What is the difference between stealing and inspiration?

“What is the difference between stealing a work and inspiration?”

Mohamed-76 asked on Quora

Substantial similarity is the term used in the United States copyright law to decide if a creative work is infringing. The court’s mindset can be used as a helpful creative framework.

Thedecision rides on whether the resulting work can only result from pure copying and not a coincidence. When making the distinction between copying and inspiration, the court use many factors such as:

Uniqueness, intricacy, or complexity. Guarantee that your work includes its own voice and structure. Expand your own experiences by telling your personal story. Draw from various ideas that you’ve discovered instead of just one and describe why they resonate for you. Start by explaining the story’s details and then give your ideal audience the your personal thinking behind it.

An unexpected element. What addition can you impose? Remove a common element that can be discarded to establish an element of surprise.

Mistakes in both works. Direct copying from a source can show mistakes. The copyist may not even understand the error. Without having a familiarity with anatomy, for example, an artist might copy an unrealistic invention or error. Only take inspiration from elements you understand. Study from various sources and learn from observing real life as much as possible.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Pablo Picasso

Attempts at superficial differences. Making a copy while switching only colors or cropping is different from making a unique piece. Start from a base that is original to your piece. Make your piece mostly inventive. This is the fun part!

How to borrow creatively

When working with inspiration, try focusing on one aspect. If working with visual arts, you might look at only the color or only the composition. Think critically about what you really like about source material. You’ll fill in the blanks with other inspirations. Whatever thoughts you have collected over your lifetime will lead you to diverging paths than any other artist.

“Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources” C.E.M. Joad

Austin Kleon asks “Is it worth stealing?” in his book, “Steal Like An Artist”. Your choice of inspirations will be unique to you. If you love the design of Ikea furniture, antique houses, and country living… You’ll end up with a house that you love and that is custom made for you. Apply this idea to your artwork.


Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How (Not) To Respond To Criticism

Getting used to feedback about your work takes some getting used to. With a lot of practice, you get used to putting yourself out there and hearing what others have to say about.

Imagine the many tasks you do in your daily life that you would have no defensive response about. If a friend told you that orange is the best color. Sure, we all know that the answer is blue. Most of us wouldn’t correct others about most things. Our defensive reaction is about us. Our feelings about ourselves.

In 2014, Mallory Ortberg wrote an incredible hilarious piece of satire entitled “How to Respond to Criticism”. Every artist, creative, and human needs to hear these! Here are some key highlights:

  • “Stop doing everything. Don’t say anything or be anything. Get as small as you possibly can without disappearing. Don’t exist. Or keep existing, but differently than before.”
  • “Apologize, but don’t really mean it, and plant a seed of secret resentment so deep in your own heart that years later you can’t even remember that you’re the one who nurtured it and made it grow, it seems that much like a native part of you.”
  • “Be sure not to separate the tone of the criticism from the content. If it was said ungracefully, it cannot be true. If it was said reasonably, it cannot be false.”

Here’s an amazing reading of the full post by the author herself:

What techniques help when you receive criticism?

So that’s what you don’t do. Acting on a full reversal of avoiding everything is the best case scenario. Other than avoiding the pitfalls, how can you get the best out of feedback?

Actively seek criticism. Look for the situations, individuals, and relationships in your life that lean toward being both supportive and honest. Talk to experts about specific details. Weigh their ideas and thoughts. Take what works for you and be thankful for the rest.

Learn from their thoughts. Make a positive experience where you’ll learn as much as you can.

Learn to be your own critic. Ask yourself why you think as you do. Explore your wants. From there, plan for the possibilities.

Understand how criticism is a compliment. For whatever reason, this person decided that you are capable of growth. You may not want to grow in the way they specify.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Is there a way I can develop a more creative mind?

“Is there a way I can develop a more creative mind so that I can come up with ideas?”
Anonymous asked on Quora

Applied creativity is a practiced skill. There are infinite ways to understand the ways you already use this skill and to figure out the next steps:

Notice how you’re already creative.

Every action you take is creative. You’re taking something from your inner world and making it real. You created your life today. You could sleep in and instead you wake up. You could quit your job; instead, you work. You could abandon your relationships, instead, you keep them. Life is an act of creation.

“Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, Great Gatsby

You can play with your life in small creative ways. Plan in areas that you’re spontaneous. Be spontaneous about details that you often plan. Take a different route to work. Try something new every day. Quit doing something that you never want to do again or find an easier way to do it.

Clarity comes from action.

Research ways to be more creative. Read articles and tutorials. That’s just a start. And most importantly, try the ideas!

“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” Ecclesiastes 11:4

Notice what’s around you.

Every moment has an infinite number of facts. The feeling of touch of the keyboard or phone as you type. The sound of your breath. The color of your walls. The taste in your mouth. The scent of your clothing, hair and environment.

Engage your senses in any moment. You’ll notice something you never noticed before. The more information you have, the more you can use this in your creative pursuits.

Think of an artist drawing an ordinary object. Even if it’s a very minimalist representation, capturing some small detail of the original object is engaging. Imagine an artist sketch a silhouette of various objects. With a single line, you can capture texture, size, and relationship.

Listen and be curious

Often we listen with envy, wishing we can do what others do or have what they have. When you notice this feeling, engage with curiosity instead. Understand how they became who they are and do what they do. Notice how you’re alike and different. It’s okay and completely expected that everyone has a unique perspective.

“Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others experience.” Otto von Bismarck

If someone has an idea, try it without resistance. Being a good listener means having lower defenses. The more comfortable we get with understanding the thoughts of others as ideas rather than judgement, the easier it will be to apply those ideas to our own creativity.

“Don’t take anything personally…What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”— Miguel Angel Ruiz

Write it down

This is one of the tips that works really well for me. Write lists, organize them or leave them messy. Read about mind mapping techniques and play around with the. Take out a piece of paper and scribble over it.

In cognitive science, this concept is called Distributed cognition. As I was saying earlier, creativity is taking the thoughts from your inner world and making them real. So the more you practice finding ways to turn your thoughts into actions, the more creative you’ll be.

Sketch it out

Draw doodles. Turn words into pictures. How do you see things in your mind? If you have trouble building associations, go to google image search and Pinterest and doodle what you see. The very act of doodling will give it the uniqueness of your eye and your hand.

Get a sketchbook. Or often that feels that’s too precious. So scrap paper, cheap dollar notebooks, and old envelopes from junk mail are also amazing tools

Answer questions

“Make statements” as Tina Fey says. She advises that we turn questions into answers. Statements are where the real work is. Whether it’s making statements about questions on quora or testing the statements that are responses to your own questions. If your statement is wrong, just make another one.

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” Oscar Wilde

Share often

Ideas don’t develop in a vacuum. With the internet, it’s easy to put your work out there. Get used to putting your work in front of people and not taking feedback personally. Feedback isn’t always true. It’s just the thought of others. Mostly developed through their own inner worlds. Enjoying this play between your thoughts and the thoughts of others is the heart of the creative mind. Your ideas can spark ideas the mind of others.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas?

For this week’s Q&A Monday, I asked this question on Quora. Here’s a list of 30 answers:

“What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas?”

Read Jade Kandel's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Patrick Hochstenbach's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Marc Holmes' answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Kathy Staton's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Racer Maximiliano Rodriguez-Avellan's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Nat Love's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How do you start an art project?

“I have an individual art project with the theme ‘change’, any ideas where to start, I’m new at this?”
Anonymous on Quora

Step 1: Jot down what want to include the project.

Take out a blank sheet of paper. Quickly scribble words, doodles, and notes. Get everything that you could possibly want to do with your art project and write it down. Once we write things down, it feels real. And you’ll no longer be worried about where to start. Because you will have started!

Fill every bit of white space on the page. For example :

  • Write the word “Change”. Write down any related ideas you think of.
  • Write down the word “Art project” think of what that means to you. What kind of art are you trying to create.
  • Write down the ideas you think might not work.
  • Write down actions involved. “Looking up inspiration”, “Practice sketches”, “Taking photos”.
  • If any images come to your head, doodle a rough version of it.
  • Cross out any ideas that you don’t think are possible or you want to skip

Repeat this process anytime you get stuck or have more ideas.

Step 2: Organize.

You might do this on a computer or on note cards. Separate tasks into verbs:

  • What needs to be done right away?
  • What can be scheduled for a certain day?
  • What can be done and needs other steps before you’re at that point?
  • What would be nice to do, but can be set aside for now?

Step 3: Keep lists and/or collections of reference material.

This is separate from any actions/tasks/verbs

These are some ideas to get started. Take what works for you if anything.

For more ideas on how to organize your project, How do you organize your ideas? 5 Steps and How to Plan and Execute Your Goals: Free Downloadable.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.