How To Take Inspiration From Other Things (Without Plagiarising Them)

2016 Artwork How To Be Inspired Properly

Although I wrote about how to deal with being inspired unconsciously a few days ago, I thought that I’d revisit the subject from a slightly different angle today. In other words, I’ll be talking about the right way to deliberately take artistic inspiration from other things.

Taking inspiration from other things is something that literally all artists do. Whilst there’s no such thing as a truly “original” work of art, it’s generally accepted that a work can be considered “original” if it doesn’t wholly and directly copy something else. However, it can still be inspired by other things. In fact, if you ever meet an artist who claims to produce entirely “original” works of art without any inspirations, then they’re lying.

But, before I go any further, I should probably point out that there is a difference between inspiration and plagiarism. Simply copying another work of art verbatim is usually considered to be plagiarism and it is not inspiration.

Whilst there are a few specific situations where this type of verbatim copying can be justified (either by law or by accepted common practice) – in many situations, it is considered unethical at best and criminal at worst.

So, if “taking inspiration” doesn’t just mean copying someone else’s art wholesale, what does it mean?

It means looking at what general things (eg: artistic techniques, lighting, colour schemes, themes, atmosphere etc…) make a particular work of art, photography etc… great and then trying to create a totally new work of art that contains those general elements. It means copying general elements, rather than specific details.

It means taking a step back and analysing the things that inspire you, until you can find the non-specific elements that make them so great. It means making an original picture which is significantly different from the thing that inspired you, but is also vaguely reminiscent of it.

To give you an example, one of my long-standing inspirations is the movie “Blade Runner“. Although I have made a few parody cartoons that are directly based on this film, I’ve made many more original works of science fiction art that have been at least partially inspired by this film. So, how did I get inspired by “Blade Runner” without copying it directly.

I looked at the general elements of the film. These include things like neon-lit streets, crowded futuristic cities, rainy weather, detectives, the night, 1940s-style fashion, flying cars, Aztec/Maya style architecture, giant angular buildings, old buildings, bulky technology, omnipresent advertising etc…

Once I’d worked out what all of these general elements were, I was able to create original works of art that include these elements, without including any specific details from “Blade Runner”. These works of art are reminiscent of “Blade Runner”, without actually copying any specific thing from the film.

In fact, whilst I’m on the subject of “Blade Runner”, it’s important to note that this film isn’t exactly “original”. Like all creative works, it also has it’s own inspirations. Leaving aside the fact that it’s meant to be an adaptation of a novel, the visual style of “Blade Runner” is heavily inspired by many old American “film noir” movies from the 1940s and 50s, it’s inspired by several contemporary cities in Asia etc…

And yet it is still (quite rightly) considered to be a ground-breaking and “original” film. So, yes, everyone takes inspiration from somewhere. It is an integral part of being creative.

But, the best way to ensure that you produce orginal inspired works is simply to take inspiration from several different things. Again, you shouldn’t directly copy specific details but, the more sources of inspiration you have for a particular work of art, the more distinctive and “original” that piece of art will look.

Using multiple sources of inspiration also means that you are able to make connections between seemingly “different” things. This means that your art will also be a lot more imaginative too, since you’ll have to work out interesting ways to combine your inspirations.

Although it can take a while to learn how to take inspiration the proper way, it is well worth learning. It’s something that every artist needs to know how to do properly and it’s something that will probably quickly become second-nature to you.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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2 comments on “How To Take Inspiration From Other Things (Without Plagiarising Them)

  1. Pete says:

    We may each be on our own ‘road of life’ but almost every facet of our existence down that road is influenced’ by what we observe around us. So when reading another writers postings a stray idea or comment my prompt an entire new thread of thought that results in a totally different posting, the original thought may belong to another but the newly created writing is defiantly yours!

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Very true. Your comments about how we are influenced by everything also remind me a bit of the choruses of an absolutely excellent punk song called “Marked” by Bad Religion too.

      But, yes, creativity is often more about interpretation than about anything else. And often the most “original” things are also the most derivative ones (it’s just that they’ve chosen a unique mixture of inspirations).

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