Jeni on Drawing 6 – Drawing on Outside Influences
Art is a creative rather than a logical activity. Children learn to draw and paint by imitation, in much the same way as they learn language, or skills such as walking and eating. They watch someone else and then copy them, practising and elaborating until they make it their own. This is a natural, “right-brained”, creative way of learning.
Trying to learn art in a “left-brained”, logical fashion, is slow, laborious and often inhibits any creativity or individuality. Slaving over a subject until it feels ‘right’ can be very demoralising; being shown tools, techniques, and examples of how other artists have tackled similar subjects is much more helpful.
Artists themselves have always copied one another’s images and ideas, turning them into something original and unique. Working ‘after’ another artist (i.e. making a detailed copy) is an accepted way of studying technique and approach. As long as the original artist is credited if this study is shown or exhibited, this is not considered stealing or cheating. These days it is almost impossible to protect images on the net anyway, so the free flow of ideas and inspiration should be fuelling our creativity like never before.
A straightforward copy is often a laboured mechanical thing though. It cannot embody the spark of originality and vision that the original piece holds. Ideally we should use art we admire and are inspired by and use it as a springboard to create something personal and new. The art must say something about you as well as about your subject, technique and ability, otherwise it will just simply be a copy of someone else’s idea.
One exercise I give students is to practice copying details of drawings by well-known artists and asking them to try and feel the different strokes and methods that were used. Some are fast sketches, some are visibly slower and more detailed, some have long sweeping gestures, others have heavy, intense ones. It is valuable to copy these approaches, not necessarily to make exact reproductions, but to see which marks feel the most comfortable and inviting. Being influenced by work you aspire to can help you find your own style.
“Art is theft” Pablo Picasso
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poets welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that which it was torn” T.S. Eliot
“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original”
All quotes from “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon