Chasing Down the Muse: Find yourself in your creations

"…it's in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are." — Austin Kleon, "Steal Like an Artist"

The young mockingbird on top of the pole scolded in sharp, berating tones before swooping down and then back up to its perch, where it continued its vituperative reproach. It seemed clear that something was not going well in the world of this bird.

As I continued my morning walk, I thought to myself that we all have these moments of anger at something that has befallen us. We can carry on like my young friend the mockingbird or we can move on to our work — whatever that may be.

Sometimes the things we encounter in our daily lives cause us to question not only others and their motives, but our own. It is at these times that I think it is especially important to have that "work" that we love to do — the creative aspect of ourselves that really does let us know who we are and our limits and expectations. It also tells us what really matters…to us.

If you draw, draw what you like. If you are a writer, write what you like. Paint what you like. Sculpt what you like. Whatever your art form, do what you like.

Now I know this goes against the standard advice of doing what you know, but if you don't like something, what is the point, really? Of course, your abilities might not yet have reached the level of what you like. So copy what you like. Fake it till you make it! I am a firm believer that this is one of the best ways to get to your own personal style even though it seems counterintuitive.

Often, students of the Mixed Media Playtime workshops Suzette Rosenthal and I co-teach are concerned when we praise one of their works. "Oh, I just copied what ____ did," they will say. But what we see is the individuality that has shown up in their so-called copy. It is in doing the work that this original style begins to evolve.

Each of our longtime students has developed a recognizable style all their own. So, when Brandy — a cat lover who has created a unique style strictly doing cats — gifted me with Austin Kleon's book "Steal Like an Artist," I knew she had been getting the message.

The small book is a pure delight, a quick read, and a wealth of wisdom lies within its pages. It would make a great gift to any artist — budding or not.

The pages are filled with quotes and quick thoughts that just stick to you.

Copying is only a part of it, but an essential piece. The book is a lot of fun…and you know how I like fun!

So whether you are angry about something like our young mockingbird friend or just stuck somehow creatively, get busy and start doing the work. And, by all means, if the spirit moves you, start copying what you like. It is really hard to make exact replicas of things. You are what will show up — your interpretation, your spirit, your unique style.

Go for it!

CHERRIL DOTY is an artist, writer, and teacher who embraces the mystery and magic of all that is life. She can be reached at (714) 745-9973 or by email at

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