Sunday, 30 October 2016

Inspiration : Imitation

If you're an artist then chances are you've read many posts about the dreaded topic of art theft. It's something I'm often sorely tempted to discuss... but don't. Today I will.

A brilliant Disney artist (and lovely chap) Chris Sanders recently wrote about an incident when he was a child and a fellow student in art class copied his idea / design and was given recognition and credit whilst he was not. It's not surprising that he remembers this and wrote about it here.

This did not happen to me when I was a child. It didn't happen to me until seven years ago, which was when I started working as an artist. It was unpleasant.

It's happening more today and with more at stake it is more than unpleasant.

My intellectual property - Good Witches Bad Witches  is the current target. (If you follow this blog then you doubtless know all about this project. If you don't then see more here and here.) Sometimes other artists see my hard work and think "that looks neat, I'm going to do that too"... and that's when the sting that Chris Sanders wrote about comes into play.


My artist friend Stephanie said it better than me when this was happening to her two years ago. She wrote that it's a mistake to confuse theme and style. I agree.

In my case...

Theme
A theme could easily be 'witches'.
Many artists before me have designed their own witch characters. Search Google images and see an array of witch designs. (They don't really resemble my characters).
Now more specifically, search Google images for 'polymer clay witch sculpture' and you'll see some more. (None of them resembles mine).

Style
Again, said so very well by my friend Stephanie, "the style is personal to every artist. It’s his/her own point of view of the world s/he sees."
If I choose to sculpt my witch characters using polymer clay and I give them all my same deep furrowed brow (my signature character style), cute bulbous nose and wide eyes, crazy eccentric hairstyles, put them in layers of fun patterned fabrics, stripes and polka dots, patched fabric, knit finger-less gloves, aprons with pockets including kooky objects such as a pet rat, vial of poison, a bone etc... (all running motifs in my work)... then this is my unique interpretation of a witch.


Creating Good Witches Bad Witches ™, writing the stories, coming up with each character, the motifs that makes them a recognizable brand and developing my own style and methods all represents years of solitary hard work. Years of abstaining from social events, proper vacations, sleeping in. The past few years of my life have been dedicated to Good Witches Bad Witches ™.

Since I started it I've had countless people write and tell me how much they enjoy watching the project unfold. People have written me emails, left comments, asked questions, and all this interest in this world I have been steadily building has been such a joy to me. Every comment and social media 'share' has meant something to me and I've never taken peoples' interest for granted.

Unfortunately, I have also had a few people imitate my work - sometimes creating exact design replicas and going on to sell them for profit! So not only was it plagiarism but in the case of Good Witches Bad Witches ™ - copyright infringement - which led to the unpleasant task of issuing letters to let these people know. It makes me question whether or not to share my work so openly with so many, it distracts me from my goals, it's damaging, frustrating and such a shame. Often the people who do it don't intend any malice, but simply do not consider that what they are doing is so incredibly wrong.


Scroll past the conclusion below if you want to learn more about the personal story behind the brand and me, the artist. *

To finish up...!

I say to artists; if you see another artist's unique work that you like - be inspired! Enjoy what others have done before you and let it feed your imagination. Then go on and create your own things, and in your own style. Tell your stories, your way.

Also spoken by the wise and wonderful Stephanie, "imitation is a valuable part of the learning process". But once you upload a copy to the internet then do give credit (and links) to the artist whose work you imitated. Be wary that it's illegal to profit from another's design. And as soon as you've started mastering an art-form there's no need to keep copying - that's when it's time to develop your own style.



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* For those interested in the personal story behind me and my work, here it is. And it's about to get personal - something I have never done on this blog before.

I was born in a little village in the English countryside. I fought great obstacles and suffered blood, sweat and tears just to be able to live in the United States - so that I could be in Los Angeles and pursue a career here.

It cost me everything I had. I made it. 

I established Tall Tales Productions. And all the while I wrote. I came up with ideas which were entirely my own, did extensive research and arrived at something I fell in love with and live to work on - Good Witches Bad Witches . If you follow my work then you'll know that I've been writing and designing all these characters - also sculpting them using clay to add visuals to my script. 
Each character I make has a different cultural background. So for each one I research a country and speak to natives (to make sure that nothing is culturally insensitive and that I make the most of the best aspects and traditions of a culture). I think about her character and brainstorm ideas to arrive at the quirks you see in her design - such as pockets full of pet rats (this design) or a hen nesting in her hat (this design). I research costuming, types of cultural design such as for the Swedish witch who has a 'Scandinavian' pattern to her cauldron, created after hours spent trawling through images of viking longboats and relics and then incorporating into my own playful design and figuring out how to carve it around a cauldron. Or researching breeds of owls and how an armillary sphere works for this design

I've spent the past few years developing my own style - my own special unique stamp on each character. I've worked to create running themes in my characters so that people will know at a glance that it's part of  Good Witches Bad Witches  - that it's my work. It's a Caroline McFarlane-Watts character. I've also developed my own techniques through trial and error and countless hours of work, failures, successes. I'm accessible on social media - answering people's questions about how I did something, offering advice and sharing techniques and sources for materials. 
Gratitude to the people who realise and respect this (and credit me as a source of inspiration when I am one to them). 
Huge thanks to those who engage with and share my work. 

So there you have it! A personal insight into the person behind the witches and a bit of my journey. Credit to you if you managed to read this entire waffly post. Soon I'll post something much more uplifting - a new witch character (with perhaps fewer of the work-in-progress shots!)

6 comments:

Andrew Grundon said...

Caroline, I admire your determination to build your life and develope your talent, which is, in my humble opinion, off the scale. I have had people copy my work, either deliberately or "accidentally" for all of my career as an artist, puppet maker and sign painter. People have advised me to "take it as a compliment" and I suppose in a way it is.
However, these are my designs, and like you I have been inspired by others, but taken those inspirations and moulded them, adding my own personality, and then it is mine. It feels like a personal violation when you get ripped off.
I dread to think how Jim Henson would feel about the proliferation of Muppet-style puppets in the world today. It shows a serious lack of creativity to just directly copy another's work.
Sorry I went on a bit, but its a subject that I completely agree with you on.

Caroline McFarlane-Watts said...

Thank you for seeing things my way Andrew! By the way, you just referenced my favourite person of all time - the reason I do what I do and why I came to LA- Jim Henson. :)

Storyteller said...

Caroline, I filed your witches (along with some Jim Henson stuff btw :) )in my inspiration bookmarks. I'm a writer, so these things are not direct inspiration but rather stuff that makes me happy and also glad that I get to use her creativity and make something from nothing.
As a content writer I rarely get credit for my work, but I used to work for some indie textile designers and saw one - a lovely, incredibly talented woman - lose her business, because a bigger fish in the pond copied her stuff. Not only did she lose revenue, but people though she was the one copying. It was heartbreaking. Thank you for speaking up. Imitation and idea theft are not flattering. They are not harmless and I can only hope that karma will bitchslap those who do it!

Caroline McFarlane-Watts said...

Hi Storyteller, Thank you for your comment. My stuff made it into your folder along with some Jim Henson stuff?!! That's the kind of thing that makes me thrilled because since I was a little girl he's been my biggest inspiration and I really just adore Henson. Thanks for sharing that story. Yes... a horrible thing. Here's hoping I can fare a little more fortunately. :) C x

Mary Varville-Rodriguez said...

You are an amazing, talented artist. I love your style! You have a unique perspective and I admire your work.

Stephanie Kilgast said...

Being an artist is always full of struggles :/
Always a good reminder to make the difference between being inspired and copying.
And glad to have been of some help with my blog post ^^

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