Inspiration vs Art Theft

So you found a really awesome photo on pinterest and you’ve decided to turn it into your next painting… Now what?


Some people may say that you are actually a thief because you are using another person’s work to inspire the creation of your piece. Personally I think that like everything in life, this matter is not simply black and white. There is a huge amount of greys in this topic on which you should be very informed before you start taking images from the internet and applying them into your art.

** This is a controversial topic in the art community and in no way do I intend for this post to be a end-all, be-all for this topic, but if you’d like to state a different opinion, know that I am open to the conversation (in the comments section) as long as it says civil and respectful. **

Derivative vs Transformative

A derivative work is a work, fixed in tangible medium that includes elements of an original, previously copyright-protected work. The original work is often referred to as the original, parent, or underlying work, and the work that incorporates it is referred to as the derivative. The Spanish translation of Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code” is an example of a derivative work. Both the original and derivative works have separate copyright protection. Under the U.S. Copyright Act, the copyright protection afforded to the derivative work is only that which is new, on top of the original work.

A subset of derivative works is the doctrine of transformative works. Transformative works make use of copyrighted material, but do so in a way that the resulting work is fully copyrightable. The author of the transformative work does, however, claim copyright over material in the original work, as used in his or her transformative piece. But, in the face of such a lavish grant of rights in copyright, courts must carefully deem what is actually transformative (and thus, fair use), and what is just copyright infringement.

-Foundry Law Group

Now that you have a better understanding of the two types of art that can be created with already established material, let’s see how we can apply this to our own artistic endeavors in order to not fall victim to being art thieves.

Give credit to your source material

Usually the biggest wrongdoing an artist can do when using references, is to not give credit to their source material. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that you have to give credit to every single designer that inspired the clothes of your character, from the socks to their branded hairband, however, you should be giving credit when the implementation of said imagery is blatant in your design. Things like poses, colors, and even expressions need not be credited if the artist has shown a direct link to other artists. Meaning that if you’ve mentioned that you are a fan of Hellboy’s creator Mike Mignola, and you suddenly start using big blobs of black to build your scenes, then it’s obvious you took it from Miknola as a someone that inspires you and you in turn are trying to emulate in your design.


The problem is not entirely there, especially when you are smart enough to make the link yourself and talk about how they’ve inspired you. The problem resides when you start a new comic that’s inspired by Mignola and you name the character something like InfernoMan, and the design is exactly like Hellboy but with a cowboy hat.

Think Sonic Oc’s and the amount of comics, fan-art and all sorts of animations and pixel art created with sonic oc’s. 9 times of 10, this sort of artwork falls into copyright infringement and the monetazation of said creations are virtually impossible or illegal.


You never ever want to steal the Intellectual Property of someone else. Sure let yourself be inspired by it but do not become a fake, cheap version of that which you love.

This brings us to the next point.

Become a chimera of what you love.


A chimera (in Greek mythology) is a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. It is essentially a mixture of all three animals without really being any of the three completely. This is what you should be doing in your art. Aim to a creative Chimera. be a mixture of all you love. Allow your style to be inspired not just by one artist, but by every artist that you enjoy, allow those styles to mix together thorough the continuous exploration of your pens and pencils, into your own unique vehicle to express your idea using your own voice.

02 Knight_MoodBoard

Take up the exercise of creating a vision board (pinterest board) of every artist you enjoy, and then once you’ve carefully compiled all those things you find appealing onto one place, try to create art that takes the best pieces of each artist. You will find that when you combine all these different things, some techniques will work and fit together with others much more smoothly than others, The consistent exploration of your style through the implementation of your aesthetic curatorial experiments will result in a start that is unlike any of those that influenced yet feels and looks completely unique to you.

03 KnightExpressionSheet

Try it out, and post some of your results below. Let’s see what you come up with.

Steal like an Artist

When you steal like an artist you are not truly stealing, you are in fact learning, you are growing you are becoming better through the combined efforts of those that came before you.

Art students do this without realizing it when they start studying the Rennaisance masters, and start implementing the way the Master’s painted.


Nowadays you don’t even have to go to a university to do this; instead you could log into youtube and find a huge amount of references and research material ready for you to implement into your art.

This is possible not just in art, but also in music, animation, video games, and virtually any kind of creative media. When you study the works of those that did before you, you are in fact informing your art with years and years of previous working techniques and knowledge. You are strengthening your very own original concepts with the proven methods of artists that have succeeded before you.

When you steal like this, there is no way you could ever fail. You are like a jewel thief that found the locksmith’s notebook.

Practice truly being inspired by the art you love and the artists you admire,  in no time you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor and your art will be able to grow into places never seen before, because when you combine everything you love into one unique beast, you are making connections that no one has ever done before. Your likes and dislikes are so varied, and so unique to you and your personal experience as an artist that there is simply no way to fall into the trap of copyright infringement.

Go on, create you next new vision with the blessing of the artists from the past.

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