Inspiration vs. Imitation
EVERY NOW AND THEN I get a really lovely email from an aspiring letterer that is about to publish a passion project of his or her own. They tell me my work was an inspiration and that they can’t wait to share their creation with the world. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside for a moment…until I click on their link and realize that much of what they intend to publish is nearly a direct tracing of my work.
A lot of established illustrators and designers deal with the same thing—students or young professionals that rip them off without realizing it. Addressing these young designers can be really heartbreaking because you know that they had the purest of intentions. So here’s a little post to all the hungry, young designers that are struggling to find their own voice, but end up a bit too close to their inspirations. There are definitely people that maliciously rip artists off left and right, and this post is not for them. They are evil and cannot be helped.
1. It’s OK to copy people’s work.[GIANT ASTERISK!]
TO BE A GOOD ARTIST / letterer / designer / guitar player it takes practice. A lot of it. More than you can even fathom when you’re starting out. If you wanted to become a great guitar player, you wouldn’t buy a fancy guitar and immediately start composing songs… you would pick up a song book, or look up some tablature music on the internet, and teach yourself how to play using other people’s music. You would emulate the greats and learn from them, as they learned from others in the past. You’d spend hours alone trying to be like Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page or whomever you really admired. Then, once you were well practiced and felt confident in your abilities to play, you’d form a band, you’d write your own songs, and you’d find your own voice.
When you’re learning, it’s not wrong to copy people—to learn from them the way that they learned from others before them. What many young artists have a problem realizing though, is that the work you create while practicing and learning is completely separate of what you do professionally. Just because you can play OK Computer cover to cover doesn’t mean you should record an album of your renditions and release them under your name. You know that any such action would leave you up to your eyeballs in legal problems. Copy all you wish in private, and once you feel confident in your skills, create your own original public work.
2. Not everything you make should be on the internet.
YOUNG DESIGNERS AND ILLUSTRATORS are plagued by an issue that didn’t really affect those of us that are in our late 20s or older—they think that everything they ever create should be published to the internet. Blogs weren’t really in full swing when I graduated college. Swiss Miss was in its infancy. Behance didn’t exist. Dribbble wasn’t even a twinkle in Dan Cederholm’s eye. As graduating college students, we were told that having a website was important so that future employers could check us out, not so that the dieline could post about us and an army of bored designers could drool over our work during their lunchbreaks.
When you’re starting out and have a teeny portfolio of student work, it can be very very tempting to publish everything you’re working on, whether it’s practice or actual published work. It’s especially hard because, more often than not, the work you’re doing at your day job is less than inspiring when you are starting out. It will be really hard to resist showing off the illustration you created that was inspired heavily by one of your heroes, because in reality it is probably one of the nicest things you’ve made. But that’s the thing, every new thing you make will be (should be) the nicest thing you’ve made so far, because you’re learning and getting better with each and every new project. Resist posting the practice—the piece that you know is too close to its inspiration. Let that practice fuel original work and then publish to your heart’s content.
Read the rest here.
Follow Jessica @jessicahische