make something. Frankly, with young kids at home or a full time job, you may not have the creative energy to paint a masterpiece. You can still creatively challenge yourself by copying something you like.
Often the act of copying will spur you on to create your own version. In my post How-to-draw Books Adults Love, I demo how easy it is to start by copying an image, add your own ideas, and end up with something completely different.
We may begin a project with the intention to copy something we liked, but the process of copying jumpstarts our creativity. You might also make more of your own decisions than you would expect. In the process, you’ll learn more than you realize. Creating will be something you do simply because you enjoy it. It will challenge you, without overwhelming you.
Imitation is a great way to begin.
So my advice? If you want to learn how to sew, pick up a kit at your craft store. If you want to try paper crafting, find a project online that you love, and ask how it was made. Learning by doing is in my opinion one of the absolute best ways to grow in your craft.
Or if you want to paint…. try a paint by number. I’ve got some of my favorites linked below!
Love me a freebie!
So I’ve got something a little different for you today– wallpapers inspired by the Picasso quote for your iPhone 6/7/8, iPhone X/XS, iPad, iPad mini, and Galaxy S5. If you’d like a size other then those available I’d be happy to post one. These will all be available in my Creative Resource Library. Oh, and the image above is sized for instagram. I hope it inspires you!
For more inspiration…
If you would like more info on the current paint by number trend you can check out this post on My Modern Met, about how more and more adults are embracing it as a way of relaxation. They also have recommendations for different types of kits. I’ll link to a couple that I like that are for sale on Amazon below. I also have more thoughts about How We Create Something Unique in another post.
Love this? Share it!
If you found this post helpful or inspirational I would LOVE if you would share it! You can do this by sharing a link to the post, or you could pin the image below to Pinterest. Both help others to see this post, which I’m grateful for. And if you decide to try something new because of this article, or you have a comment about it, I would LOVE to have you share that below!
PS- Just a little something extra: The paint by number kits I’d love to play with…
I like this one a lot. And I like this one – especially since I have a trip to France coming up! Or this one is all kinds of awesome too…Okay, and I guess one more because I really like this one too…
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