Inspiration, Imitation, Replication, and Falsification

Left: Someone else's work. Right: My original.

Since I've been illustrating type, I've always looked up to other letterers for both inspiration, reference, and guidance.  The internet has allowed designers to have an infinite book of reference from which to draw upon.

Sites like ffffound, typography served, and welovetypography along with many others offer up some beautiful work from other designers. However, these sites do not present the work as their own, but rather showcase other creatives works. Platforms like dribbble, behance, and instagram, offer the chance for creatives to show their work, directly to an audience. The main difference being that, by showcasing work directly, it is inherently understood that the work be your own unless otherwise noted. Reposts and shoutouts are a perfectly legitimate way for images to spread around sites which showcase work directly to an audience because the original creative is sourced.

Recently, a fellow instagram letterer, Zachary Smith came across a user who was replicating work from other users. Both Alexis Maesharp and I had work that was replicated by a user by the handle Rynmns. A few weeks ago, Zachary had come across a user who had knocked of multiples of his work.  

Often at times it is difficult to determine whether something is inspiration, imitation, replication, or falsification. To me, these 4 words represent the spectrum of influence a person or designs have on someones work.

Inspiration

The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something. The concept of inspiration is that it stimulates the mind, it starts the engine of the brain to begin thinking creatively. Inspiration allows you to see what is already out there, what the boundaries are, and where to push them. Inspiration is the starting point of a design journey. 

Imitation

The action of using someone or something as a model.   The act of imitating on the other hand is meant serve as reference. Imitation has a legitimate purpose in the creative process. When working on a specific problem, particularly one in which you may be less familiar with, imitating allows for a person to study and understand. Looking at pictures of hands in order to draw them better is a form of imitation.

Replication

To create something very similar to something else, esp. in a different medium or context.  Often at times when visiting a museum, you may find students with pencils and charcoal out drawing from observation the paintings and sculptures around them. This form of replication is purely meant as practice. The steadying of the hand, and detailed observation of the eye come with time and experience. This exercise is meant to strengthen ones skills. People learning to play an instrument replicate the songs of others before writing their own work. The key distinction here is that replication is a deliberate copy, who's origins are understood to be someone else's.

Falsification

To alter information so as to mislead. Falsification is a deception. This is literally a form of lying. Presenting replicated work either uncredited or as ones own, without acknowledgment of its origins is to deceive ones audience. 

Of course many works can arguably fall into any and all of these categories. When someone uses a colorful layout of a portrait replicated 4 times, is it a falsification if it does not explicitly mention Andy Warhol? Did Shepard Fairey replicate Andre the Giant's face, or imitate it? Such tough questions can arguably never be answered definitively.  To say that in my career I have never misappropriated would be a falsification. We all do it, unconsciously or not. The degree to how far one is inspired, imitates, and replicates is a personal decision. 

There is nothing wrong with being inspired by work. There is nothing wrong with imitating work. There is even nothing wrong with full on replicating work. Given the right context, circumstances, and scenario, all three of these are perfectly legitimate tactics to harness skills. However, when putting work online and in the public domain, with the potential to reach millions of people, one must be careful and explicit when walking these blurry lines. 

Defintions from New Oxford American Dictionary.