When Artist’s Steal from Each Other

a woman in profile, wrapped in a jeweled cape, printed as a linocut, and hand colored with watercolor and colored pencil

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Artists Stealing from Artists

An artist I admire has recently been copied by another artist, with no attribution.  The copied work is for sale, presented as original to the artist listing it. It’s a direct copy – as in brush stroke-for-brush stroke, but with the tell-tale mark-making of a novice painter.  

Another artist friend had her work offered as custom-order paintings in an online store, but the thief didn’t bother to take my friend’s signatures off the jpegs when he pulled them from her website and listed them in his shop.

My linocut above, Winged, has been copied by two separate artists, and sold in each of their online shops. I won’t go into the options an artist has to combat thievery, because I want to focus this thought-purge on a possible source of Why artists steal from other artists.

Fresh off the block, and ready for some added color

Expand Your Perspective

Everyone who makes things with their hands – whether it’s paintings, or printmaking or sculpture – knows this: the fun of creating and selling art is joined at the hip with the work of creating and selling art.

You don’t become a better artist by just thinking or talking about it. If you’ve tried to jump hoops in the art world, you *know* that to be prolific, competent and selling regularly, you have to put a lot of time and effort into your hard-earned skills, as both an artist and a marketer. Awareness of this fact makes thievery even more abominable.

Monitor Thyself

If you look at another artist’s successfully amazing work and the first thing that percolates up is jealousy, envy, or less than encouraging thoughts about the artist, may I suggest a palette-wipe off and start-over?  

Comparisons stained by envy do not nourish our creativity. Any permission grabbed to leap frog our current abilities by directly copying another artists’ more realized work, and then presenting it to the public as our own, sprouts from this jealous place.

The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.

Louis CK
The finished print, with watercolor and colored pencil added to the ink, and the block it was printed from

Be of Good Use

I recently listened to the audiobook Cider House Rules, and my favorite take-away from the book was Dr. Larch’s repeated dictum to Homer that he should strive to “be of use”.  

As artists, we should also be of good use – to ourselves, by doing our own work – the work we know is required to hone our own skills.  We should also apply that directive to each other, because we know an artist’s path is a solo endeavor, and it’s not an easy journey with the trip-hazards of self doubt and failure along the way.

Winged, 5.25×3.25 Linocut (available in my Etsy shop) (sold)

Spread Good Things

Artists should not steal from other artists. Don’t copy other paintings, and don’t paint or draw from photos you didn’t take. We should be in competition only with ourselves, to improve upon what we did last week. When we see another artist’s amazingly accomplished and successful work, we should revel in the confirmed testimonial to hard work, and the inspiration their art provides for anyone farther down the mountain, still climbing up.

We should be of good use, and appreciate the beauty, and say it out loud, or write it to the artist, because we know that hill they’ve climbed. As soon as I publish this post, I’m headed over to instagram to leave some compliments on artists’ feeds. What will you do this week to combat art-jealousy, and sprinkle good things in the art world?

Thanks for stopping by today, and I’ll see you in the next post.


This is a 37 second video clip of the always-fantastic James Gurney painting a week ago on location in a bakery. If you don’t see the video below, you can watch it on his channel here.  #beinspired

James Gurney, showing us how it’s done, generously.

Art Quote

Take pause, think about what you want, base your vision on your desires, what it is that you want most. Expose yourself to a variety of visual concepts. Keep a sketchbook, write down everything that is important to you visually. what color do I like? What makes that color? what happens visually with that gesture? Draw from memory. Do this constantly. What we read can inspire us, too. History, philosophy: All that we are exposed to. Everything that we are, whether drawing and painting from inspiration, life memory, draws upon everything that our mind records, just as our dreams are smorgasbords of our experience.

Steven Assael
how to spend more time making art
Visit SixTipstoPaintMore for a free video boost of encouragement to get back to your art supplies.

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13 thoughts on “When Artist’s Steal from Each Other”

  1. I agree with you. I look at other artists work for inspiration, a jumping off point , not to copy. My first thought on seeing your Linocut “Winged” was ………” Beautiful! How colorful, and how much smaller than my Linocuts,….I like the way the print shows the texture of the carved Lino as part of the design, I just did something similar in my Linocut ” Monster” and Maybe I should do a Linocut or something with women with unique hair Braids, dreadlocks, all the different things women do with their hair..”
    I do look at some artists work and think that is so amazing, I wish I had don’t that or thought of that, but that is a fleeting thought. Because my next thoughts are of things I can do that this particular work inspired me to do, subjetcs, colors, techniques etc. I never want to copy, it’s like saying I can’t create anything on my own.

    1. Thanks for weighing in on this, lilethwept. I think you’re leaping off point of women’s hair would be lovely. Especially since linocut lends itself so well to linear graphics – it could be both fun to carve, and beguiling to look at the final print.If you decide to do them, come back and post a link so we can see & comment. 🙂

  2. Hi Belinda, I agree with everything you have said. People who sell work that is copied from other artists are thieves, they cannot create their own originals. The shear joy of creating is lost to them, we know that we can sit down and pour our hearts onto canvas and that feeling is without price, something no one can take away from us.

  3. Marilyn Thuss

    Hi Belinda. I agree with everything Cynthia Fletcher wrote about you. You are the real deal and you are so loved because of that. I am sorry this happened to you, it must have felt like a kick in the gut. I have taken many painting classes where the instructor wants you to bring in a painting or photo to copy and in fact say that they can’t help you if they can’t see exactly what you are trying to paint. Never has it been discussed that this is only for teaching purposes, and that the resulting work should only be displayed in one’s own home. Nor has anyone insisted that the reference photo be one of your own. I have never felt comfortable with this.

    It is so rewarding to take a photo and then create a painting from it. Or create something new from an old family photo. Gaining inspiration from other’s work can be confusing sometimes. I am learning more and more as I paint that I am progressing because I am doing my own thing. I can’t do someone else’s thing…..that comes from their soul, not mine. We have to trust that our desire to create must mean something, and that we should just get on with the journey and know that we are headed in the right direction. Wonderful, creative surprises can only come when we develop our own style…..copying other’s work only prevents our own growth, to say nothing of stealing the work and process that another artist has carefully and lovingly crafted.

    The image is awesome, by the way!

    1. Hi Marilyn! Thanks for this thoughtful note! I agree that it would be helpful for students to understand the protocol of artist copyright, and it doesn’t have to be an in-depth lesson on law. 🙂 I also think copying masterworks from a museum or a favorite painter can be very inspiring and instructional, but those practice pieces shouldn’t be for sale. And I know there are plenty of people (and art-companies) who disagree with me. Oh well.
      I’ve taken workshops from painters with approaches & styles so different from my own that I couldn’t paint for a few months afterwards, because it made me question everything I loved about my work. It was a tough lesson on ‘stretching’ my comfort zone, but over time, I got my sea legs & I still pull jewels from those instructor’s lessons into my work now. I think we all should do “our thing” as you put it when starting out, and when we get cozy in that space, then it’s time to rattle the cupboard with other influences. Eventually, we all come back to our own center, but we’ve harvested kernels of good stuff from other influences to pin to our studio practices. Bravo to you for keeping at it, and I look forward to seeing your work when you share it on instagram.

  4. I love your blog and work. You are very generous to your readers. I believe it has something to do with the pressure to sell. Greed is blinding. There are on-line sites where artists are desperate to sell and will auction a painting and accept $1 unhappily. I am grateful that my art is for a different purpose – a type of meditation.

    1. Hi Donna, Thanks for your kind words. And good for you to be so clear on the purpose of your art-making. I think many folks new to art haven’t really defined the “why” behind their painting, so the path is confused and maybe even a little conflicted. And using art as a form of meditation is wonderful; there are youtube channels dedicated to this practice, and their subscribers may or may not be artists, but they watch the process as a calming exercise, and that’s pretty powerful all by itself. Happy painting to you.

  5. Hi Belinda, I agree that artists should not steal, and am so sorry this has happened to you. I have painted from other people’s photographs — in portraits, portrait commissions, and in one or two of my landscape works. In every case I have had both permission and even requests from the people who took the shots. This is something I think about a lot. And my paintings do not end up looking like the photographs.
    Thank you for raising the topic. Love your work.

    1. Hi my friend, Thanks for your [always] generous notes and replies. Like you, I’ve asked for permission before using someone else’s photo to paint from (I even have one of yours, for a larger, narrative painting some day, and I cherish the image, and the little girl in it!) Sometimes the photographer replies with an emphatic “No”, and I totally understand that. I know you paint imagery with your signature mark-making and colors, so the photo is just a leaping-off point & I admire that. I think many artists who don’t ask for permission to use another’s image first simply don’t know the protocol. Perhaps conversations like these will shed a little light. 🙂 I love your work too. xoxo

  6. You are delightful. Your willingness to share your artwork, your thoughts leading up to its creation and very specific technique is remarkable. First, the time you give to describing and photographing the steps necessarily detracts from your time spent creating finished pieces. Second, you keep no secrets, either about the moment depicted or the technique used. You are positive in nature – a soul secure enough to open up to the big wide world and one who knows that the true joy is in the making. The growth from one piece to the next, from year to year can’t be stolen or duplicated in any way. Our path of creating is so individual, so unique and satisfying that even if some rip off certain pieces they can never tap into the wellspring of what make true artists tick. You are the real thing, and because you are, I will always enjoy watching for what you make next.

    1. Cynthia, I need a better, more colorful & generous word than delightful to describe YOU for this amazing note. What an avalanche of compliments. Thank you, my friend. You’re so right about our paths of creating being individual journeys, and on those excursions, happenstance also gifts us friendships with kindred spirits, which is so much larger and more significant than any rip-off that happens in the same field. I’m so glad we both landed in Anthony Ryder’s demo years ago. It’s such a pleasure to see your wonderful art, follow along on your blog, and exchange these little hugs-of-hello on social media. Your encouragement is a day at the Spa for my muse. 🙂 xoxo

  7. Thanks for sharing this. I follow several artists and I love their work (including yours 🙂 ). I don’t want to steal their work, but I can’t quite figure out how to incorporate some aspects of their style into my work to make it more to my liking. But what I’m taking in from this post today is that I must create more, practice more, paint studies to try techniques. Thank you!

    1. Hi alfamare57 – thanks for the compliment and the note. Yes, practice more & try techniques, and be inspired by the art that moves you – even print it out and have it close by while you work – but use your own reference imagery, from your surroundings; things that resonate with the rhythm of your familiars, and paint those things with all your heart.

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