Making original work

I recently took two online drawing classes. I really enjoyed them and I learned a lot. Both teachers are somehow linked professionally so they use sort of the same policies and terms of service. These TOS are pretty standard and I didn’t even have to read them to know what things we as students shouldn’t do. Stuff like sharing your password, taking screenshots of fellow student’s work, sharing outside the closed forums etc.

In my head it is pretty clear that if you’re following a tutorial of some sort: free or paid and your result is exactly like the teacher, you can’t claim that as yours. However when you are learning, you are indeed copying and one of my greatest concerns is posting my work and having someone tell me that I’m copying.

That would just kill me.

I’m taking steps to create a small side-business of my graphics and my designs. I share my drawings on Instagram choosing them carefully. I keep class exercises and works-in-progress from that class strictly within the communities. But I find that it’s almost inevitable to “get inspired by” something already created. Everything is up for grabs on the screen. Tools are readily available to capture everything. I used to laugh at people who asked on forums “How do I deactivate right click on my images?” or photographers who put a gigantic watermark on their work which only diminishes its beauty. I strive to create original work, but it’s hard.

A few months ago I read an excellent post about this on Design Sponge titled 50 Shades of Grey: Copying and Credit in Design  it is an in-depth look inspiration, originality and how unfortunate it is to accuse someone of copying without proof and doing so in public.

Today I found another fantastic post about the topic titled I’ve “copied”. And I bet you have too found via @theprivategirl

One of my clipart sets, include drawings of waves and I remember mentioning in the Design Garden forum that I was worried about it not being original enough. Sabina said: you can draw a wave in only so many ways. Which is true. If you are drawing flowers, unless they are completely stylized, you can’t really reinvent a poppy and have it still remain recognizable.

It’s comforting that the topic of making original work is being talked about because public shaming, especially if you’re just starting out can be fatal to a person’s creativity and self-confidence.

So to keep on the safe side here’s what I’ve been doing:

  1. Creating libraries of symbols, patterns, shapes, strokes, marks etc. that I see everyday, outside, in nature, in the city, even possibly on someone’s clothing. I’m trying to not depend on Pinterest and Google Images so much.

  2. Going through the stacks in the art section at the multiple libraries I have in my path. Looking through art of different countries (yesterday I found a lovely book of Japanese patterns from… oh a long time ago…can’t remember which century)

  3. Documenting and making notes.

  4. Using my sketchbook until it’s really full. I’m drawing on pages upon pages. Just to make happy accidents appear.

  5. Making an exact copy of my teacher’s tutorial and then making it again changing it as much as possible: shape, color, line, etc.

  6. Making it again and giving it a different setting, a different pose.

In this example I show how I made a mandala following roughly the teacher’s instructions. To the left it’s a classic mandala. To the right, I included some of the graphics I’ve been making as a result of the Design Garden* class.

Making original work

A year ago I wrote about the conflict of showing one’s art, in part influenced by Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work philosophy, but for some reason I couldn’t feel comfortable back then. I feel a bit more at ease these days. I post mostly on my Instagram account.

This week, I read an article on Rookie titled:
On “Putting Yourself Out There”, which is a great reminder of keeping some of your work to yourself. It is a great read.


I have a series of photographs I took in 2005 where I’m doing some collage. I took the self-portraits to remind me of the wonderful feeling of being in my room, alone, with scissors and glue creating compositions out of other people’s images.

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By Luisa Fernanda

Artist, Illustrator, Cruelty-Free Advocate. Notion Geek.