Concrete manifestos: Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Keva Epale
7 min readOct 31, 2020

Dare to grow as a creative

Steal like an artist © Austin Kleon

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 is a writer who draws, that is how he qualifies himself.

I discovered his work when I finished art school and started working. I understood pretty early that theses 10 sentences he wrote to empower each creative being, were going to stay with me as a reminder.

Austin Kleon is a creative writer, thinker and artist. He has been a librarian, a web designer, an advertising copywriter, a set of fields that allowed him to use every day to fuel his process and approach on creativity as a routine.

I’m a writer who draws. I make art with words and books with pictures.

Austin Kleon

A talk turning into a manifesto and reminder

For writer and author Austin Kleon, it started as a proactive talk to enhance and trigger creativity.
He was asked to talk to students at a community college in upstate New York in 2011, sharing with them a list of 10 things he wished he had heard when starting out. The talk and slides were such a success and a reveal to the creative industry that it turned out into a book, the acclaimed tool and manifesto: Steal Like An Artist. Get it here

We have here a creative mind who knows about creativity, the struggles and luxury of it. Understanding that inspiration is everywhere, that it is not a crime to steal, but to transform what inspires us and mash it up into something new: our own.

He quoted Wilson Mizner during a talk saying: If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s research. A long story of how masters and students have been thriving in their arts.

Steal Like An Artist © Austin Kleon

A manifesto for creativity in the digital age

This manifesto entitled Steal Like An Artist is engaging and playful with 10 key proactive phrases that entice you to take action. With Austin Kleon we are encouraged to be bold, subversive, but also to demystify the myth of “The artist status”, role and process.

It’s all about liberating ourselves from creative blocks and understanding that an artist grows and blossoms because of all the inspiration that is around, that feeds him but also the daily work that is needed.

Steal Like An Artist © Austin Kleon

These sentences come from places such as creative blocks, slow growth, even the glorification of artists because we admire them. One powerful angle is also the observation of how our era is transforming. In a world where information is everywhere, it is an opportunity for sure to be brave enough to share our work and keep doing the work because this digital age is a platform for it.

His manifesto is in black and white mixing words and pictures. A journey into a process of simplicity that awakens.

What those students may have felt when listening and watching was a writer who draws using his craft and experience to empower them all. I believe Austin Kleon’s manifesto and body of work showcase a passion for his art, the good and bad days of his creative process and it is one of the reasons his audience resonates so well with him: transparency.

What his manifesto sparked into our minds

His Manifesto “Steal Like An Artist” has a title that intrigues for it creates conflict between a crime which is stealing and the status of an artist. How can it be? How can artists steal? Don’t they receive lightning of inspiration from a divine source? Are they not self-inspired?

His title sheds light on a myth but also on a preconceived interdit. We live in an era of inspiration, information, abundance and over-sharing of those. Nothing is original but we can make it our own by mashing up so many crazy things together and voila! It’s loud enough because of the perfect imperfect recipe.

He selected 10 sentences we can remember and identify with! From the creative field or not, these sentences can resonate with so many people and free them from a field.

Anyone can benefit from a routine, starting something new or old, giving space to side projects, collaborating with people from all across the globe and being kind to yourself and others.

His manifesto tackles the imposter syndrome and makes it obsolete.

Steal Like An Artist © Austin Kleon

Here are examples of books written by Austin Kleon exploring more of the Manifesto for creativity: Keep going, Show your work and Newspaper Blackout. They catch our attention and question our habits, goals, and values. With this series, it is clear that the aim is to be active and not passive. It’s about movement, going ahead and sharing that intention with your audience.

Be nourished by doing the small things

We all know the creative block no matter our fields, we all know what it feels like to be in front of a blank page and nothing seems to come out. We also realize that by switching to something different for x amount of time, something magical happens: by doing small things it comes back. ‘’It’’ being an inspiration, flow, alignment whatever you decide to name it.

Austin Kleon shares with us how he created his book Newspaper Blackout, a collection of poems made by redacting newspaper articles. He shifted his focus from the computer to a stack of newspapers full of words and found an artistic lignage in creating poems from newspapers. Several artists before him had explored this process, but by making it his own and unique process it has enabled a wide number of people to see the daily in a new scope.

What if your next project’s breakthrough is laid on a line in a journal? What if your next art series could birth just by you sketching a fork every day? What if…

Newspaper Blackout © Austin Kleon

Do the work

A manifesto should inspire you, it should empower you to keep experimenting and remembering why you started, but by all means, it should entice you to keep pushing forward.
What we learn from Austin Kleon’s body of work is a dedication to doing the work, small things get big overtime as he claims. He didn’t write the Newspaper Blackout in a day, but every day with good and bad days as we all know them, and some incredible aha moments on the way.

Your manifesto is not carved in marble, it can be flexible and grow with you. You can write a letter manifesto every day for a number of days, weeks or more and it becomes a year manifesto or just a beautiful epistolary encounter. You call and name it as you want, it takes work to make our vision come to pass, it takes small tiny things we don’t even acknowledge as important, but momentum happens and you realize how pivotal they have been.

Manifesto webinar © Keva Epale

10 bold things you can do today

1. Share your manifesto with your closest friends and collaborators
2. Chose one key sentence and see how you can live by it today
3. Spend 30 minutes sketching whatever comes in your mind
4. Write down your favourite book in 3 paintings
5. During your walk take a picture of 5 things that reminds you of your project
6. Spend 10 minutes in silence
7. Write a word or quote and share it with a perfect stranger (it can be online)
8. Say thank you mentally to each email you send
9. For 3 days read out loud the manifesto sentences you came up with
10. Review your manifesto from the feedback you received, then rinse and repeat # number 2

If you want to dare to experience these prompts, I can only advise you to do so and keep discovering the theme!

On my website, you can discover more goodies and tips to help you create your manifesto.



Keva Epale

Art director, illustrator and brand strategist. Creator of the newsletters: ''Your Creative Letter'' and ''Your Branding Letter''.