Steal Like An Artist

Somehow, by the end of a conversation about designing for the sake of design versus designing for a client, I was handed a copy of Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist.

From Kleon’s book:

“Nobody is born with a style of a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.

We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism – plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.

We learn to write by copying down the alphabet. Musicians learn to play by practicing scales. Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces.”

Some of Austin Kleon’s advice from his book:

  1. Figure out who to copy.

  2. Figure out what to copy.


For the final project in a semester long architectural hand rendering class  I opted to explore a medium I had previously never attempted – watercolor. Rather then feel overwhelmed, I followed  Kleon’s advice and set out to “steal like an artist.”  After some random googling I came across the work of Sunga Park. The original image, and other dream-like watercolors by Park, can be found here.

Inspired, I went to the local grocery store and bought a set of Crayola watercolors. I dusted off a watercolor sketchbook a friend gave to me years ago, recreated the scene with a pencil. I explored ways of applying watercolor to the paper. This process really just involved two techniques, wet or dry, similar to barbecue. Some loose lines were added with ink after the paint dried and in a few instances some colored pencil.

The image that’s posted is one of the first twelve watercolors I ever attempted. My final project took form as a series of watercolor sketches and included ten of  those twelve sketches.

Watercolor sketch, 3.5”x5”. 1 hours 30 minutes.


I’ve now read Steal Like an Artist cover to cover twice, most recently at a coffee shop before even finishing my cup of coffee. I frequently thumb through the book when I find myself stuck in a self-made place full of procrastination.

 Original Post | 2015