Steal Like An Artist – How to Overcome Creative Blocks

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is a book of concepts designed to inspire creativity. Austin Kleon recommends you start by copying something you like.

Book Review

Table of Contents


I discovered the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon from Youtuber I was following online. This book kept appearing as I hit roadblocks and creative blocks and struggled with motivation, so I bought it. The book is smaller than I thought it would be, a miniature coffee-table book. It is a very visual book with some pages containing only a few words in large font.

Steal Like an Artist challenges your ideas about creativity, how to begin creative work, and how you do things. This book is especially relevant when struggling to make progress and applies to many occupations. While artists are clearly a target audience of this book, it is also particularly suitable for:

  • writers
  • entrepreneurs
  • website designers and content creators
  • YouTube video creators
  • advertising and promoting.
Austin Kleon author of Steal Like an Artist
Photo: Austinkleon

Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon was born in Circleville, Ohio, just south of Columbus. His parents were both in academic careers. The surname Kleon is Romanian, which he has in common with Albert-László Barabási, who is from Romania. He now lives in Austin, Texas.

Austin Kleon describes himself as a writer who draws; he makes art with words and books with pictures.
The book, Steal Like an Artist, began when someone invited him to talk to students at a community college in upstate New York in 2011. So Austin Kleon created a list of ten things he wished someone had told him. Each of these points then expanded to become a chapter in Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, which gets published in 2012.

YouTube: Steal Like an Artist book Trailer.

10 things nobody told me about being creative

  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. 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. (The only way to get work done.)
  10. Creativity is subtraction.
Photo: Austinkleon

Getting Started, just do it!

Steal Like an Artist

Steal Like an Artist is the definitive point of the book. It is a blueprint for personal creativity and turns on its head the standard advice usually given. There is frequently this stereotypical image of writers and artists with a blank page, attempting to find the first word or sentence or paint the first stroke.

Instead, Austin Kleon instructs you to begin by recreating some inspiring work you like.
Nothing is Original. What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. Instead, all creative work builds on what came before.

Austin Kleon challenges the idea of approaching creativity with a blank canvas and attempting to create something completely original.

He argues that most art is not original but inspired by other art. So as a creative approach, you should begin by being inspired and copying existing art you love. Your version is not an exact plagiarised or ‘forgery’ copy but your unique version of that work. He encourages artists to embrace this technique as the starting point of the creative process

Don’t wait until you know who you are

Avoid waiting until you have worked out what you want to be or who you are. Just start now.
If you lack confidence,

  • you should fake it until you make it.

In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon advocates “Fake it till you make it” as a valuable, if not controversial, technique for the many people who lack confidence. Instead, behave as though you do to start moving forward while overcoming insecurities. The idea here is not about being deceitful but about creating a mindset that enables you to believe in and project success.

Start copying what you love; as we do, we learn and develop our own style. However, we don’t create a perfect copy; our new version will be different.

The Beatles started as a cover band.

Photo: Markus Spiske @Unsplash

Write the book you want to read

  • Do not write what you know. Instead, write about what you like.
  • Write the story you would like to read.
  • Draw the art you want to see.
  • Play the music you want to hear.
Photo: Markus Spiske @Unsplash

Stimulate your Creativity

Use your Hands

“Use your hands” is another of my favourites in the Steal Like an Artist list. Step away from the Screen. When we use our computers, our bodies become immobile, so we need to bring our bodies back into our creativity.

Austin Kleon has two workstations,

  1. one digital and
  2. one analogue.

His website lists all the physical art products and stationery he uses.

Photo: Thomas Franke @Unsplash

Side projects and hobbies are important

Allow yourself to be bored and not productive. It allows the mind to become clear and then focus.

Wander, you do not know where it leads.

Connecting and Networking

Do Good Work and Share it with People

Austin Kleon suggests you enjoy your obscurity while it lasts. First, spend time creating good work and then share it with people, typically via the internet.

Personal websites and blogs require constant updating and new material; learn how to build a website. The internet can also be an incubator for ideas not yet fully formed.

Geography is no longer our master

Austin Kleon recounts how he grew up in an isolated part of Ohio. He inevitably wanted to be somewhere more stimulating. Now, wherever you are, the internet connects you to everyone.

Build your own world.

Be nice. (The world is a small town.)

You will only be as good as the people around you, so surround yourself with positive people and those you admire. Then, follow the most impressive and relevant people online, those who are cleverer and better than you.

Be friendly to people and avoid picking fights; instead, make friends and ignore enemies. Divert your energy to create something; for example, write a blog post about work you admire.

Do not look for validation for your work. You have no control over what people will think. Validating is for parking.


Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)

It takes a lot of energy to be creative, so:

  • Take care of yourself.
  • Keep your day job and
  • be careful with money.
  • Keep a logbook.

Creativity is subtraction

Place some constraints on yourself.

Creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in. It’s the things we choose to leave out.

Photo: Austinkleon

Workman Publishing is the publisher of Steal Like an Artist (2012).

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