Fake It Until You Make It: Creating Better Art by Copying the Mess Out of Artists


Fake It Until You Make it: Creating Better Art by Copying THE MESS out of Your Favorite Artists


Youngster Andy- Photo by Ann Freeman
Youngster Andy- Photo by Ann Freeman

As a youngster, copying artwork seemed dishonest. Everyone would look at you like a little turdball if you said you traced Mickey Mouse because the holy grail of all things meant successfully drawing cartoon characters through free hand drawing. Particularly in my middle school in the Suburbs of Country Club Hill Illinois. We snotty prep school babies must have thought freehand was more “refined”. And for a while I gained a bit of popularity because I never literally traced (as in tracing an image underneath a sheet of paper), However at a young age I always knew how to trace with my eyes. I owe this to my Papa who always painted and drew around me. The number one thing he taught me at the young age of 5 (or sooner) is when you draw; never assume you know what you’re drawing, look at it continuously as you draw. This method constitutes looking up at the object that you’re drawing, then back to your paper literally a couple hundred times as you make each stroke on paper. So in essence it is copying, just from a distance.


image by Andrea Freeman
image by Andrea Freeman

As I continued copying from sight, I noticed that creating cartoons from my imagination improved. Similarly to the idiom “Know the rules before you break them.”


I bring this story up because I know personally that copying, or remixing the work of others makes a person better in their craft: Whether it be art, music, style or much else. However there are a few catches!


It’s only a starting Point- Copying is merely a springboard. While it’s a great place to start, staying at this place only stagnates creatives. You learn the basics and move on to develop your own style.


Do it well- When copying, it is important to do it well. Otherwise you’re ingraining poor technique. You should place the same intensity on a tracing as if it were your own work.


Repetition is Key- Once you have your foundation down, continue to create within your craft as much as possible. In the case of creatives repetition beats quality.


As in my own story and experience, a huge stigma against copying exists. However there’s nothing new that anyone can really create, everything has been done before. Even the Bible tells us that: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”-

Ecclesiastes 1:9


Therefore as an artist I copy to create a solid foundation and catapult my craft further. As Issac Netwon said: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” And only


And truly we have access to the resources of giants: Any technique you want to learn can be found on YouTube or learned by viewing images from historically acclaimed individuals in your craft.


Remix Challenge:

Find an artist within your craft, and copy the mess out of them.


Personally I’m on a mission to recreate the style of my favorite artists in two areas: Digital art and video. For the art portion, Jamaican born artist Paul Davey has been on my list for years. And within the realm of video, I appreciate the video style of Spike Lee (Especially School Daze) and Terrence Nance, an up and coming visual artist who was also inspired by Spike Lee.



None of this is to say I am “THE BEST” artist in the world, far from it. But I know that personally copying has helped me tremendously to build upon my own craft.


So happy copying!

[vimeo id=”63800532″ width=”” height=”” wmode=”transparent” title=”1″ byline=”0″ portrait=”1″ hd=”1″]








Share your thoughts