Steal Like an Artist – Revisited


I was recommended this book during my first module on OCA but I didn’t get a physical copy until recently. Internet searches yielded the main points of this text and that proved to be an enlightening insight in to this way of thinking about sources for art and did free up my way of looking at things. Previously I had thought of using the ways people combined colour or placed items within a work as copying. This book just blew that idea straight out of my mind. There are ten bullet points listed in the book but I have taken some sub-points from within the ten sections in the book and looked at how they could be used in my work.

Nothing is Original

The main point to take, in my opinion, is that “Nothing is original.” This is really important in looking at other people’s work. Even by trying to copy someone else’s work, the way the person copying the work held his pencil or applied the paint would build-in variation from the original work, such that a new spin is already put on that piece. This fundamental point instantly frees us up from dwelling on using ideas from other people’s work as copying but also we then have no need to try to be “original” as that can never be achieved.

Garbage in, Garbage out.

Collect from everywhere, not just within our chosen field. Textile ideas can be gained from everywhere. Look at furniture, car headlights, bridges… just look at things.

Swipe File

Cut and paste ideas and inspiring pictures from the internet or magazines, for example, in to one central place so you can retrieve them later. This can be a digital computer folder or can be a more analogue scrapbook. I still prefer a low-tech approach to this sort of thing. It is more time-consuming to find an image but tangents are inevitable when flicking through the pages of the book. I also have a jar on my desk full of small pieces of paper, each has an idea or a reference on it, not to be acted on immediately, but is there in case of a lull in ideas or for some inspiration if required.

Start copying

Before OCA I didn’t draw, there was even some speculation that I might not be able to. My first sketchbook contained drawings, I’m proud to call them that, of items around my house, things to hand when the mood struck. Since then my sketchbooks have intersected with the scrapbook/swipe file and there are cut-out pictures stuck in next to sketches and ideas for colour palettes. I also try to convert some of these pictures in to stitch samples and reproduce other people’s work in my own way. This has been very useful to me in how I look at other people’s work as I’m now thinking how have they done that and how might I go about it.

This has led to a better understanding of technique, process and use of materials.


Write what you like, not what you know.

Looking back at my ATV work I can see now that I produced work I knew. The same techniques appeared in a couple of pieces, similar threads were used, scale was often similar. I liked the work I made but I now need to look at, and review, more work from other textile producers.

Use your hands

Working with a screen puts a layer of glass between the user and the work being produced. Getting close to your work, seeing it from many angles can show area to work on and how materials combine better than working solely on a flat screen.

Take time to be bored

Most important. I have a 30 minute drive to my work and on that drive I have come up with ways to improve samples, new things to investigate and also by stepping away from samples in progress I have possibly avoided some absolute disasters by over working something. This tuning out while driving lets my mind churn over things in my subconscious, ready to present me with ideas later in the day.

Leave Home

See new things. Visit places. These needed not be far-flung places, but step outside your front door on occasion. I think the underlying thought here is make the effort. Plan a trip and do it. See different things but ultimately look at things that don’t normally cross your field of vision or look differently at things that are already familiar to you.

Many textile artists are now focussing on their local areas to provide ideas for their work. This could be historical connections, local flora or just the trip to the shops every day. Keep looking.

Parkinsons Law

The Economist published the ‘proof’ of this law in 1955, here, but it still holds true today, “Work will expand to fill the time available in which to complete it.”

Set time aside to work, be dull and stick to a timetable.

Choose what to leave out.

Working within constraints and rules can be good for creativity. I find that I impose my own rules on top of other restrictions within OCA exercises. I have a “no cheating” rule. I try not to take shortcuts such as using shop-bought stamps to make paper backgrounds, or stencils to cut out shapes that could be drawn and then cut first hand.

This doesn’t make the work easier but to me it ensures that what I produce is my work. Nothing is original, as has already been mentioned, but by applying my rules maybe I can make it a little bit more me.


Having reviewed Steal Like An Artist I hope to take on board some of these points and apply them to work produced in my next OCA module. Some might take a while but I now have some points to start from. However my initial thoughts from my first exploration of this method of thinking still remain true, it’s all about doing, just get on making things. Some will be terrible, some might not be useful for years to come but probability says that something, eventually, will be “good”.


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