Inspiration or Knock Off? When does inspiration become Sin-spiration?



“When your artwork or style is copied by another, do you get angry?  Or do you view it as influencing the world with your art?”

The above question was asked by Maria Brophy, in her blog on

When I’m booked as a comp artist and pre-production artist, I’m hired to mimic other styles all the time. People look me up when they want Lichtenstein, or René Gruau stuff ( they’re dead ) or when their budget doesn’t allow for a Jason Brooks or a Jordi La Banda ( they’re expensive, amazing, well worth the money, but not everybody has the big budget ). I have clients praise me for it. And I’ve had potential clients get angry over it. One of my favorite portfolio pieces that gets a lot of attention in done in the style the great fashion illustration master, David Downton.  He is, in short, my hero and one of my greatest influences.

Ironically, a sample that was meant to get me more work did the opposite. Today a potential client turned me down for a job because of that piece.  She’s a fan of Downton’s work too, and was obviously offended.  Or something.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when does inspiration become Sin-spiration?

I sell my ability to imitate the style.  I make pieces inspired by theirs. I’m not out creating t-shirts and tossing them on ebay, or making key chains or wall art on Etsy.

As Maria says, “One of the oldest sins in art is knocking off someone else’s creation and selling it.

Brophy continues:


Drew Brophy’s artwork and style has been copied by thousands of people.  You could say he asked for it.  He’s given a lot of his time showing others how to paint using his techniques and he makes it easy for others to use his art as a guide for their own creativity.

Friends will ask “Doesn’t it make you mad to when someone copies your art?”  Drew’s answer is this:  “I’m glad to influence the work of others.   I’m just passing it on.”

After all, Drew himself was inspired by artists before him.”

She writes: “How do you determine the difference between inspiration and plagiarism? It’s easy, but don’t ask me to explain it.  Just like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of Pornography, “I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.” The blog also states: “Drew’s art is “knocked off” by more people than I can count.  Drew doesn’t see it as “stealing” but rather that he’s passing the influence onto the next generation of artists.  If you go to Drew’s Facebook page, there are scores of artists who post their Drew Brophy influenced art.  Some of it looks just like Drew’s paintings!

In art school, when learning to draw and paint, we often worked in the styles of the masters, both classical and modern.

It can help you really develop your techniques and to gain inspiration.  If you don’t plan on selling these paintings, there’s no ethical issue by doing this

I think that’s the difference.

It happens in fashion all the time. Knock-offs abound.  I used to be key designer for a company call Apparel Limited, and people copied us like crazy.  Other companies were selling products with surface designs that were 99% MINE.

This is where a strong cease and desist letter is helpful.

Merely copying isn’t is not super creative work, but it’s a useful as training exercise. Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work, and it may even improve the concept.

What do you guys think?

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