Observation and Duplication

We learn by observation and duplication. That is an important part of the creative process at odds with the myth of the artist. Art relies on a community of artists who are working alongside each other for energy and inspiration.


Art quilters are largely passionate hobbyists. Many art quilters happily produce work in the style of their favorite teacher for a period of time. Some take classes from a variety of  teachers until they develop a more personal style. The natural process of creating a unique voice will include a period of being derivative. 


Derivative: (typically of an artist or work of art) imitative of the work of another person, and usually disapproved of for that reason.: "an artist who is not in the slightest bit derivative".

Synonyms: imitative, unoriginal, uninventive, unimaginative, uninspired, copied, plagiarized, plagiaristic, secondhand, secondary, , trite,  clichéd, stale, tired, worn out, flat, rehashed, warmed-up, stock, banal


I have been reading “Writing Down the Bones.” by Natalie Goldberg. It’s now out in the 30th Anniversary edition. It is a classic text for writers circles. Goldberg believes in the power of writing as a form of meditation, self reflection and art. In her book Natalie encourages keeping a free flowing journal. I see many  parallels to my own art practice in this approach to the creative process.  

The book is a collection of short essays that seem designed to be consumed not in a big chunk; but as small bites of inspiration. One of these bites, “Writing is a Communal Act” struck me as applicable to the art quilt community. Art, whether it’s writing, painting or art quilting is, as Goldberg outlines, a communal not an isolated activity. She gives artists permission to write in the style of a Hemingway because he is an excellent writer and to do so without guilt.

To copy a style is not a crime, it  is using the community of art as a resource. 

Art communities are not meeting in the traditional sense as often as they did before. The world is increasingly connected in the virtual space of Facebook, Zoom, Online Galleries, Exhibitions and Museums. YouTube and Instagram have a  barrage of images that seem overwhelming. It is in these spaces that one can get lost. The challenge is to find one’s own path within the virtual jungle. 

As I scroll through my Instagram I look carefully for artists that at a gut level speak to me. It may be that they are working with photographs, their work is figurative, the subject matter is akin to mine or design style is very engaging. Because the algorithms used by search engines send us similar content it is easy to start collecting images or finding videos that connect to each other. They offer opportunities for deeper explorations.

As I play in my studio or in my sketchbook; I never worry about being derivative. I often begin by working in the style of someone else with abandon until that style morphs into my own. 

Until next time....