On being inspired without copying - 3 examples from my own work and inspirations


I talk about being inspired by other artists fairly often, here on the blog and in some of my courses, because it’s unavoidable for any of us who don’t live in a vacuum. {Or have Instagram in our phones. 😉 }

For many of course it simply isn’t an issue, perhaps because they’ve been at it long enough that they’re well versed in their own painting language and inspiration is altered and integrated if used at all.

For many others though {and I see this frequently on Instagram} ‘being inspired by’, and overtly copying are separated sometimes by the very thinnest of lines.

To be clear, this post makes no judgement – as I’ve said many times before I’ve copied the work of other artists in the past to teach myself, and for centuries it was an established means of learning in formal settings.

{I also hope it’s clear that this post also isn’t about me being smug about how I don’t copy. 🙂 }

The problems arise when work is passed off as the artist’s own while clearly taking most, if not all, of its key features from the work of another.

I don’t believe anyone truly wants to do that, and most don’t even mean to, but I do see it frequently, and aim to offer another perspective as I think it does a disservice not just to the artist copied, but to the artist doing the copying.

We each have a unique voice, and our greatest strength lies in focusing on, honing, and expressing it.

So here are three examples of artists whose work I love, and how I navigate being inspired by them without too much of their aesthetics seeping into my work.


Ingrid Ellison

I admit to being a tiny bit obsessed with Ingrid Ellison‘s work. And I can tell you exactly where its effects have been showing up in my work, in a different way. {You might even know already if you follow me on Instagram.}

Here are two of her paintings:

Ingrid Ellison

Seriously, I can hardly contain myself. The white space, the subtle shifts in colour, the details, the movement! I admit it’s very tempting to try this out for myself, just to see what it physically feels like to paint like that.

{And I may do so privately, although obviously never to pass off as my own. I find the physical process of doing this tends to be the best way to show myself that someone else’s style is not true for me with immediate felt experience.}

Here’s a recent {somewhat unusual} painting of mine where this ‘chequerboard’ idea shows up:

Venice_Tara Leaver

And here’s a section from my current concertina sketchbook:

Tara Leaver

You can see where I’m exploring this idea of the movement of water as repeated ‘lozenge’ shapes. I find that layering them up with different degrees of translucency creates a really satisfying and lovely effect.

I don’t think I’d say that I directly took the idea from Ingrid’s paintings, as they came about from trying to work out how to express what was in my mind’s eye and felt sense, but I think it’s also fair to say that her work left an imprint on me because I love it so much and look at it often.


Krista Harris

I’ve been a long time fan of Krista Harris‘ work. It’s so expressive and alive, with layers upon layers of confident mark making and beautiful use of colour.

Krista Harris

Some of my past work appears more similar to this ‘drawn’ style, as below, although at the time I was making it I wasn’t actually looking at her work.

There’s something to be said for sinking into another artist’s work in all its lushness, and going away and doing something very different for a while so as not to carry too much of it across.

I think too that this allows the essence to travel through your own natural filters and come out more authentically.

{And let’s face it, my work is not quite as accomplished and nuanced as Krista’s! Yet. 😉 }

Tara Leaver // 2016 work

In truth, I think if we stay alert and present to what we’re doing, always put our own journey first, and continue to immerse ourselves in our own practice and ideas, then copying – or even heavy influence – needn’t be an issue.


Peter Lanyon

Peter Lanyon was a Cornish painter, known for his ‘experiential landscapes’ {oh how I love that phrase!}.

His bold, gestural paintings are more than ‘just’ landscapes – they’re about both the geography and the social and economic history of life in Cornwall.

He used to fly up over the county in his glider, and you can see from these more abstract paintings how the aerial view influenced his work.

Something about his paintings both moves and challenges me. I adore his expressive marks and, of course, the subject.

Despite my interior feelings of an emotional homecoming when I look at his work, the energy of it feels very different to mine, and I tend to prefer more of a mix of clean edges and wild marks over purely gestural expressiveness at the moment.

That discernment – knowing what I love and what feels right in my bones when I’m painting – is part of what helps me not make more obvious copies of his, or any artist’s work.

Here’s some of my own more gestural abstract work:

Tara Leaver

We’ll have to see what happens when I get up in the air and take the scenic flight I’ve promised myself at some point! 😉

I hope this little doorway into my thoughts around being inspired by other artists, and how I integrate my inspirations into my work while focusing on keeping it my own, is helpful. I’d love to hear how you deal with this potentially thorny area – please leave your thoughts in the comments!