“Do you know," Peter asked, "why swallows build in the eaves of houses? It is to listen to the stories.” ~ J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan


this is not where i beg you to tell me it's all right

it's not.
this is where i talk about influence and when it's more than just that.  

i painted this weekend.  a big canvas.  that's it up above with the child's chair i sat it while lost in the brushstrokes.  i turned the tv to disaster movies, a marathon of silliness i could tune out, and i opened the front door to the sunshine, and i painted.  under the black and white are the beginnings of another piece, four women i painted over, a just-not-working painting that i will try again later on another piece of canvas.  the black and whites were the first stages in this painting, and the flower was just for me, something to remind me where this painting was supposed to be headed, something to disappear into the background a bit when complete.  i've had the image in my head for a couple of weeks, i'd drawn a couple of 2 minute sketches just to keep me oriented, the way i always work.  i never have the finished piece figured out.  it's much the same way i write.

and then today i saw bridgette's newest encaustic piece, and i knew where all the inspiration and influence for my painting had come from.  this is not the first time it has happened with bridgette - she is one of my all time favorite artists, and i'm sure that's because her work resonates with me on a such a gut level.  not an excuse, but a reason.  she and i have had this discussion before, with a small piece that was not such a copycat, but still made me uncomfortable.  this big one makes me very uncomfortable.  it will change.  i already know the direction it will take while still holding my original thoughts close.  i messaged bridgette and told her about this, told her i wasn't sure if i would even post this image, then decided i would.  decided i would talk about it once again - that invisible line where influence becomes copycatting or plagiarism.  but i don't know what to say.  this is obviously one of those times when the line has been crossed; so often it is less hard to tell.  but that said, this weekend i saw an image on pinterest, and sure it was one of maddie's, backtracked it to flickr, only to find that it wasn't.  surprised to find it wasn't - it was that similar, all the way down to the ocean in the background.  it, too, had crossed the line.

photography is hard to hold onto - it is easy for someone to imitate someone else.  so easy to use the same textures, subjects, colors.  it is especially easy when someone is learning their craft.  find someone you like, follow them, absorb them.  there is nothing wrong with that.  it only becomes wrong when you stop there, when you don't follow yourself all the way out.

painting and writing are easier to keep close.  a painting should obviously be yours.  or mine.  i can learn your technique, you can learn mine, and we should not be afraid to share our knowledge; we should understand that we will use that technique to further our own work.  we should follow ourselves all the way out.  writing is the easiest to protect, perhaps - if someone takes our words, even a sentence, even a phrase, it is plagiarism, easy to prove, and that person should be ashamed.  if someone tries to write like us, to imitate us . . . well, that's tough.  i don't think that's easy.  writing is not a digital process.  we always follow ourselves all the way out.

in my message to bridgette, i told her i was glad to've seen her new piece today - and by the way, you'll never convince me that wasn't a bit of serendipity.  seeing her piece when i did made me push myself away from the canvas and take a breath.  i told her when i'd painted over her influence, it would still be there, but in heart only.

what say you? when is influence no longer influence, but imitation?



  1. it can be a tricky, hard question, especially in today's world, when we all have access to so much influence. i think you are spot on with the following yourself all the way out. but i think for most people, that's a process and sometimes the way there, for them, begins with imitation. to me it is not always the imitation that is the offense, it is the not owning up to it.

    and then the not moving past it.

    1. i agree. in school, basic painting always began with copying a famous painting or even a photograph, but it was just that - a beginning. i had to laugh when i saw bridgette's piece, and yes, had to acknowledge it. now for moving forward.

  2. It's hard. I remember I read once a description of wrinkled, redgold hair (Cara Lockhart Smith) and it was *exactly* the description I needed to describe a character's hair. I took away the redgold and thought it was perfectly fine to use an adjective in the same way as someone else. It's just a word, after all. But ... I've never sat easy with that, and I've never been able to use the word. I knew I was lifting something unique and precious. So I think when it goes beyond generalities, when it becomes about specifics, then you have to say you've gone too far.

  3. I know this happens to all of us. We see so much. Absorb it. To see that we have followed anothers course and then to make it our own is not such an easy turn. Owning up to it, yes, that is necessary. Without that there is no moving past it. No changing it. Zero growth. And yet. I know that like minds can indeed develop in amazingly similar ways. Without the access we all have to share perhaps this would go unnoticed in the world.

  4. This is my stumbling block. In photography class my teacher, my mentor, my guru told me that I must copy to learn technique. He encouraged me to do it often. But those are throw away pieces. Homework. They are not my art. I am still troubled by the thought that I might be "stealing". Your words that you painted over her influence really resonated with me. I like that. Xo

  5. Some good mind candy here today you have served me up with. I will ponder this as I try to find my own way out of a photography project in which I am collaborating with two other strong women-photographer-artists.....I like to think that I submit my portion of the piece without seeing theirs so I do not become influenced. I appreciate all the "influence" I get on a daily basis as I blog hop and read and admire others work. Yet often my best work is when I am stuck somewhere with no internet, no art supplies and make do with what is at hand. hmmm...still pndering this. Thanks Deb

  6. Where influence and common vision become imitation can be an impossible line to find and define; it's like Potter Stewart saying, "I know it when I see it." When I saw Bridgette's painting, I immediately thought of this soil sample photograph that I saw five years ago; it is unintentional art that is perfection. http://nesoil.com/images/haven.htm

    Your photograph above is an original and perfect piece of art on it's own. I'm glad you created that before you painted over it's background layer.

  7. Interesting thoughts here. I have often thought that there are no original pieces of art or words - that it is all out there for each of us to receive from the universe. Thus it is often found that many art pieces and writings become similar, but still from the heart from the one that created it. When I look at all of the pictures on Pinterest I wonder how it is effecting my creative heart and what influence will come from all those pictures. I believe if we come with an honest heart, then the creative piece is from you. We can't help but be influenced each day by what we see and what we read and hear. There is a fine line here, but I do see that though your art work looks similar to another it is from your heart and you should celebrate it.

  8. Just wanted to let you know...since your post I can't stop thinking about this...and I have a lot to say about the whole thing...but need to some how pull it all together...kind of scary to give opinions as some people feel very strong about it all...thanks for being brave enough to put the questions out...It has really given me pause...

  9. You wrote about this perfectly. Often when we are learning a new craft (music, writing, painting, photography, etc.), we are influenced by those who we admire. I don't think it's a terrible thing to copy a look in order to learn a technique. We learn that way. Artists have been doing that for centuries and way back when, apprentices were not even allowed to create their own artwork until their copied work was deemed "good enough" by their master painter.

    I don't think it's terrible to create something that looks similar to another piece of artwork, either, if we are creating it for ourselves or even as a gift for someone we love.

    It IS a shameful thing to copy someone else's work and to promote and sell it as one's own. And it is sad if someone doesn't eventually find their own voice in their artwork/craft.

  10. Isn't that how we find ourselves? How we find our own particular, sometimes peculiar thing that makes us different from all the other snowflakes? By absorbing what moves us? And then creating something out of all those things we have gathered? Where would we be without inspiration? No matter what, no matter how influenced we are, we will create something completely unique and our own every single time. No?


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