Is that yours?

There's been a lot of chatter on the Through Our Hands Facebook page over the last couple of days. It was spurred by the posting of a quilt that was so similar to a painting, that the artist of the original took legal action.

Copyright and intellectual property rights are understandably always hot topics. Creatives are always passionate about what they make, it must be part of the DNA and that passion can raise its head in different ways: some makers are very passionate about protecting their work; some makers are so busy passionately creating that they don't realise the idea perhaps isn't entirely their own.

It's so easy to be 'inspired'. There's so much amazing stuff out there. A quick look on Pinterest and it's easy to feel that every idea has probably already been taken. Let's face it, most subject matter and themes are timeless and universal: still life, landscape, the human form, portraits, love, tragedy. They've all be done time after time. So how can the artist find something that's their own?

I love to look at the work of other artists from old masters to present day. I think because my own work has been copied in the past, that I'm extra conscious about not copying something else, to the extent that if I see something even vaguely similar to an idea that I was possibly having, then I'll ditch it completely and give the whole thing a wide berth.

What's most important, in my opinion, is that whatever subject matter, media or theme that you choose to work with, that you make it your own. Whether you start on something because you were inspired and enthused by the work of another artist or not, there's still plenty of scope in the world to find your own way with it.

Easily said, but how can it be done? Well I would always encourage students to be inspired, but then to put that to one side and look at their own position in relation to the subject. Be thoughtful and think deeply about the theme, look for connections, variations, similarities and differences, subtlety and range. Over a few years I found my way with poppies as a motif. I worked hard, drew lots, printed, stitched and explored options. After a while, the poppy seed head became part of my vocabulary as an artist. In different works it takes on different symbolic meaning, the drawing sometimes more abstract, sometimes more realistic. I don't own poppies, but I know when I use them, I'm using them in a way that's mine and that has come about through a creative evolution of ideas.

There's the crux of it. Real ideas are rarely lightbulb moments. They usually happen because of hours of graft and thinking. Copying is quick and lazy and that is why it is so annoying. It's a shortcut to an end result, and for me, a copied piece of work is always hollow. Without the backstory of the journey to arrive at a piece of work, the result will always have less conviction, less credibility. So go ahead, copy if you like, but beware it'll have no soul!

To help artists and students find their own way, I've been doing a series of video workshops on DMTV on the subject of Finding Inspiration. Basically, it's about finding ideas and then what to do with what you've got. Current episodes are available to subscribers in the DMTV Latest Videos playlist and the new episode will be out in two week's time.

For more info about DMTV please do check out our new website where you'll find free videos and more info about the Latest Videos and Archives.

Love Laura


  1. I have been so inspired by your work and Linda's work through the years..this was a great post! Thanks for your perspective!!!

  2. I have to say your "Finding Inspirations" workshops are fabulous. My favorite was an old one in which you showed old sketchbooks. There was something about that episode that set off the light bulb - I got it!! Love your work and DMTV. I can say it is the best gift one can give themselves - a year of DMTV for the price of a one day workshop - a bargain!!!!

  3. This is a really complex topic. The internet has added to the complexity. I have a theme that I've been working through for years. I've done a lot of research, writing, sketching, and made some less than satisfying prototypes of work. So, when I stumbled cross a New Zealand blog for the first time after a number of years of work and discovered a fictional "diary" that had a working title nearly identical to that I was using, I was really dismayed and immediately clicked away from the site, although it was obviously developed by a kindred spirit. It wasn't that this blog had copied anything I had done - I hadn't really put the ideas out into internetland, so that wasn't even a possibility. But I have to admit that I was unsure what to do about it. In the end, I decided that if I ever brought all this "virtual" work into fruition, the approach would be unique enough to stand. At the same time, it would be really awful to be publicly accused of "stealing" someone else's work, wouldn't it?

    1. I think this is a different thing, neither of you had seen the other's work. It's just a case of parallel evolution of ideas. It happens in nature so why not in art too! Besides, if you have all that back up work and research, no-one could ever accuse you of not having you own ideas. I hope you went ahead and saw the work through.

    2. Good points, Laura. Thanks for your response.

  4. It really is hard - just when you think you're onto something promising you find someone else had produced similar work, similar enough that you wonder if it's worth pursuing at all. You're right Laura, so much has been done already that I often suspect *anything* I might do will end up being derivative. There are images and colours that have resonated with me for years - but they've obviously resonated with others too. How do you find the confidence to proceed with an idea that you're certain is your own?

  5. It is a tricky subject in the artistic community. I think however that there are obvious, irritating cases where people will quite simply use work without permission. Those are direct and easy to spot. Whether you were inspired by an old painting or something similar is another matter. Even Da Vinci would have been inspired by something he saw before.

    Steven @ Cambridge Local Marketing

  6. Interesting debate, it's easy to see both sides of the story really. I'd be livid if work of mine found its way into someone else's art, but on the other hand sometimes you genuinely don't remember what first spurred your inspiration so can end up " borrowing" unconsciously. I guess all artists are magpies when it comes right down to it.

    Edwin @ Clicks In Motion

  7. I agree with you, Laura. In the art world, copyright is always going to be a delicate matter. It becomes even more complicated since some of our creative imaginations are “unconsciously” brought about by past works. I believe that you can continue pursuing a project even if it bears similarity with another’s work as long as it’s for personal purposes.

    Caroline @ Strategic InfoTech, Inc.

  8. I don't understand this whole copyright thing,I love creating art works most of which are nature themed. I believe God created all things including us. So to me He owns the rights to all things including each photograph taken, each leaf,poppy,rose etc.that is used in each of our art pieces.I sold items on a popular website and my work was copied many times.I was complimented...I create art simply because it is who I am. I firmly believe that God gifted me with the ability to create because, it has been a life-saver to me most of my life,through abuse and the pain of chiari malformation of the brain and now my struggles with fibromyalgia.

  9. Love the poppies - many years ago in France Patchwork in Alsace - in an exhibition I saw your work for the first time - and was astonished. I had to go back and go back to watch your quilts everyday of the event. My friends thought I was getting mad. I was. This was real art to me. Thank you Laura and Linda


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