Copy, Transform, Combine
The three principles of creativity by Kirby Ferguson
Today whilst I was working in my studio, I was listening to an episode of Creative Peptalk, one of my favourite podcasts. As per usual it was full of helpful advice and tips, this time about how to create your own style. It was such a good episode that I listened to it twice, back to back. What really caught my interest was his interview with Kirby Ferguson on his documentary ‘Everything is a Remix’, discussing the three principles of creativity. According to Ferguson, the three principles of creativity are Copy, Transform and Combine. Ferguson says that while we think copying something is uncreative, it is actually at the core of creativity and of learning. You can’t build something out of nothing, we need a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding in order to create something.
In the past, copying the old masters was a big part of the curriculum in art schools. By doing so the students would learn technical skills as well as creative skills by means of learning through doing. When you copy something, a transformation can happen accidentally, says Ferguson. You’re creating variations on an existing idea.
When you take the elements you’ve copied and transformed and bring them together with new ideas from different sources, you then create something that is your own. Ferguson gives many examples of how existing ideas are transformed to make them into something new in his video, like how the Hunger Games was based on the Japanese movie Battle Royale and the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, where Theseus was one of 14 tributes selected to be sacrificed in order to maintain the peace after the killing of king Midas’s son Androgeus.
I really connected with this clear concept on how creativity works, and it helped me work through feelings of shame I had about copying. For me to copy something was the opposite of being creative, but to link it to learning makes so much sense to me. This process of Copy, Transform, Combine is exactly how my Folktale week illustrations came about. At the start of a project I sometimes make a mood board, sometimes in my sketchbooks, sometimes on Pinterest. I was looking for inspiration on forest spirits on the old google when I came across the image below by Vasilia Romanenko and started to doodle in my sketchbook.
My first drawing bases on Vasilia Romanenko’s Forest Spirit
As you can see, the first image I created is quite a clear copy of Romanenko’s forest spirit, combined with my love for mushrooms and the magic pencil I had just bought. Making this drawing started the little fire of inspiration and motivation in me, as is usually the case when I just start something (’Just do it’ being an apt slogan for my practice). It wasn’t until I made the second illustration that evening that the magic really started to happen and Old Crag the Troll appeared in my sketchbook. That drawing and character feel completely my own, and I was chuffed to bits when I was done. I think I needed a little nudge to get started and get into the flow and once I was in it I was able to create something new and exciting.
Old Crag the Troll
I got so excited by the concept of Copy, Transform, Create that I had to share it with you here and I hope you find it just as helpful as I did.
Thanks for being here, see you in the next one.
Creative Pep Talk 392 - How to Find Your Style & Why You’re Making it Harder Than It Is Kirby Ferguson ‘Everything is a Remix’
Vasilisa Romanenko's website & Instagram My substack