Do you feel too literal with your art? Perhaps you’re feeling more like a photocopier than an artist with a unique voice to share…

My name is Carrie and I created Artist Strong to help artists like you build their skill and develop their unique artist voice. To date, thousands have joined the community to learn and grow together.

If you feel like gaps in your learning hold you back from making your best art, sign up and watch my free workshop, called How to Create Art from Your Imagination. It’s completely free and the link is in the description below.

Now, what does it mean to feel like a copyist rather than an artist? 

After more than 50 phone calls (and counting!) with creatives like yourself I realized you might feel a bit stuck. You’ve developed a level of skill that makes you want to put more time into your art, maybe even setting up a home studio to make room for your art. But now you wonder, “What’s next?” Working from photo reference and copying the image no longer brings the same level of satisfaction. You want more.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽If this resonates with you, type “yes” in the comments below. I’m happy to share some strategies that will help you move out of this plateau and begin to confidently explore the unique style you’ve had hidden inside of you.

The first thing I want to say is it’s OK to copy images as a way to study, learn new techniques, and for enjoyment. 

Artists have for hundreds of years studied the techniques and skills of other masters to help grow their own skill. And for the hobbyist who only wants to play and copy photos, that may be enough in itself.

But for those of you who feel called to do more I also want you to see this as a great stepping stone toward your voice and style development. This is literally how art movements across history have developed.

Let’s take the Renaissance and Baroque periods for example. Perspective was invented during the Renaissance and achieving realism was now possible for the first time. As artists studied Renaissance techniques and ideas, subtle shifts started happening.

You can see this in the work by Orazio Gentileschi, David and Goliath (c. 1605–1607):

Once we could create images, artists wanted to communicate more story and that the image captured a moment in time. Figures began to have more twists and turns in their poses and be presented in diagonals to add drama. This also meant perfect accuracy to anatomy was sacrificed for this other goal. The style changed.

After you achieve a level of realism, or you start feeling too literal, become curious about your choices in subject matter, as well as which elements of art you focus on (for example, color or texture.) Give yourself permission to deviate from the image and play to see what comes of your exploration.

Here’s the next challenge: when we take risks and try something new and experiment, we often don’t like the results. 

Even worse, we often observe a drop in the quality of our work. We feel like our skill has worsened.

Don’t worry.

It hasn’t.

But it is uncomfortable and vulnerable to try new things we are unsure about.

An ingredient to learning (and growing) is a certain level of discomfort.

In a time and culture where we do everything to avoid discomfort, we are set up to feel sensitive to this experience and believe the discomfort (and drop in skill) is a sign we should just give up, “why bother?“

You can do hard things. And the only path to finding and sharing that unique art of yours with the world is by experimenting, testing different ideas (that will be both good and bad) and make a lot of art.

You don’t have to go through this experience on your own. I work with artists who have had an art studio for a few years but feel stuck and wonder, what’s next? They’ve signed up for paint-like-me classes, where they’ve learned loads about how to paint and create art that looks like their teacher’s work, but don’t quite know how to use those learnings to start creating their own unique art. 

Lastly, they struggle with using the label artist, it’s something they want to be but don’t quite believe it yet. While their art is a hobby, they have this whispering that art is more than just a hobby. They want to know what that could look like.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽If this sounds like you, let’s talk. Click on the link to my calendar in the description below to choose a time and date that works best for you. 

One other strategy you might employ is to start with image references and hide it after a time. 

How could you finish the work on your own? What would you learn about your style by starting but not finishing with an image reference? You can also take your own photos to work from. Here I’m working on a drawing a made from collaging different photo elements together:

portrait of a young girl with a large flower like a hat on her head by Carrie Brummer in colored pencil

My last piece for today’s conversation is to have us reflect on what might hold usback from taking those next steps. 

Copying an image is safe, familiar, and has a clear, beginning, middle and end. What are you afraid could happen if you don’t stick to an image?

The biggest fear I keep hearing is maybe I’m not any good, but I have no original ideas, and I’m just not creative.

I have good news for you. Creativity is a skill we can develop and learn.

The only problem is to get good at something means you have to spend time being bad or dissatisfied with your work, too.

Our self-worth can be heavily tied to our feelings of achievement and success. My hand is definitely raised here. So when some people say, “I’m a bad artist,” or “not a real artist,” they are really saying I’m not worthy. And we diminish the interests and passions we have because it reinforces that lack of self-worth.

And all of this can take us right back to the safety and assuredness we might feel copying photos created by others.

I end every video now with a reminder to proudly call yourself an artist and I mean it. It is powerful and can change lives when you start to believe in yourself and your art. It’s not only you who benefits.

So if you enjoy today’s video, be sure to like and subscribe to my channel. It’s a super helpful way to get more of the right eyes on my work. Let’s hope as many creative as we can take the leap from copying photos to creating unique original art that comes from their heart.,

And if you are creative who has had a studio space for a while, but feel stuck, like learning gaps are holding you back from making the art that captures your unique style, watch my free workshop: How to Create Art from your Imagination. You can watch it as soon as you sign up, so grab that link below.

As always, thank you for watching

Remember, probably call yourself an artist.

Together, we are Artist Strong.



Self-Taught to Self-Confident is where I help self-taught artists who have home studios stop feeling alone and stuck, wondering what’s next for their art.

Together we fill your learning gaps, ensure you have a strong knowledge of art foundations, and build an artist practice, so you can confidently express yourself through original, unique art.

February is a special enrollment period where I will accept students via 1-1 calls to see if I’m actually the jelly to your peanut butter, or the icing to your cake. 😆

And let’s be honest, I’m not the teacher for everyone: I will NOT enroll students that I cannot help get results.

Additionally, this enrollment period is for cohort-based learning where ALL those enrolled in the program will start class with me on March 1st.

FYI –> I am limiting the number of enrollments to a max of 15 because I give a lot of my time to my students and I want to make sure I have enough of it to give.

If the idea of working in a small group of people who are also looking to do more with their art excites you, get in on your 1-1 call with me here.




Feel like a copyist instead of an artist? This is for you.