Responding to the last thing you made can be a fast way to start building a chain of making. The easiest first step might be to copy another persons piece of art if you don’t know where to begin. Pick something you like visually and either loosely copy it or find smaller elements within the art to draw. Children’s art can be a fun starting point of inspiration. Once you’ve got something down on paper, don’t be afraid to cut it up and rearrange the pieces to create something new. Then copy the new reconfigured piece. Be inspired by your own-mark making and continue this process of coping and responding to your art.
Austin Kleon writes about a copy/transform/combine process: “It’s been most helpful to me personally when I think of copy/transform/combine as a more linear process in creating: copying is how you learn and assemble your artistic alphabet or vocabulary, combining is when you start to stick your influences together, and transforming is when you stick the right influences together and the seams of your Frankenstein monster disappear and you wind up with a whole new monster entirely.”
Through this process you start building a chain of art through each new art piece and where you end up may look very different compare to where you started. By cutting up the art there is space to create without the constraint of perfection, which allows you to let go of being precious about the artwork. Follow the copying chain to see what unexpected transformations surface through this process.
With so many possibilities of things to make, the dilemma of where to start can be overwhelming. A way to leap right into making and overcome the paralysis of choice is to pick something that already exists and copy it. This is how you learn how to make the thing, gain insight into the making process and clarity around your likes and dislikes. Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist is an advocate for stealing art and using other artists work as inspiration: “taking the things you’ve stolen and making them into your own thing… combine it with your own ideas and thoughts, transform it into something completely new.”
Once you’ve practiced copying someone else’s work, you can begin to expand and grow your own ideas. By repeating this process with a variety of different artists work, you begin to create a web of knowledge around what you are visually drawn to. So what started as a sort of counterfeit practice becomes a rich source to draw from to create your own work.
The director Damien Chazelle explains how he stole ideas from old musicals to create the film La La Land (2016): “I’ve been a movie obsessed person my whole life so there’s no shortage of films, filmmakers that I love to steal from any chance I can get. When it comes to Musicals, Stanley Donen and Vincente Minnelli y’know, are some of the obvious iconic figures of the musical and especially how I’d say Vincente Minnelli used colour and how Stanley Donen used camera movement.”
Get curious about what the style, subjects, mood, shapes, themes or colours you’re drawn to and use the process of copying to help you practice and create your own art.