How to Steal Like an Artist is the title of a book you should read. Yes…you! The sub title of this amazing (and short) books is: 10 things nobody told you about being creative. And if you’re reading this blog, then you’re a creative. So you should read it. 

We all like to look at other people’s toy imagery and get ideas for our own photos. Recently I had a conversation with a friend who stopped following a fellow photographer because he said: he learned everything he needed to learn from her. A shocking statement to make, but at least an honest one. We all look and learn. Its how we get better at our craft. 

In my early days on Instagram I would also look at other peoples images and take my cues from their work. I incorporated many of their ideas into my own work in my search for my own style and voice. I looked at all sorts of different toy photographers. Photographers who worked with a variety of toys. Even though we are all toy photographers we approach the subject in (hopefully) unique ways. I enjoy learning from these differences. Today, I still do skim through Instagram and Flickr, although not to the extent I used to. Now when I look at others peoples images, I’m looking for accessories or mini figures I may want to purchase. 

My style of short depth of field, crisp focus, creamy bokeh, lots of empty space surrounding the figures is a style that emerged over time. This style evolved, not only from taking thousands of toy photos, but from my earlier work as an underwater photographer. I put the ideas of many other photographers through my unique filter and came up with my own look that, even to this day, is easily recognizable. 

So how do you steal like an artist in a way that does not directly copy another toy photographer. It’s actually pretty easy, and based on what I’ve been seeing lately, needs to be repeated. 

Good Ways to Steal Like an Artist
  • Honor your heroes by not copying them
  • Study the ‘why‘ of what they are doing, not the ‘what
  • Steal from many creative people, not just one
  • credit those you’re emulating
  • transform what they’re doing into your own work
  • remix the ideas that inspire you
Bad Ways to Steal like an artist
  • By copying  your hero’s you degrade them
  • Stealing means you only superficially understand what they’re doing
  • steal from only one person
  • plagiarize, this means stealing without giving credit
  • imitate
  • blatantly rip off

What to copy is  little bit trickier. Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes. – Austin Kleon

It can be a fine line between copying, emulating, stealing or being influenced by another artist. If you’re in doubt where you fall on this spectrum, there is an easy way to solve the dilemma: give credit to the artist that inspires you.

No New Ideas Under the Sun

I think most people would be hard pressed not to see an image of a stormtrooper in a snow storm and not think of Vesa Lehtimäke. If you’re taking photos along these lines, you can easily add a simple line to your caption: taken in the style of Avanaut. By doing this you’re not only crediting the originator but honoring your hero. Also, you may unwittingly be making a friend.

We all know there are no new ideas under the sun. No one is saying that Vesa owns every image of a stormtrooper ever taken in a snow storm. But until you have put this simple idea successful through your own filter, put your own twist on it, understood the ‘why’ of his images, not the how, then you should pay homage to the master.

Imitation is not flattery – Austin Kleon

Trust me, if you do this, you will create an image that is completely your own. You will not have look over your shoulder to see if anyone notices that you just ripped off another artists idea. And really isn’t that what we all want to be doing, creating original work?


How to successfully steal from your heroes is only one of the many great topics covered in Steal Like an Artist. Other chapters that have inspired me are:

  • Side Projects and Hobbies are Important
  • Geography is No Longer Your Master
  • Be Boring

Whatever your creative bent is, I’m sure you will find some ideas in this book worthy of your attention.

If you want to be a successful creative its important to know the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to steal your ideas. In the toy photography community there are many different styles that all have their origin with a specific artist. Avanaut isn’t the only toy photographer with a distinctive style. Other artists that have been pioneers in their genres are Matt Rhode, Johnny Wu, Kristina Alexanderson, Mike Stimpson, Mitchel Wu, Lynn Moore, Luigi Priori and Brett Wilson to only name a few. I respect and admire these photographers who have managed to carve out their own unique style amongst the clutter of social media. When I see one of their images, I have no doubt who’s work I’m looking at. 

Even with all the hundreds of toy photographers flooding social media with their creations, there is plenty of room to create your own distinct style. There are many photographers that have managed to do this before you and there will be many  who succeed after you.

The only question I want to ask you is this: do you steal like an artist, or just steal?


The Unicorn Fairy and friend adventuring in Stockholm Sweden. Taken in the style of Kristina Alexanderson.

The Unicorn Fairy adventuring in her own backyard; taken in my style. 😀

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