On Creative Cannibalism

I was working late at the office last night when I got a message from my friend DJ Ayres. I've worked on a considerable number of graphic design projects for Ayres over the last few years, more than I can count on both hands, and he keeps up with my other design work just as I do with his music projects. He sent me a link to the Facebook page of a young DJ named Nate Starr living in Springfield MO. This DJ's profile picture was an exact replica of the "Jump On It" EP cover I designed for Minneapolis DJ and producer Last Word.

My original design for DJ Last Word

The Nate Starr graphic in question

Nate essentially saved the EP artwork to his computer, opened up the file in Photoshop, erased Last Word's name and album title, replaced them with his own, and hit SAVE.

On one hand, I feel flattered. This Nate guy was looking around the internet, stumbled across an image I spent a lot of time and energy creating, and then said "Yes. This is it. This is the image that says everything about DJ Nate Starr." That someone was so drawn to something I made so much that they felt the need to take it and make it their own really says a lot to me.

EXTRA LARGE flyer designed by me.

BANG BANG PARTY flyer by Samantha Cake Robles

On the other hand, this is just another example in the huge landfill of examples of modern-day kids thinking they can get away with jacking other artists' work and calling it their own. Actually, scrap that… I wish I could say it's just uneducated, inexperienced kids making this mistake, but this act of unabashed thievery happens all the time at the desks of highly-paid designers working for big companies. Why do some people think it's OK to steal others' artwork? Why are some designers satisfied with signing their names to someone else's work and calling themselves designers? Even with a tight-knit online community of designers keeping a careful collection of eyes peeled for thieves, ready to blast the floodlights and sound the alarm at a moment's notice, there are still countless Photoshop hacks who think they can rob from the talented and get away clean.

original artwork by Minneapolis artist Brock Davis.

The Books concert poster by Paul Gardner

We live in a disposable culture right now. Everything that happens is uploaded, viewed, liked, favorited, shared, downloaded, remixed, parodied, autotuned, reuploaded, destroyed, ridiculed, and forgotten about all in a matter of hours. Images, videos, jokes, and memes come and go at a blinding speed, hardly allowing for any time to enjoy or reflect before it's time for the next one. People are devouring images without stopping to wonder where they come from, who made them, or what they mean. Because information is so readily available and easily acquired, many Photoshopsters feel a sense of entitlement, as if everything on the internet belongs to them and is theirs to do with as they please. I've heard every excuse from "Well I didn't even get paid for doing it, so it doesn't matter" to "I can take whatever I want and do whatever I want to it!" to "I was looking through some illustrations on my computer and forgot which ones were my own artwork and which ones I just found online as inspiration."

L: original artwork by designer Jon Contino.
R: t-shirt not designed by Jon Contino available at Forever 21

When you steal someone's artwork, music, logo, or video, you don't just steal the time the artist spent creating that one piece, you steal the years it took for that artist to hone their craft. You steal all the years they spent studying, sketching, researching, scanning, tweaking, making mistakes, redesigning, negotiating, pitching, polishing, and refining. I've copied tons of work from some of my favorite artists and designers. But copying is never the final step - it's part of a lengthy learning process. In copying their work, I studied what they did, tried to figure out how they created their work and then added that information to a vast cache of ideas and influences, eventually creating my own style and work. If you happen to end up dining on someone else's work, the least you can do is pay compliments to the chef.

So that's that. I don't know if Nate Starr or any of the other people who have been overly-influenced by my work will ever read this, but I certainly hope they do. I hope that the current generation of young artists and designers can leave behind a body of original, inspiring artwork, cause I want to keep seeing new art and images and not just keep seeing the work of my friends and peers regurgitated.


Shortly after this blog post was published, I received an email from Nate Starr apologizing for copying my work. He's also taken down the artwork shown at the beginning of this post.