“Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon….the Book Review

This book was amazing. Read Austin Kleon’s book – “Steal Like An Artist”

Hi everyone…I wanted to talk a little about this book that I really enjoyed. I read most of his books because he touched my artistic mind and touched on areas that I was in two minds about or upon which I needed some direction. His books helped me allot when I needed it. His other books were:

  • How to sell your art online
  • Steal like an artist
  • Show your work

I’m going to talk about his book “Steal Like An Artist. Work by artist and writer Austin Kleon has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and on PBS NewsHour and NPR’s Morning Edition. He is also the author of Newspaper Blackout. The cocept of the book is based on:

Creative License

Artists and creators throughout history have known that, as Pablo Picasso said, “Art is theft.” Every innovator has built on the work of others, using ideas, formats or things in fresh and exciting ways. Originality doesn’t exist. Everything is a confluence of influences, thefts, mutations and interpretations. Even the Bible says, “There’s nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Whether you’re an artist or you’re simply looking to add some creativity to your life, consider these 10 ideas:

He made me realize through this book and the others that Artist have many opportunities out there are we don’t have to live by that old slogan “poor artist” One things he said, “ You can’t go looking for validation from external sources” because once you place your work out there you can’t predict how people will respond to it. Some may like it and others may not. I have seen that happen many times. Pieces that I disliked even hated were the pieces that were sold first or the pieces people loved the most. So strange…

Kleon said to get comfortable being misunderstood, disparaged or ignored because it comes with the territory. Just stay busy creating so that you don’t notice or you don’t care. But still hold on to the complements and even comments of appreciation especially if they were written as we all as artist need that encouragement or boost when we’re in that period of decline. As he said keep a praise file.

Another point that caught me was to keep your day job because it will take a while to get to the point where your art sustains you financially. I haven’t reached that point yet. I make a small amount to balance back what I put out to create my art plus a little extra but from my balance sheet I can see that most times my expenses far outweigh my sales income, so I have a ways to go to be comfortable leaving my job to paint full time.

He encourages us to get a Calendar and plan out your work and your goals for achievement , so that when you complete or accomplish something and tick it off you feel a swell of achievement and this gives you a boost to continue and it also build your self confidence. Included here is keeping a log book of all that you do everyday down to the smallest detail. I’m not sure I would do this, I prefer a journal to write my thoughts or simply listing out my to do tasks and goals. Tracking everything I do isn’t something I think I need. He says that in having a log of the small details it helps you to remember the big details. Again I don’t think its necessary but it can be valuable for someone who tends to forget things and wants a reminder

This point I really liked….”do business with who you befriend, who you choose to be around” and “a good partner keeps you grounded”…I like this because I know my husband is my biggest fan and he is always encouraging and always open to giving me feedback and he points out the pieces he likes and those that may need a little more work. I’ve tried to get him to paint as well but although he tried it once he just wasn’t into it. His creativity comes out in his gardening. He can bring any plant to life and he has converted our small back yard into a peaceful sanctuary…I just love sitting and relaxing there. When I need to take a break and commune with nature I simply go in my backyard…I don’t need to go any further and its all due to my husband’s “green thumb”.


Kleon mentions that when you’ve gone blank creatively then do less to get over the creative blocks.. Place some constraints on yourself, such as, paint a painting with one colour, paint a painting in only 10 minutes, shoot a movie with your iphone, create something with what you have at hand right there and then. This can sometimes lead to your best work. I’ve done this, for example, I gave myself a 30 day challenge to paint landscapes in 10 minutes every morning, just before going to work so I don’t have time to think about it too much, if at all. It has really prevented me from becoming too detailed and I feel a lot freer to simply do whatever I feel without the restrictions/rules of drawing/sketching first.

Another idea he shares that made me feel better is that we all steal ideas from each other but what you don’t do is plagiarize or copy exactly what the other person has done, you put your style to it and eventually you develop your own style. That used to make me feel bad because when I was learning to paint we got exercises to paint or try to copy someone else’s piece to get an idea about what technique they used to get the painting to look the way it does. My art teacher then, after many classes we would then have to acquire our own photos and paint them so that we got the basics of composition and then used our new learnt style to paint our photo.

I am very good at copying and it comes easy for me but I hate knowing that it isn’t mine or that I didn’t think of painting a piece that way

Kleon ends the book with the quote by Saul Steinberg, which says “ What we respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations.” So what makes us interesting is what we leave out of the painting versus what we put in, the same goes for people…Kleon states…what make people interesting isn’t just what they have experienced its also what they haven’t experienced yet. So we need to embrace our limitations and move forward. I struggle with that everyday of my painting journey. Some days are better than others and some are not but I continue on my journey of artistic discovery until I reach where I think I want to be, for now I’m not there yet. I absolutely loved the idea and concepts behind Steal Like an Artist. I often think the same , but I don’t put it as eloquently and so well written, plus I couldn’t agree more with the author.

So check this summary of Austin Kleon’s Book….Steal Like an Artist:

Steal Like An Artist – The Content

  1. Steal like an artist.
  2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
  3. Write the book you want to read.
  4. Use your hands.
  5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
  6. The secret: do good work and share it with people.
  7. Geography is no longer our master.
  8. Be nice. (The world is a small town.)
  9. Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)
  10. Creativity is subtraction.

Bullet Summary

  • There is no such thing as original art: everyone builds upon others
  • Immerse yourself (/steal) from your favorite artists: imitate and then emulate
  • When you realize you’re not quite like them, you’ve found your own voice


Give Up Originality

There is no such thing as a completely original form of art. No person lives in a vacuum and no art is created in a vacuum.
Everyone is influenced by the world and the artists that live around you and came before you.

Some artist can be pushed against the wall by the erroneous concept of “originality”. Don’t let that happen to you.

Austin Cleon says that art creation is a bit like making children. Same as the DNA of two people combine to give new life, new art new art is the mixture of different influences to create something new.
That means that the artistic process start when you find the right art to build upon -or to steal from-.

Start Imitating Your Heroes

Sure you can’t plagiarize, but you can imitate them.
Steal Like an Artist recommends you live and breath the artists you like. Learn what makes them tick, reproduce their own art for your own consumption. Then branch out to the three people that your favorite artists most learned from.

Eventually, you will realize that you are not quite the same as any of your artist -the author calls them “weaknesses” that you can’t quite replicate the same way-. You have your own style and you can make your own contribution .
You’re another branch in the tree.

Keep Hobbies And Leisure

The author recommends that as much as you love your art, you shouldn’t drop other hobbies and passions of yours.
They make you a more rounded individual and they are creative sources that will inspire you in your art.

Similarly, don’t hole in at your workplace or home studio. But go out, or even change city and live in some other country.

Share Your Work

The author says there are benefits in being unknown and obscure, such as the total freedom of failing and experimenting.
Eventually you want to reach a certain level of fame though. The best way to do that is to share everything you do.

When you share you will receive some harsh criticism. The author says it’s important you don’t allow the negativity to drag you down or sidetrack you through anger.
And if you can’t stop anger from getting to you, then you can use that anger for a source of creativity.

Praise File

Austin Kleon recommends not only that you use anger as fuel, but also that you save all the praises you get.
You can then read through all the praises you got when you need an uplift.

My Note: I personally am strongly against idea as it trains your ego to depend on other people’s praises. Praise should only be used as a feedback tool, but not to derive ego satisfaction. Sophia Amoruso I recently read also is of the same opinion.
Read more here:

Real Life Applications

Stop Stressing About “Copying”
I write a lot of reviews here so I end up speaking with authors. And quite a few of them hold many grudges against anyone who “copied” their work.
Yet I rarely think their work has been copied. It had quite a different flair in my opinion. Don’t stress about copycats too much. As Prada CEO said:

We’re not interested in creating products that nobody wants to copy

Just make sure, of course, that they’re not copy-pasting your work and that you find your own voice even when you re-interpret old concepts.


One-Idea Book
Albeit I like the idea, Steal Like an Artist rotates around one single idea basically. I felt the same for the 5 Second Rule for example.
But that might be a bit unfair to say as some of the other tips can also add quite a bit of value.


Brief and Easy
I might even been even shorter -but I often think that-, but it’s certainly not long and drawn out. And it’s very easy and pleasant to read.

Great Concept
I loved the idea. There’s no such thing as new and 100% original. So don’t stress about it, consume all media and feel free to say what’s already been said… But with your own unique


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Published by Gail Francis

Hi, I'm a mother of four, one boy and three girls ranging in ages from 26yrs to 22yrs. I own my own business that I run with my husband and we have no pets. We've had a variety of pets from dogs, cats fish etc, but things go wrong when we have pets so we decided that we are not pet people. I'm a creative person and I love to learn and share what I learn. Watercolour painting is my great love. I dream of having my art appreciated and hung on the walls of homes, offices, churches, anywhere that people can view them and start up a conversation about them. So that's a little about me, come peruse more of my site and ENJOY!!!

4 thoughts on ““Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon….the Book Review

  1. Lot of interesting thoughts and ideas here Gail. Both Mr Kleon’s and yours. I agree with your disagreeing about some of his ideas.
    As I continue to grow even older (will be 67 in August), I wonder at how and why we, as a society, seem to feel a need for ever deeper analyses of everything/anything anymore. Even of analysis itself, and those who put their analysis out in the public, for…… why?
    Interesting analysis about originality, and the scripture pointing out nothing new under the sun, but is originality the same as new?
    Ha…. now I’m doing it.
    The old “penny farthing” or high wheeled bicycle of old came to be called “The Ordinary”, as it was the most commonly made and available early on….. dangerous as it was to learn to ride. It was quickly “replaced” however, perhaps abstractly moreso than upon the cobblestones by the early growing number of people interested in cycling, by what became known very quickly as, The Safety Bicycle, which looked quite like what we know as a bicycle today.
    To me, that “progression”(?) from people walking, to riding a self-propelled wheeled conveyance, and then, through analyses and improvements, changes….. tends to both agree with, and disagree with, the idea of originality versus nothing original.
    Thanks for sharing. Very interesting.


  2. I love this book..I bought this book and it had inspired me a lot! It is really a helpful book, a perfect guide and amazing idea! I can’t stop loving it and Reading it!!! Amazing book..👍👍👍


    1. Hi Ananya, you should check out his other book, “How to sell your art online,” and I see he has a new one out called “Keep going.” I’m gonna get that one.


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