Book Summary For Designers: Steal Like An Artist

The book Steal Like An Artist presents 10 transformative principles borrowed from some of the world’s greatest creative minds.

The overarching message is that being truly original and groundbreaking is less about conjuring ideas out of thin air and more about being a perceptive student of the work that came before you. Good artists copy, great artists steal.

The book is a compelling manifesto on creativity that highlights the value of being an avid student and collector of ideas as a way to uncover your creative potential.

By stealing and remixing from those who inspire you, you can craft your own original expressions and share them with the world.

Here are some of the key principles explored in the book:

1. Focus on your raw materials and influences

What do you love? What moves or excites you?

Kleon pulls inspiration from DIY punk rock culture and collage art. He’s fascinated by clipping images and text from newspapers.

How to apply this principle as a freelance designer:

Focus on the design styles, techniques, and tools you’re passionate about. What kinds of projects excite you? What designs or designers inspire you?

2. Don’t wait for the perfect idea

Just get started by stealing and remixing.

Kleon starts his projects by rearranging and remixing things he finds interesting. He took a poem by Borges and literally cut up and rearranged the lines into something new.

How to apply this principle as a freelance designer:

Take on client projects even if you’re not 100% sure of the approach.

Start designing and exploring, remixing and combining various influences and materials. Ideas will emerge as you work.

3. Observe the world around you

Pay close attention to the little details and moments. Take notes.

Kleon pays close attention to mundane moments and details like conversations overheard in public or the way light hits a wall. He takes notes and sketches what he observes.

How to apply this principle as a freelance designer:

Pay attention to design details and patterns in the world around you. Take note of what you like or find interesting. You can incorporate observations into your design work.

4. Read and research widely

Expose yourself to a diverse array of art and ideas. Let your influences and observations mix together in your mind.

Kleon studies a diverse range of art, poetry, music, and more. He lets all his influences and observations mix in his mind, and connections emerge between disparate things.

How to apply this principle as a freelance designer:

Study a range of design genres and styles. Read design blogs and books. Exposure to diverse design work can spark new ideas and techniques you can make your own.

5. Embrace constraints

Having too many options or possibilities can be paralyzing. Give yourself restrictions to channel your creativity.

Kleon limits his color palettes or chooses constraints like only using what’s in his pockets to spark creativity. Limits breed creativity.

How to apply this principle as a freelance designer:

Constraints can lead to creative solutions. Try limiting your color palette or typefaces on a project. Constraints help you focus and can yield innovative results.

6. Share and connect with others

Show your work and build relationships. Creativity is often a collaborative process.

Kleon shows sketches and unfinished work to get feedback. He connects with others through blogging and social media to build relationships and collaborate.

How to apply this principle as a freelance designer:

Share your work on design communities and connect with other designers. Getting feedback and collaborating can help you improve, get new clients, and discover new directions for your craft.

7. Follow your interests

Discover the work you’re meant to do by exploring your curiosities and following what interests you.

Kleon explores his curiosities about art and culture by reading books, taking courses, and engaging in projects that interest him. This helps him discover the work he’s meant to do.

How to apply this principle as a freelance designer:

Take on the freelance design projects that interest and excite you personally. Pursue side projects that let you explore new areas of design. Following your genuine interests will lead you to the work you’re meant to do.

How can Freelance Designers benefit from this book?

  1. It can help you identify your unique influences and strengths as a designer. By focusing on what interests and excites you, you can discover your personal style and niche.
  2. It encourages you to start designing instead of waiting for the perfect idea or project. Just get started by remixing your influences and materials. This can help you build momentum and generate new ideas.
  3. It emphasizes the importance of being an observant student of design. Paying close attention to the world around you and studying other designs can spark inspiration and techniques you can incorporate into your own work.
  4. It promotes sharing your work and connecting with others. Getting feedback, collaborating, and forming relationships with clients and other designers can lead to new opportunities and support the growth of your freelance business.
  5. The principles of embracing constraints and following your interests can help you choose the kinds of projects you take on. This can lead to a more sustainable and fulfilling freelance design practice in the long run.

Overall, the action-oriented approach and creative mindsets in Steal Like An Artist can inspire freelance designers to start designing, explore their interests, and build value for their business.

The lessons around staying open to influences and connecting with others are valuable for continuous learning and growth as well.


Steal Like An Artist is a motivating manifesto on creativity that encourages readers to take action.

By highlighting the value of being an avid student of art and ideas, as well as just getting started with the materials and influences at hand, the book inspires readers to overcome doubts and inertia.

No matter your experience level or fields of interest, there are practical lessons to apply from studying the work that came before you, observing the world with an open mind, and connecting with others.

So start looking at the details of designs you admire. Read more books on the art form you love.

Follow your curiosities down rabbit holes of research. And share your work, even if it’s unfinished.

The latest masterpiece could start with your next sketch or conversation.

Stay open, get started, and steal like an artist to uncover your creative capacities and voice.

The possibilities for your freelance business and personal projects await when you begin designing your future today using what moves and inspires you.

Find out more about the book here.

Paul G.

Paul G.

Premium Brand Designer for High-Ticket Coaches, Influencers & Celebrities. Public Speaker, Brand Identity Design Coach. @pguetan
Paul G.

Paul G.

Premium Brand Designer for High-Ticket Coaches, Influencers & Celebrities. Public Speaker, Brand Identity Design Coach. @pguetan

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