Friday, September 9, 2011

Really long comments on someone else's blog post...

This started out being comments on Comic Book Grrl's blog post "When it comes to art, is it possible to cheat?" But a) her post was way back in April, and b) I didn't want to hijack her blog with a really long comment (that may or may not ramble a bit).

As a writer, photographer and artist, married to an intellectual property attorney, I have pretty strong opinions on "cheating" in art. Whether you're working in visual media or written word, you've been influenced by others. Some other writer/photographer/etc. has appealed to you, made a difference to you, and even if you don't copy their work directly, their influence has stamped something on your own creativity.

But is there intent? Is the the person intending to pass off someone else's work as their? Are they consciously defrauding their audience? This doesn't take into account the thousands of people who ripped something off the internet, changed it slightly, believing the incorrect idea that if they change a 10% of a work it becomes theirs. That's not fair use, that's copyright infringement, period. A romance author, Cassie Edwards, was called out not too long ago for having ripped off someone's research in her novels (as well as other plagiarized sources). She claimed that she didn't know she was supposed to cite sources. I call bullshit on that. And even if she didn't know (yeah, right...), ignorance of the law is no excuse. When you take an entire paragraph from someone else and slap it into your book (or paper, you Wikipedia-plagiarizing delinquents), you're stealing. When you take someone's photograph, trace it, and pass off the new art as your own, you're stealing. (For instance, Fairey's iconic Obama "Hope" poster was lifted from an AP photo.)

Plato wrote things claiming they were Socrates' words. He may have been trying to legitimize his own ideas claiming they were his teacher's, since Socrates already had standing in the ancient World of Nerds. Similarly, writers who put Shakespeare's name on their plays might have been capitalizing on an established playwright's success. So are the suspected works plagiarized by the Bard, were other writers "borrowing" his name, or were they "ghostwritten"? Difficult to prove and know for certain, since all the actors in that particular play are long dead.

We are all influenced by the world around us, those of us who are artists (in whatever medium) probably more so because we're imaginative and we pay attention. There can be a pretty fine line between inspiration and theft, and intent doesn't even have to play a role. (Intent comes in at the "damages" part of the lawsuit, I believe, and can be hard to prove especially when you're dealing with someone who's already been dishonest about "their" work.) But here's some crazy thoughts: don't steal! don't pass off work someone else did as your own! if you're inspired by someone, claim it! For example:

"Clawing the Sky" ©2007 Wendy A. B. Whipple,
inspired by the works of Ansel Adams
There is some resemblance to "Dead Tree" by Adams, taken 60 years before I shot my own dead tree. However, I had not seen the Adams photograph at the time I took mine. Can I prove that I didn't see it before? No, you can't prove a negative (a little bit of a non sequitur, but it's funny). However, the works of Ansel Adams are in inspiration for me. I'm reasonably sure his estate is going to show up with their lawyers and beat me with sticks. Reasonably.

So to answer Comic Book Grrl's question "is it possible to 'cheat' [in art]"? Absolutely! It's cheating whenever you borrow someone else's creativity and claim it as your own. And using "inspired by" or "derivative" or "parody" is not always going to CYA (see this article about derivative works).

Go forth and exercise your own voice, express your own creativity, share your vision with the world. If you're inspired by those who have come before, recognize them in your artist's statement, in the acknowledgements in your book, in your official bio/liner notes/website. But don't cheat, don't steal -- you'd be mighty pissed if someone did it to you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


My latest art doll, "Janice," was created with photo printed fabric (from my Golden Maple shattered photo), yarns, sequins and a recycled paper pulp face.

She's a bit different from "Cherish" (my first art doll) who's a bit more serene-looking, and not just in the face. Janice will make her public debut at the Salt Fork River Art Festival at Sleepy Creek Vineyards in Fairmount, Illinois, September 24-25th. I also hope to have with me a few more art quilts, in addition to the matted prints, pendants and the framed layered photos.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Netherwing Egg (World of Warcraft)

I collect eggs. I inherited my grandmother's collection, and have been collecting myself for years, plus I also make them, not just for Easter. I also play World of Warcraft, and have collected Netherwing Eggs to gain rep, to get a Netherwing mount. Hours and hours of collecting eggs to increase my faction reputation... ANYWAY, I have been disappointed that Blizzard Entertainment has never offered a Netherwing Egg collectible. So disappointed, in fact, I decided to make my own.

Here is my inspiration   
I found some glass chandelier-style crystal points (in the DIY wedding stuff at Hobby Lobby). Once I had the most important element, I was ready to start the rest. (I don't have photos of the whole process - sorry!)

I took a sheet of aluminum foil and crumpled it into a rough egg shape, about the size of a goose egg. It needed to be firm, but not compacted so tightly I couldn't get a pencil pushed into it. I used purple and brown polymer clay (needed more purple, in hindsight) to approximate the color of the eggs. I didn't worry about getting the color perfectly uniform, because the eggs are a bit mottled. I flattened my clay into a sheet (maybe 3/8" thick..?) and wrapped it around my foil egg, carefully smoothing the seams.

Once satisfied with the clay's irregular surface, I took a pencil and pushed it into the egg in six places, through the clay and into the foil, then tested each hole with a crystal to make sure it was in deeply enough, but not too deep. I flattened the bottom by pressing it firmly onto the parchment paper-lined glass pan and baked it for 275ºF for about 15 minutes.

Before baking
Once the egg was completely cool, I pressed the crystals back into the holes. They fit snugly enough, that no glue was needed.

Finished Netherwing Egg
I'm really happy with the way it turned out. The color's off a bit, and it could use more texture on the surface, but for a first attempt, it's awesome, and was instantly recognizable by my WoW friends.

Not bad, eh?