Art journal prompt: Copy an artist you love

I came across a really interesting idea in Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist: copy the work of others.

This might sound a little unethical but I assure you it’s not, if you do it right. Here’s a summary of his main points:

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… Who to copy is easy. You copy your heroes – 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… 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.

He goes on to explain that it’s about copying them and then adding your own spin on it to make it something else, to add something to the world that only you can. He also points out that copying one person is not good, but taking inspiration from many is.

I also think it’s worth noting, as Kleon points out, ‘Even The Beatles started as a cover band.’

Why do I mention all this?

As someone who is reasonably new to art journaling I needed to find a ‘way in’. I was inspired by so many different artists and wanted to make art like them.

I didn’t know where to begin with my own art journaling, so I copied those who most inspired me.

I still do, because I haven’t yet found my own unique all-that-paperstyle. But – I’m bringing together the elements from each that I love. By taking inspiration from the various artists that inspire me, and adding my own interests and ideas, I am slowly forming an idea of who I want to be in my art journals.

And you know what? Without approaching it this way, I would never have started. I would have stared at the blank page and not had a clue what to do. I would have been lost. I know that the artists I copy want to inspire others, so I turned to them.

Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself. – Yohji Yamamoto

playI took lettering ideas from one artist, background and painting ideas from another. I took collage and stamping ideas from yet another. Without them even realising, they have taught me how to art journal. They have taught me various ways to express myself.

I never stop looking for inspiration. I browse Instagram (way too often!) for pictures of other people’s art journals for ideas. The thing I absolutely love about blogging and social media is the way that people openly share their work and encourage others. Somehow my foray into journaling, a generally isolated activity, has led to me discovering and being welcomed into a vast online community of creatives.

>>> Prompt:

Find a few people whose art journals you admire. You can save images on your computer, or print them out and stick them near your desk/creative space.

Try to identify what it is you love about their style. Perhaps it’s the whimsical lettering, or the layers. Maybe you love their use of colour, or patterns, or old photographs. Maybe their art journals capture a feeling – happiness, playfulness, courage, calm. Try to pinpoint what it is you love.

Now, take a fresh page in your art journal and, focusing on one at a time, try to create your own version of their image, using their style. Copy it straight out, if you like, or add your own little touch to it. Try this with all the artists/images you’ve selected.

Now take a few of the elements you most enjoy from your images and try to weave them into your art journaling pages in the future. Remember, it’s ok to copy their style and emulate their work, but it is not ok to just recreate it. And when you share on Instagram/Facebook etc, I always find it good to tag them and give them credit as your inspiration. And they often love to see how they have inspired others too!

Here is a list of some of my favourite journalers if you need help getting started:

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing – Salvador Dali


3 thoughts on “Art journal prompt: Copy an artist you love”

    1. Yes, that’s a good way of looking at it! At first I felt like I was stealing other people’s ideas, but the more I thought about it the more it was like they were teaching me different techniques. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂


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