• Rose-Marie Marshall-Jane

The secret of imitation and why it is not flattery.

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

There's a BIG difference between imitation and inspiration.


Inspiration can come in many forms and from many subjects. The falling of leaves in autumn, the wavering reflected lights from a street lamp of a rainy day, gazing romantically into your lover's eyes. Inspiration is drawing something from a topic or subject and recreating it to make your own interpretation. That's original and is what all self-respecting artists should aim to do.

Gaining inspiration from another's artwork in fine. Think of the amount of artists that were influenced by artists of old. It maybe the style or the topic, the inspiration they gained allowed them to create their own original work. Original, not copied.

I have been inspired by artists I've found in books and via my own research, I've also gained inspiration from artists I follow on Instagram. There's nothing wrong with that! I just never, ever copy their work that I intend to sell. Now, that is wrong.


Recently, we've become aware of a local artist who is imitating our work and style. The mediums we use, the surface we draw on and the topics we draw. Whilst also claiming them as her own ideas and selling them. Want to know how I know this? We taught her.

It should be a compliment that a former pupil is trying to sell work after being taught by us. But when it's an exact copy of our originals and when they are claiming it as their own original work, that is frustrating. And also breaches copyright laws somehow, right?

I'm trying very hard not to go in full rant mode here.

When we teach, we try to encourage uniqueness. Even if we provide the work to copy from we urge people to create their own style, use their own colours and create a piece that was maybe inspired by something else but is now truly their own work.

Sometimes it is beneficial to copy another work as an exercise, but we never (never, ever) encourage people to sell it. We don't want it done to us so we won't do it to others.

It's like seeing a bunch of designs on Redbubble or Etsy that are of popular logos (hello Disney). In fact, it's amazing the amount of work I've seen on there that are of copied works. Van Gogh's Starry Night pops up a lot, so does Frida Kahlo. TV show quotes and celebrities all have their own fair share of copyrighted work on there. And there's me thinking that Redbubble was strict on copyright.

Sure, it must take a lot for them to screen every piece that is flagged up as copyright but I still find it sad that the original designs I want to see on Redbubble get swallowed up by logos of well known and protected companies. What's more, they allow customers to search for trending topics like *Disney and Marvel.

As artists, we all know that when we share our work on social media or in galleries we open ourselves up to copying and people who want to steal our ideas. Part of the artist's life really. Even so, it isn't nice is it? We also know that what we are inspired by, many others will be inspired by the same thing also. It's inevitable.

Next time you see a piece of work and think 'wow that's great! I want to copy that' simply don't. Think instead 'wow that's great! I'm inspired, how can I interpret that into my work?' You'll feel much better when you've created something that is truly yours and original.

Original, that's all we ever want to be.

*Fair enough to Redbubble, they do have an official Partner Program where you can sell licensed Fan Art if you want. As long as you stick to the brands included and the rules. Disney and Marvel aren't part of this popular gang. KISS and Thunderbirds are though.