Is it Ever OK to Copy?

First of all, let me be clear that I am not writing this because someone copied me! I am writing this because I think it is something that is important to talk about, not only to other creatives, but to people who hire creatives as well. Copying isn't something that should be taken lightly, which is why I've decided to write this. And, if you feel compelled to, hopefully you can share it with your friends and other artists who have encountered copying before!

PIN THIS FOR LATER!

PIN THIS FOR LATER!

As much as I hate to admit it (and as embarrassed as I am to admit it) I have copied someone before. My intentions weren’t bad, at least I thought they weren’t... I just wanted to make something for my wedding back in 2015. I saw a design on a mirror with a cute saying that I loved, and I essentially replicated the entire thing. The saying itself was very common, but I used almost the same format of the wording and the same foliage design as well. The only difference was that mine was on wood. It was the first wood sign I had ever made and I really had no idea what I was doing (in a multitude of ways). I thought the fact that I made it for my own wedding was justification.

At this point @elisaannecalligraphy did not have an Instagram; so I posted the sign on my personal Instagram and tagged the girl who I had found my “inspiration” from in the description. I wanted to give her credit, and I honestly thought that what I was doing was harmless.

When I look back on that, I cringe. I hate talking about it but it’s only fair that I admit this to all of you. I have been there. I did it and it was stupid. The girl never commented on my post and that was when I realized, “Wow… I think I probably offended her.” And I felt terrible. It was at that point when I realized that there are definitely rules when it comes to copying and, I will add, rules that also apply when it comes to inspiration and imitation.

So, is it ok to copy?

When it comes down to it, no.

This elephant design is completely original and created by me! Though I have loved elephant art in the past, I knew it was important for me to create my own artistic impression of the animal.

This elephant design is completely original and created by me! Though I have loved elephant art in the past, I knew it was important for me to create my own artistic impression of the animal.

Now, I will rewind a minute to say that copying to learn techniques is slightly different because your motivation is to learn from the experience. Your intent is not to claim it as your own. This is why you see people sitting in art museums sketching or painting the artwork, to learn techniques. If you EVER decide to copy someone to try to learn something, do not post it. Ever. Anywhere. That needs to be kept to yourself, because you are doing it only for you. And I will go as far to say that you shouldn’t even display it either. File it away, or recycle it! It’s the process that counts and nothing else.

Overall, here are 3 simple reasons why it is not ok to copy someone else’s work:

1. It’s stealing.

There’s a difference between “using an idea” versus blatantly copying something. For example, multiple calligraphers marble their paper goods. Multiple artists paint designs on wood slices. When you use the same idea with different results, this is simply using the same technique. However, as soon as you are replicating something (say you create a wood slice with the same saying, same design, same colors, etc. as someone else) then you are stealing. That design was not your idea, it was someone else’s. You might as well be walking into their studio, grabbing that piece of work, and saying, “Ok, this is mine now.” Doesn’t sound very fair does it?

Keep in mind: common sayings are fair game! As long as you aren't exactly replicating someone else's work. Around the holidays we are bound to see a lot of "White Christmas", "Baby's First Christmas", "Joy to the World", "Merried & Bright" pieces floating around, and they are all great as long as they aren't a rendition of someone else's art!

2. You will get caught.

Don’t think for a second that it’s easy to get away with copying! Anymore, certain artists have brands and styles that are so recognizable, people will realize who the work belongs to if they see it elsewhere. A couple months back I actually screen-shot something and sent it to a ceramic artist to ask if it was hers. Even though I didn’t know her personally, I had followed her work for a long time and wanted to watch her back. Turned out it wasn’t technically hers, but the concept and overall design was freakishly similar. The work had been heavily inspired by hers to say the least. And multiple other people had messaged her as well asking a similar thing!

This also happened with a stationer I know. Someone was literally copying her wedding invitation suite designs and posting them on her Instagram feed. Someone else saw the work, recognized the artist who the work actually belonged to, and notified the artist about it. There is a huge community of creatives out there who are watching out for one another. You never ever want to get a message from an artist asking you to remove something because it appears like you have copied their work. I’m not saying that there aren’t coincidences (because there totally are) but it is completely within the artist’s ability to try to protect themselves and their work.

This hand-painted and embossed journal is another design that I created! Although multiple people are creating items that are similar, this idea was uniquely my own. Just because someone else used flowers doesn't mean you aren't allowed to. You just need to do it differently!

This hand-painted and embossed journal is another design that I created! Although multiple people are creating items that are similar, this idea was uniquely my own. Just because someone else used flowers doesn't mean you aren't allowed to. You just need to do it differently!

3. You are harming yourself.

When you copy someone else, you aren’t doing anything to stimulate your God-given creativity. If you can’t create an idea of your own, you will have no way to separate yourself from the hundreds of other people out there who are doing the same thing. What you do will simply be a rendition of someone else’s work, and that’s all it will ever be.

This is where inspiration comes in play as well. If you are inspired by someone, that is totally ok! I got where I am by allowing myself to be inspired by other people’s journeys and by other people’s work. But inspiration can come a little too close to copying if you aren’t careful. When I first started my Instagram, I really admired certain people’s feeds. But, instead of copying the layout of their photos, I made a mental list of things such as “I love the pops of color the use”, “I love the negative space they use”, and “I love how they included several small props and one large element”. From there, I started collecting my own props and coming up with my own ideas for photos. I wanted to use concepts that I appreciated, while keeping my photos uniquely my own!

Y’all, this is why Pinterest drives me crazy. So often, Pinterest accidentally fosters a copying community. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come to me and ask, “Can you create something like this?” [Insert picture of something horrific and totally not my style here]. Most of the time I try to approach this by telling people that I can use the “idea” from the piece, but I have to use my own style and idea when creating something for them. And so many times I give people sketches and they say, “Oh, but can you do it more like the one in the picture?” At that point I have to explain simply and bluntly that I can not, and will not, copy someone else’s work. I will be writing a separate post on this some point, because if you’re an artist this has undoubtedly happened to you at some point!

This essentially wraps up my ideas about copying, so let me know if you have any thoughts! Have you ever had someone copy you before, or have you copied in the past and felt terrible (like me)? Remember it’s always the best practice to be boldly creative and take risks with your designs! Create something that is uniquely you!