How to copy

Recently I opened up my Facebook page and found an interiors shop I like featuring a brand new artist. The painting looked very familiar, and I thought, “That’s Artist X!”
But when I read the post, it wasn’t Artist X, it was a brand new artist. So brand new, she didn’t even have a web page yet, but she did have a Pinterest page, and guess what? Artist X is an artist she admires! Admires so much apparently, that she doesn’t mind completely ripping her off and then selling the work.

The issue of copying and copyright is one that affects musicians, writers and artists. With the internet, it’s much easier to find ideas. Musicians are the most protected, you can’t even quote song lyrics without permission but riffs are harder to prove. While exact plagiarism is easy to trace, writers have more difficulty protecting their ideas, thus the more than 50 copiers of 50 Shades of Grey. Most artists can’t be bothered pursuing expensive or time-consuming legal action, and the copiers get away with it.  In addition, people seem to believe that because they live far away from the original artist it’s not really theft. But the internet also makes it easier to get caught.

In recent conversations with a leather artisan and a jewellery maker, both found people making replicas of their work. In gentle communications with either the store or copier, both were told that the work “wasn’t exactly the same.” The artisans had a sad resignation when they told me their stories. I think they felt abused, but didn’t want to drain their creative energies going after the offenders. But the sadness remained as they told their stories. Many artists have also told me that etsy is a ground zero for copiers’ inspirations.

Certainly, copying is a good way to learn. Copying was one of the original methods of teaching drawing, which you can still see in museums to this day. If I see an artwork I like, I analyze right away why the composition is pleasing to me or why the size/palette/medium works. I have even done works “in the manner” of artists like Basquiat or Wayne Thiebaud. Some were for school assignments and others were experiments.

Any artist is visually inspired. I have seen motifs on damask fabrics or on antique tiles, and then used them in my work. I have seen colour combinations I liked, and created a palette around them. When am I crossing the line into copying?
Since I’m standing here on a soapbox, I should confess one case, from my own practice, where I might be accused of copying. I have long admired the work of Richard Diebenkorn. I like his use of subtle image under thin paint, his switching between representation and abstraction, his colours, and his composition. In fact, I liked his compositional form so much, that I did a one-page art school assignment on it. Then a year later, I did this painting:

lines revealed

Ocean Park 54 by Richard Diebenkorn

Ocean Park 116 by Richard Diebenkorn

I wasn’t consciously thinking about Diebenkorn when I did the top painting layer, and but certainly there’s no question that there is a resemblance in terms of the final composition and palette. I didn’t copy a single painting, more like I took everything I liked about him, stuffed it in a blender and spewed out this painting. Then, I added my own technique of ripping away the surface and created the exposed wood, randomness, energy, and layering that can be found in most of my art. Originally, I had intended to paint more layers on top, but the composition was so pleasing that I stopped right there. I resined the work, and then featured it in an open studio. It wasn’t until someone mentioned that it reminded them of Diebenkorn, that I realized the resemblance.

So is the final painting mine or a homage? I guess that is debatable, but the fact I even have to ask the question, means that it’s too close. Since then, I have learnt to ask myself if there are visible influences in my work, and if there are I obliterate them. As artists we are visually stimulated and have great visual memories, and we have to make sure that we are not unconsciously copying another’s style or content. If we are consciouslycopying, a pox on us.

When I first found the copier, I was incensed. I had made the connection that others might not, given that the copier is in Australia and the original artist is not hugely famous. I wanted to email everyone involved, the store, the artist, the copier and the art website which originally featured the artist. In fact, I wrote a whole post, exposing her and other artists I’ve recently found who copy. But when I talked with my good friend, who also happens to be a life coach, she asked what exactly I was trying to accomplish. Did I want to humiliate and shame artists?
I realized that what I really wanted was prevention: for all artists not to copy each other’s imagination. First I needed to look at myself and see if I could pass scrutiny, and if not then I don’t get to throw the first stone. We can definitely get inspired by work we see and learn from it. Goodness, artists teach workshops so we can learn their technique. We can copy at first, but then we have to stay in the studio and push the work until it becomes our own.
In this case, I noticed that the copier’s work was not as good as the original, she had copied the motifs and techniques, but was missing the random and aged qualities that made the originals sparkle. Still I feel sorry for whoever buys the painting. They own a hollow artwork which lacks its own creative spirit.


Happy New Year

Happy New Year!
While everyone else was writing their summaries of 2012 or their New Year’s Resolutions, I was lying in bed and complaining about how I was starting 2013 with a bad cold. And then I had to catch up on life, and the blog kept getting pushed back. So my resolution to update the blog weekly went down the drain before it could even begin!

But you know that one of the secrets of success for artists is to keep plugging away. So here I am, not late…but early for the Chinese New Year!
2012 was another great year for my art. It was my best year ever in terms of sales. I have been fortunate enough to see my art sales grow almost every year since I began working fulltime as an artist. I also feel privileged to have met so many wonderful people who support my art: clients, other artists, art bloggers. One amazing part of the internet is that all of these people who I have never met in person, and yet they immeasurably encourage me in my art practice.
Of course, there were setbacks too, but I’m trying not to dwell on them. One of these days, I do intend to write a whole post about rejection, but I’ll be putting a positive spin on that too. I avoid the dark side, because it’s too easy to live there.
So what’s in store for 2013? First off, I do vow to blog weekly…from now on. I’ve even had requests to post more, well from one person anyway but that’s enough for me. I’m actually quite surprised at how often people tell me they enjoy reading my blog, I write a blog post and I rarely get immediate feedback, except from my sweet husband. (By the way, my children find this slightly embarrassing and hugely amusing: “You see each other all the time and you write to each other on the blog. Mom!”) But back to the blog, months later people comment to me in person about blog posts they have enjoyed, so obviously I should blog more. Besides I enjoy writing…
This year I’d like to continue my 2012 vow to do more giving. Just as an update, last year I did loan two paintings to the Union Gospel Mission, donate a painting to the National Nikkei Museum fundraiser, give away five paintings in contests on my fb page and through my newsletter. But I have tons of other ideas for giving, and frankly it was a lot of fun. During the holidays, I was delighted when my kids wanted to come to the studio and make art. When I posted the resulting paintings of the Ikea monkey on my personal fb page, a friend wanted to buy one but instead I gave her the painting and asked her to make a donation to an animal charity. She gave $$$ to the Vancouver Humane Society in my name (which was lovely of her) and they sent me a thank-you card with a pig on it! So the new year is starting off right.
But my biggest push in 2013 is around learning. I’d like to learn some new art skills or techniques this year, so I’ll be looking for interesting courses to take. I’m particularly interested in learning more about Photoshop, screenprinting and figure drawing.
There is a particularly inspiring thread about learning art on a board called A man named Jonathan Hardesty decided that he wanted to improve his drawing skills, particularly in the digital realm. So he began putting his sketches up and asking for feedback. He pledged to draw one sketch every day, and more on weekends. To be honest, the first sketches are pretty bad, BUT Hardesty differed from most people. First of all, he did stick to his pledge, he posted drawings constantly, good and bad. Secondly, he kept an open mind all the time. If someone made a suggestion, he thanked them and took it. He was never insulted or defensive, and as a result he got even more advice and encouragement. It became a virtuous circle.

I guess I don’t have to tell you that this story has a very happy ending. You can follow Hardesty’s visual journey from his first drawings to the masterful artist and art instructor that he has become, in this thread.
So, I guess the point is that resolutions are not just for belated New Years. We can all strive to be better…at drawing, at business or wherever our imaginations take us. All it takes is an open mind and a willingness to learn.

New Works

Finally! I’ve done a ton of experimenting this year, mainly because I didn’t have many deadlines. After several months work, I’ve completed some new paintings that I’m really excited about. As my sometimes curmudgeony photographer commented to me today, “I think you’re getting the hand of this.”

green city, 36″ x 72″.

 This painting had very grid-like, urban feel as I was completing it. So of course, I added a map of Vancouver. So far everyone who sees it has tried to find their street. I love the motion of the big colour blocks in this painting.

bikini, 48″ x 36″

After I finished this painting, I went home feeling completely satisfied and said, “I did a good day’s work today.” However my cats were more interested in when I was going to do some cat feeding. I love the detail that shows through the many circles, and the beautiful purple created when the blue and pink resin meet. The yellow flower balances out the composition, in fact there’s a lovely balance of many elements here. Sigh.

sunset trip, 36″ x 48″

This painting was the most challenging for me. For a long time, it sat on the wall, looking beautiful but incomplete. I hardly ever use black resin, but in this case it added that touch of darkness that so many of my paintings need. In addition, the black is not a deep black, but more like a squid ink black. When wiring it today, I noticed that it worked better on the horizontal, creating a hazy sunset scene. 

tipsy, 36″ x 24″

Inspired recycling brought this painting to life. I intend to take a few paintings I’m not happy with and rework them with more layers of resin. This painting was a rather plain one with a little colour and a lot of line, and I added the big black stencil form and then went crazy with the coloured resin. Fun, fun, fun!

upon the shore, 36″ x 108″

This painting was the first one to be completed, which means it came together really beautifully (with no agonizing on my part.) It was a direct result of the experimentation I did early in the year, playing with a lot of graffiti elements. I was looking back on my portfolio, and I realized that although I love bright colour, I hadn’t ever done anything  neon bright. Now I have, and this painting is so amazing. I can hardly wait to see it hanging in a home, it’s the biggest piece I’ve ever done and a real statement.

vibrant, 24″ x 72″
This painting is actually part of a series of three that I worked on a year ago. One sold at the Crawl last year to the loveliest couple. And the third one isn’t done yet. This painting has a vibrant, modern look and is also an attempt by me to get as machine-like as possible with three coats of supersmooth resin. It’s not perfectly smooth though, I don’t think my resin work will ever be. And that’s good, since the human touch is what distinguishes original art.

Too much choice?

Only one of these size will survive…

A lot has been written about the many decisions we make in our lives, and the idea of too much choice. A few years ago I read the book, The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz. He explores the idea that although we would think that having lots of choices would be a good thing, it actually fries our brains. The brain tires of having to make the constant decisions, and begins to shut down. At first, the brain is as bright and perky as an energetic preschooler, but after having to decide breakfast, what to wear, which route to take to avoid the accident, and then all the work decisions… by the end of the day the brain is as exhausted as that preschooler’s mother at 5:00 pm. “Whatever,” the brain says, “I don’t care anymore.” This whole idea of too much choice has given birth to voluntary simplicity movements and ideas of non-consumption.

I completely agree with this idea. One way I simplify is to make choices by colour. I prefer bright, true shades, the kind you see in my paintings. To the despair of my technophile son, my cellphone was chosen because it came in this great turquoise colour. My camera is hot pink. My car is cherry red. And this works for me because I’m happy each time I use the item, its colour cheers me up.

Yet when it comes to my paintings, I have to admit I do a lot of experimentation. And one way I’ve experimented has been size. I created smaller sizes to make more affordable work for certain shows and events.  But because a lot of my work is dense and layered, I feel that detail doesn’t work on a small scale and I usually work as large as I can. Currently that size is limited by what fits in my cherry red car, so what I’ve done lately is to work on diptychs. The work is larger in total, but more portable.

When life hands you a bunch of 36″ square panels, make a diptych.

But I feel many sizes are actually confusing for people who come to my studio. They say they love the work but they can’t make up their mind. The second year I displayed my resin art in the Culture Crawl, I had only two sizes and eight paintings and they sold out. The only decision that had to be made was: Which one do I like best? These days I can hardly keep track of all the prices and sizes. So in order to simplify things, I’m going to cut down on the number of sizes of panels that I work on. I currently have 16 different sizes and in the upcoming year, I’ll cut that down to six. I’m looking forward to having fewer decisions in my art. It’s important to really get to know a size or shape and be able to explore all the compositional possibilities. Limits are what fuels creativity. I enjoy playing with small panels, but my main practice is creating the large pieces. Years ago, I made a philosophical decision that I wanted my artwork to have impact when it was displayed, and size is a part of that.

Phew, having made that decision, my brain feels better already.

Art and community galleries

One of the great things about having artist friends is getting the chance to see their exhibitions, both for the art and the chance to explore a new gallery. Seeing work in a studio can’t compare to seeing everything beautifully mounted on pristine walls, with enough space to really appreciate the art. Last week, I went to see the work of my friend, Michelle Sirois-Silver, at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery. The show is called Love, Decay, Repair, and features her textile artwork, both her traditional hooked fabric work and some new explorations she has been making with distressed screenprinting on fabric. I think that the show displays an evolution in Michelle’s work, she is extremely skilled in the fabric hooking and her large scale hostas display that expertise, but I know she is also very excited about doing the new printed and stitched works and I have to admit they are my favourite pieces in the show.
I attended a talk that Michelle gave on her process, and she is extremely generous about sharing all kinds of information on how she does her work and where she gets her materials. She will be giving another talk this Saturday, and I hope to attend that as well. The show runs until October 13, 2012.
I had never been to the Maple Ridge Art Gallery before, and it was interesting to explore it. The gallery is located on a plaza that also connects with a large shopping mall, city hall, the library and a sports centre.  I found this to be a contrast to many community galleries, which are free-standing, destination buildings. I think it’s a good idea, and I hope that many more people drop into the gallery as a result.  Certainly, Michelle’s talk was very well attended.
Recently, Bob Rennie stirred up some controversy in Vancouver when he suggested that instead of one new landmark gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) should open ten small galleries in different sites throughout the city.
The idea is an interesting one to consider. Is there a way to work art galleries more seamlessly into our lives? Would we feel more ownership of galleries within our community? And what about the existing community galleries, because every city in the Greater Vancouver area already has its own gallery? Some community galleries, like The Reach in Abbotsford, already seem to have a relationship with the VAG and display their work. Others have formed their own mandates, like Surrey Art Gallery, which features more video work. Still others have retrospectives of important artists who are not favoured by the VAG; I have seen fantastic shows of Renee Van Helm, Vicki Marshall and Bill Burns at community galleries. While the VAG displays artists who have already been crowned by the art world, Vancouver has few venues for emerging or mid-career artists. The now disappeared Artropolis show was a great way for new local artists to be discovered, but nothing similar has taken its place.

The Maple Ridge Art Gallery set up for Michelle’s demo

Shows like Love, Decay, Repair are important for the artist in many ways. As the audience, I enjoy seeing Michelle’s work displayed in the proper setting, and it gives others an introduction to her talents. But for the artist, a solo show like this is validating in many ways: the chance to work with a professional curator, a deadline to complete a large body of work, a milestone for the CV.  In addition, I believe there’s a wonderful personal satisfaction in looking at your work filling a huge gallery space. “I made all that,” you think, and it feels great.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Artists

What limits artists from reaching their full potential? Here’s my list of the seven deadly sins of artists, because everyone likes lists, right?
1. Envy
This is the number one sin in the minds of many artists. They envy something about other artists: income, fame, representation or even talent. A little envy can be motivating if it kicks your butt into working harder or doing something new. But too much envy is paralyzing, it eats away at you like evil moths on your favourite cashmere sweater. Art is subjective in many ways, so while you create work that you love, it can stay undiscovered for a multitude of reasons. If you feel the envy, try to imitate rather than compete. I don’t mean imitate someone else’s art, but rather imitate the ways they get their art out there because exposure is the only way that people will find your work. When I find an artist whose work parallels mine, I look at the galleries or online sites they use as potential venues for me.

2. Greed
Most of the original sins have to with excess. It’s good to desire to have one easel, but wanting 12 is greedy. (Although can you apply that to paint? I always seem to need and want more paint.) I would twist greed around a little and say that you really need to develop a style of painting, and not hop onto every new trend you see. Painters can paint still lifes/landscapes/portraits/abstracts in watercolour/oil/acrylic/encaustics/pastels, the permutations are endless. But if you hop onto every new trend that catches your eye, are you really getting better? Are you developing your own style? Many beginning artists come into my studio and say immediately, “I want to do abstracts too! I want to use resin too!” My process came out of years of experimentation. At first I copied styles I liked, but eventually my interest in layering and transparency brought me to the place I’m at now. And while I still experiment, I do try to focus on the same ideas that brought me here.
3. Pride
After you’ve worked as an artist for a while, you begin to take pride in your practice. You’ve accomplished things, you’ve had career success, you have technical expertise, you may even start teaching others. Now what are you? An emerging artist? A mid-career artist? An established artist?
In Buddhism, there is a concept called Beginner’s Mind, where you have to empty your mind so you can learn more. I think it’s important to have Beginner’s Mind, to continue to take classes, to ask questions either of other artists or on artist forums. While it’s satisfying to give advice, once you become “an expert” you’re painted into a corner where you have to know everything. You want to keep evolving your art, not become one of those artists whose work looks exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. Keep seeking your painting nirvana.
I do see the irony in the fact that I’m writing an advice post and saying I’m no expert, and later this week I’ll write more about Beginner’s Mind. Also, since I certainly don’t know everything, I do welcome any comments and advice you have. Feel free to add your own advice to the comments section, the more minds the better.

4.  Wrath
Honestly, I don’t know if wrath can apply to artists. Most are so delighted to be able to pursue a profession of autonomy and creativity, that they don’t need to rage. But do know that if you’re filled with negativity it will come out in your paintings, paintings really are the mirror of our emotions as we create them. I’ve had so many people say that my art is happy, and some even suggest that I must be a happy person. Although I don’t consider myself particularly sunny, I guess I am pretty optimistic, and I’m always happiest when I’m painting.

5.  Lust
Thankfully for this list, lust does not apply only to sex, according to Wikipedia it can also be “the intense desire of money, fame or power,” So let’s examine that, let’s say you do want money, fame and power, gulp, all of it. The art world has a hierarchy and you have to learn it to climb it. So while working hard in the studio is important, you also have to get connected to the art world. This means going to openings, meeting other artists, collaborating with other artists, reading art publications and blogs, in general becoming a bigger part of the world around you. Also working on projects that are larger scale is good, like public art installations or international artist calls. Publicity is important too, as is winning awards. Of course all of this is easier said than done.
Of all the sins, this area is my biggest weakness. I love to go the studio and put the hours in, but then I want to go home and be with my family. And when I do go to openings, I’d rather look at the art than network. So how can I give advice? I recently read an interview with NYC artist, Will Cotton, who tells how he got connected and he makes it sound so easy! Plus his paintings look delicious.
6. Gluttony
I don’t know what to say about this except if you eat a big lunch then sometimes you fall asleep in the afternoon. And if your face lands on your paint palette or a painting, that would be bad. Not that I know personally of course.

7.  Sloth
When I went to art school, almost everyone was talented…duh, that’s how they got admitted to a competitive art school. However in every painting class there were one or two people who were transcendently gifted, they painted stuff that made me go “Wow!” or “Holy @$&#!” Sometimes it was work I didn’t even like, like fleshy portraits or muddy landscapes of skateparks, but anyone could tell it was good. What is interesting though, is that those really great painters had a good work ethic. They painted and painted, they had their assignments done, and they had time for exploration as well. I would have predicted that these students would be successful artists.
(As an aside, my predictions were only 50% right. Out of all the people in my painting classes, two are now fairly successful artists, one I would have predicted and the other never impressed me yet I saw his work at the VAG last week. The one guy I thought was the best painter, I’ve never heard of him again, he may be in the States somewhere but he’s never shown in Vancouver.) 
It’s a chicken and egg situation. Are they talented first and work hard because it comes naturally, or are they good painters because they’ve already worked so hard? The answer doesn’t really matter because either way, they’re a good bet for greatness in the art world. The corollary is also true: the lazy art students are never heard from again. If you can’t even finish your assignments, what are the chances you’ll be ready for a big show?
So that’s it, the seven deadly sins of artists. What’s your weakness? Attack it today.

Turkish Delights

Whew! Five posts in five days. While that may not seem like much, I have trouble blogging monthly. It all began a week ago when Rachael Ashe told me that there are online challenges to blog every day for a month, so I decided to first see if I could even do five in a row. I’m proud that I’ve done five, and I think I’ll sign up for one of those challenges sometime soon. I’d like to plan it out first, and work on a theme like “The Business of Art” or “Expressing your Creativity.” Stay tuned for that.
And speaking of Rachael, she asked me, “When are you going to blog about your Turkey trip? I want to read about it!” So by request, here’s the art I saw in Turkey:

I love going to Europe, and luckily Patrick’s obsession with all things Byzantine has already taken us to Venice three times. However Constantinople was the true Byzantine capital, so we finally went to Turkey this summer. I found Istanbul to be much more of a European city than I had expected: the narrow cobblestone streets, the vibrant café life, and the cultural diversity. Indeed, Istanbul has a geographic foot in both Europe and Asia, balancing neatly in the centre.

When we travel in Europe, we spend the first days exploring the must-see attractions, in this case: Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Dolmabahçe Palace, Topkapi Palace and Kariye Müzesi. All of these sites are magnificent in their own ways, and I was dazzled by the mosaics, the grand scale of the buildings, and most of all the strange evolution of many of these buildings in their conversions from Christianity to Islam, and then partially back again. As always I eventually begin to crave something bright and modern. At this point, I take over the itinerary and we head to the nearest modern art museum or exhibition, which happily every European city always has. 

In this case we went to the Istanbul ModernA former warehouse, right on the Bosphorus Strait, has been converted to an elegant art museum. The building has some great permanent art installations, like the suspended book ceiling on the lower floor and the chain link & bullet hole staircase. The exhibitions rotate, but there is an emphasis on modern Turkish artists, most of whom I was completely unfamiliar with. We saw a retrospective of Burhan Dogançay, who did a lot of paintings of urban walls, something I find very inspiring as well.

Usually when I visit a museum, there is one artwork I end up falling for, in this case it was Horrible Shark by American artist, Mark Bradford. From the first time I read about Bradford, I was very interested in his work because he uses an excavation process as I do. He uses found materials like the paper flyers torn from the walls of his neighbourhood or the perm papers from his mother’s beauty salon. I was not allowed to take photos at the Istanbul Modern, but I did find one online image of this painting. Unfortunately, I feel like the colours are not correct here, the pink was more vibrant and you don’t really get a sense of the depth of the work. The painting is huge and amazing, I could examine its details for hours.

Horrible Shark by Mark Bradford (Photo from the blog of Kileigh Hannah)

In addition to the Istanbul Modern, we went to some contemporary galleries along the main pedestrian mall, the Istiklal Caddesi. There was an amazing variety of work, and we particularly enjoyed the Erwin Wurm exhibition at Gallerist Tepebasi. Wurm is an Austrian artist who has a great sense of humour, and the small rooms with antique detailing set off his work beautifully.

Erwin Wurm at Galerist Tepebasi

The huge gallery building of  SALT Beyoglu was very impressive as well, a minimalist space full of cement and straight lines. We saw some interesting American photography there. One slightly disconcerting thing is that even the smallest galleries seem to have armed security guards. Security guards are more prevalent in Turkey in general, but having them in gallery spaces seemed to me to politicize the artwork in some way.

The lovely Misir Apartments building has been changed into a series of small galleries. The whole building has elegant architectural details and exploring it was a real adventure. We walked into one dishevelled gallery, where a middle-aged man dressed in a coverall sat in the middle of a trash-filled room. When I asked him if he was the artist, he barked something in Turkish and a hipster girl came running out to explain that he was only the locksmith. The show idea was that they were cutting gallery keys for anyone who wanted to come in and create art at any time. Since one of the hottest bars in the city is at the top of Misir Apartments, most of the art seemed to have been created in drunken stupor, but the idea was a brave one. Also in that building we saw these interesting paintings by a young artist who used faces taken from the newspapers for his subjects. Unfortunately I have lost my notes, but I will continue to search for his name.

Mystery portraits in the Misir Apartments

I love maximalism and there was one bravura exhibition which used colour, detail, and ornamentation to the max! Two artists, one Canadian and one Turkish, have created a multi-storey extravaganza of art. The show was called Revolution Revelation by Arkin (Mercan Dede) and Carlito Dalceggio, and I was able to take a number of photographs. The amount of work which went into the show was incredible and the whole experience was like a funhouse ride at the fair. You kept going up flights of stairs and finding more craziness. Rather than explain the complexities of this show, here’s a visual smorgasbord for you:

The studio where it all gets created.