When Does Drawing Inspiration Go Too Far?

Author: Tracy Matthews

The other day, my friend, Melissa, and I were having a conversation. Not only is she a famous jewelry designer, but a long time friend and now one of my yoga students (triple bonus). She is stoked about what we are doing over here at F&TA to help jewelry designers develop their own brand and vision. Our convo turned to the topic of integrity and how inspiration and individuality have seemed to morph at times into a business of knock-offs and copycats.

When I was first starting out and finding my own creative style, I was definitely influenced by many designers.

I still am. In fact, I can credit Erika Courtney as one of designers who had the biggest impact on my desire to be a jewelry designer. We sold her work at the little boutique I worked at and I just loved her imperfect style. She was a visionary and her work was at the forefront of the expansive fashion jewelry industry that we know today. Her jewelry has evolved over the years as many designers do.

“Le Grand Canal” by Manet

All designers and artists draw inspiration from something. I think back to my art history studies in college. I studied mostly 19th Century European Art and I think back to the inspiration of the Impressionist Masters and how similar their techniques were. Impressionism was born out of a reaction against the traditional forms and subject matters that were deemed acceptable to paint at the time.  Following the lead of their contemporaries, they forged a new movement that changed the landscape of the art community in Paris. Painters like Monet, Degas and Renoir were highly influenced by their mentors, Pissaro, Manet and Boudin.

And if you take a look at their work side by side, you can certainly see the strong influences of their inspiration.

Monet painting

“Bridge at Vetheuil” by Monet

Using sources of inspiration as a platform for art & design is a common practice amongst artists of all types. But when does it go too far?

The fashion pioneers of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, or CFDA, are working towards a law that talks about exactly this. They want to protect our ideas and designs from getting ripped off. A lot of what the CFDA is fighting is the direct copying of awesome, high-selling product. Knock-offs. This hurts the creative atmosphere in the fashion world because it takes the rightly earned revenue away from those designers who had the awesome ideas.

Robin and I have been addressing this question in F&TA Volume 1 with our designers. We believe in the right for designers to have inspiration, however if you want to be considered a serious designer, you need to evolve and develop your own signature style and look. Copycats aren’t cool.

What’s important to figure out is the difference between drawing inspiration like the great masters and completely ripping someone off. Originality, creativity and innovation are highly rewarded in our society and within the design community. Those designers who are making a mark and reach celebrity status are unique and original.

For instance, your work may look totally different from that of your admired designers, but it may have a similar feel. This is something people pick up on. Shoppers at Chanel will also shop at Hermès, not because they make the same items, but because they have a similar feel to their lines.

Qualities, feels, aspects, attributes, things that make a designer’s work special and unique. These things aren’t intellectual property. It’s what a designer does with these things that makes the product their own. That’s why what CFDA is doing is so cool. They’re trying to protect the special things we do, once we figure out how to develop a feel or style.

They have a campaign going on right now with eBay called the “You Can’t Fake Fashion” campaign. They’re selling really great totes while promoting a really great thing.

As a designer who has spent years developing a personal style, I feel really strongly about protecting that. Not because I don’t want competition (I don’t believe in competition anyway), but because I understand how important it is to realize what’s inspiring within yourself. Staying true to that is what maintains your design integrity and keeps you from copying!

Get in on the conversation! Who are your influences? What are you doing to “stand out” from the crowd with your jewelry collection?

Tell us in the comments below or tweet at us @flourish_thrive + @tracymatthewsny + @redbootgal

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Jewelry Designer or Copycat: When does drawing on inspiration go too far? http://bit.ly/MNAfxD


  1. Erin Prais-Hintz on October 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I wrote a post about this in 2010 when I was fulfilling my dream of having a solo exhibit at a local gallery. I refer to the role the influence of design plays a role in your inspiration (http://treasures-found.blogspot.com/2010/07/artistic-influence.html) Finding your unique voice in a world that is bombarding you with what is perceived as successful is hard. I think that the easy path is to emulate that which you see as at the top. That is where the copycat comes in. But that doesn’t make it yours. I think harder still is the ability to find your style and stick to it rather than succumbing to the trend. Right now I am hosting a little blog hop where I am expecting people to use my instructions to make a variation of the necklace in a completely different set of beads. I hope that it will show that you can be inspired by a design or instructions, but yet make it your own. I will be checking out the links you provided as I would like to know more about what the CFDA is doing. Thank you for sharing this very sensitive and important topic! Love your blog and the service that you are providing to all of us aspiring to make our own unique path in the world!
    Enjoy the day.

  2. Leah on June 24, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    Copying is not just something done by other individual designers. Corporations do it. They attend trade shows, then copy designs and sell them in quantity and more cheaply. They defy small artists to sue knowing you will never have the resources to hold them accountable in court. This is done even with copyright protection. A copyright is only as good as your ability to take legal action to protect it. I do hope this is something CFDA is concerned about addressing. One or two other individuals cannot hurt you as badly as the big guys can. Besides, it is unethical, not that they care.

    • Tracy Matthews on November 18, 2016 at 10:39 am

      Thanks for your comment Leah!

  3. Jennifer on June 5, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Thank you for talking about this & what the CFDA is trying to do to stop the copying of original ideas and work! We just had a situation with someone who was posting pictures of bracelets that were identical to our bracelet designs on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. We contacted him, told him our work was copyrighted & told him very nicely we hoped he would use his talents in other ways. He got very defensive and it didn’t go very well. I am glad there might be more help and protection for artists! Please keep us posted on any updates.

    • Tracy Matthews on June 12, 2017 at 11:53 am

      I’m glad you found it helpful. That is a tough situation to be in… xo, Tracy

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