Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

As I was searching through the obituaries for my blackout exercise yesterday, it seemed fitting to choose those referencing military service. As is often the case, it was the picture that drew me to this one and only later did I spot that his service was not in the U.S. army during World War II but in the Canadian army. Only later did he move and live out the rest of his live in America. Should I feel odd saying thanks to someone who served in the military of another country, I wondered? Not at all - besides thanking our own countrymen for their sacrifice, we should also thank the sacrifice of our allies.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Giant Copy Machine

"The internet—not to mention culture in general—is, of course, a gigantic copy machine and that which is posted will be copied. As always, I emphasize that reactions to a plagiarism (imagined or real) are always more interesting and tell you more about the parties involved than the plagiarism itself."

Austin Kleon - in response to Banksy not a plagiarist, just careless

And this, I think, is the bottom line. It's simply human nature to want to possess what intrigues us, catches our eye. For many that "possession" takes the form of a challenge, to figure out how the thing came to be, to see if we too can reproduce it. In my case, I almost always wanted to put my own twist on it, if it were something having to do with textiles. If it was not textile oriented, then my thought would be, how can I get the same effect in my chosen medium? Copying is a form of flattery, although those being copied don't always see it that way, nor desire it. Take the case of Hannah Headlee.

Hannah was a contemporary of Rose Kretsinger, famous 1930's applique quilter, teacher & pattern designer from Emporia, Kansas. Hannah's training was in china painting, but her acquaintance with Rose got her interested in quilting. She used Rose's designs as inspiration but never copied them, preferring to come up with her own original designs. My favorite of the few she made is Cranes, which looks nothing like the sort of applique quilts being designed at the time. (See this quilt and others by Hannah on Barbara Brackman's blog post here).

One would think Hannah would want to show off her beautiful creations, share her artistry. Isn't that what most of us want to do with our quilt creations? Isn't this why we enter quilt shows, take part in exhibits?  Not Hannah. Instead, Hannah refused to let any of her quilts be shown publicly because she knew what would happen as soon as she did. Someone might use her designs and she did not want to be copied. Ironically, since the rediscovery of her quilts by family in the 1980's, at least one of her quilts had been patterned and images of her quilts have been published in magazines, books and now on the internet.

So I suppose the lesson is, if you are concerned about being copied, plagiarized and the like, then you must keep your work to yourself. To which I would say, then what's the point? 

Friday, May 25, 2012


Just when I think there's nothing new on the property to catch my attention, something new on the property catches my attention. I'd actually walked over to this area to see what was blooming in the bed fronting this stone wall and was surprised to see what was growing in the cracks at its end.

I've shot this wall before, catching the moss growing there and fallen bloom sprigs from the nearby oak caught in it. I don't remember seeing Hens and Chicks before, although I could be wrong.  At any rate, the way the afternoon sun hit them sent me back for my camera.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Just working...

I've not picked up my camera much lately, though I suppose the changing landscape of spring and recent storm clouds should have given me reason to. No new experiments in the studio either, although projects await. Instead I've been pretty focused on steady progress on Masks. I'd finished a background section and had nowhere else to go but back to the mask images I tried picking out early on. Added a line of darker stitching to better bring out eyes and mask, then pondered how to fill in the space around the eyes.

Just finished doing that on one of the masks and like what I chose. Now there's a second mask to work on, slightly different shape, probably slightly different approach to additional quilting. We'll see. The callous on my under finger has returned yet I still occasionally poke through with the needle and draw blood. Still, I do enjoy this slower pace and the softer line of hand quilting.

More quotations for you to ponder taken from Rhizome | A Conversation with Jonathan Lethem:

Lethem on art and identity and betrayal:
We are so prone to feeling betrayed by the artist in some way. Because the art does something so extraordinary to us that then we find out some detail. “Oh! He stole that from Willie Dixon.” “Oh! He beat his wife.” “Oh! He picks his nose in public.” “Wait a minute. He made that thing that changed my life. This is incongruent. I don’t like it!” That’s why we get so betrayed by the knowledge of appropriations, because we’re holding art to this very weird standard where it is actually about us. It’s about our own lives.
On T.S. Elliott and art that lets you cite:
T.S. Elliott has this appendix to The Wasteland where there are all these citations. We’ll put aside the fact that probably no one ever bothers to read that. But it’s there. He tried. It’s right there. But if a painter makes a canvas, it does not have room for footnotes on it. And a lot of art, the form doesn’t invite the same kinds of embrace of transparency. The specific gestures just don’t work. So what do you do? There might be follow-up. You could speak in an interview, you could make a gesture. But you know what? Not everyone wants to do that. Not everyone wants to be interviewed about their work at all. They want to just make it. And that’s okay.
On Led Zeppelin and Willie Dixon vs. Paul Simon and Graceland, and the axes of judging appropriation:
There are sort of two primary axes on which we make the individual judgment. One is: degree of transformation and the other is degree of transparency and or citation. In other words, how much do they really make something different out of what they appropriated? And how much did they make it easy to see that there was someone else’s gesture behind their own?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

More Steal like an Artist

I thought I was done sharing Steal like an Artist quotations, but Austin Kleon has posted more plus this video shot while on his book tour. It runs about 40 minutes but I think it is 40 minutes well spent. He begins by talking about his Newspaper Blackout poetry which inspired me to to try this technique with Obituaries. Bottom line, nothing much new under the sun. Or:

Mostly when people see things as original it means they don’t know where they came from. It’s kind of that simple but, I don’t mean that as “Whoa snap, I can’t believe you said that, it’s so mean.” I mean that I don’t know where everything came from either, who does? Things come from places largely and then they get recombined or spun or give a different flavor or different emphasis. I can think of a 100 precursors to almost anything I’ve done and honestly, sometimes you don’t stand on the shoulders of giants. Sometimes you stand on shoulders of dwarfs. There are things that I thought. “Oh, that’s minimally interesting, but I think there is something about it I can improve and turn into my own.” Other times you are conscious of a series of precursors that no one else would ever spot or think about unless you pointed it out — and I’m that dope who is always pointing it out. For originality is really truly an overrated concept except as a nice form of praise. It’s like you want to say “wow.” It’s a way of saying wow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A pleasant getaway...

Things have been quiet on the blog because I've been on a little trip. After the big push for the first 4 months of the year, I was definitely ready to get out of town for a few days and visit friends I haven't seen for awhile. Luckily, special events were taking place wherever I went. But dang! I managed to be having such a good time that failed to take many pictures except for a few along my favorite stretch of highway through the Palouse Hills.

I nearly drove off the road in one twisty section coming up from the Snake River because of windmills looming along the bluff where windmills had not been my last time through. I'm forever fascinated by these and had never been this close to them. I found a place to pull off and get a few pics for future reference. Even with a bit of car showing, you just don't get the full sense of the size of these things.

First stop, Walla Walla and an opening reception for my artist friend Bonnie Griffith. I had not planned to go down that way, but when I learned of the reception at Sapolil Cellars, a great venue for Bonnie's Walla Walla area landscapes. It is located in an old building in downtown Walla Walla, long and narrow with high ceilings, one side brick walls, the other a stucco-like tan. They also serve food and have live entertainment. My goddaughter and boyfriend joined me and Bonnie, enjoying the art and staying for dinner. After catching up with her, it was off to Bonnie's house for more catching up.

 Next day I was with friends going back to when I lived and worked in the area back in the 1970's. They wouldn't let me out of town without a trip to Stash quilt shop. I restrained myself and only came away with the one batik in the picture above. Then it was hit the road again for Yakima and its annual Artist home and studio tour.

My Yakima friends were very excited that my visit coincided with this event and we started at Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley Community College to catch the Fiber and Jewelry exhibit. We raised our eyebrows at a few entries, but there were also some very beautiful pieces. There weren't signs prohibiting pictures but I wasn't comfortable taking any in this venue. For my altered book fans, the piece on the right on the postcard above is made from sheet music bound with Coptic stitch.

The highlight of the tour each year is Leo Adams whose home is as interesting and eclectic as his artwork. To learn more about Leo and see pictures of the house, see this Seattle Times article from 2003. Particularly note the picture of Leo painting in his second story studio. Apparently he usually paints sitting on the floor and had a painting lying there in progress during the tour. Scatter about it were many pages pulled from magazines and garden catalogs. You could see the references he was using for the flowers he was filling baskets with. Fascinating, as I still seem to think "real" artists just paint straight out of their imagination. The interior of the house itself is a mix of sophistication and unfinished roughness, a blend that should jar but for some reason works beautifully.

Sharon Strong was another stop on the tour. She does beautiful glass - that's her work in the center there, a "woven" trivet. My friends bought it for me and also gave me that cheeky Yakima wine and Prosser's Chucker Cherries dessert sauce. Wait a minute - I thought it was the guests who were supposed to give gifts, not the hosts! Do I have great friends or what? They also treated me to the fine cuisine at Gasperetti's, the owner of which is a long-time family friend. Onion rings and calamari to die for, and a grilled chicken, goat cheese & sun-dried tomato pizza that's out of this world. Gasperetti's has been a long-time supporter of the arts and features Leo Adams' paintings and murals spanning over 30 years as well as many works by Bill Brennen who we also saw on the studio tour. Brennen is known for his "barn" paintings which you can see a sampling of here

Oddly enough, the artist whose work I liked the most (and wished I could have afforded a few pieces of) is a professor who paints and collaborates with Brennen on music on the side. No website or blog to point you to so you will just have to trust me that his watercolor mountain landscapes were captivating.

And now I'm home and feeling refreshed and reinvigorated after so much exposure to others' art in different settings than I've become accustomed to. It's good to get out of your little bubble and fill the senses with new vistas and ideas.


Sunday, May 06, 2012

How We Create

Well, dear readers, I am disappointed that none of you have commented one way or another on the last two posts of quotations. I will give you one last chance with these remaining ones. Also wanted to point out that the picture I've been using for these posts was taken at city beach of a small statue in the children's play area. If you look closely at each post, you will see that the picture changes slightly due to subtle manipulation of the hue/saturation map. Am I stealing from the designer of the statue or building on his work? Neither really - just exploring my software for future reference. Have no idea who is responsible for that lion.

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.
— Joseph Campbell on having a “bliss station,“ in The Power of Myth
The writer is one who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do… The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention… Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing…

"Creativity is not a talent, it is a way of operating." and
“We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that we don’t get them from our laptops.”

You need the eye, the hand, and the heart. Two won’t do. 
Finally, I leave you with this link, just in case you're interested in more of Austin Kleon's collection of "steal like an artist" quotations:

Friday, May 04, 2012


Insight comes, more often than not, from looking at what’s been on the table all along, in front of everybody, rather than from discovering something new.
Originally, feathers evolved to retain heat; later, they were repurposed for a means of flight. No one ever accuses the descendants of ancient birds of plagiarism for taking heat-retaining feathers and modifying them into wings for flight. In our current system, the original feathers would be copyrighted, and upstart birds would get sued for stealing the feathers for a different use. Almost all famous discoveries (by Edison, Darwin, Einstein, et al.) were not lightning-bolt epiphanies but were built slowly over time and heavily dependent on the intellectual superstructure of what had come before them…. There’s no such thing as originality. Invention and innovation grow out of rich networks of people and ideas. All life on earth (and by extension, technology) is built upon appropriation and reuse of the preexisting.
Stop stealing crap. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against stealing. I’m against the quality of junk you’re stealing. Design is the collective knowledge of all the design that has been done before. So take advantage of how others have solved a particular problem. Learn from what they did and see if you can take it to the next evolutionary step. Do I mean that you should literally steal their code or drop their screenshots into your own work? No. I’m telling you to be aware of and take advantage of the learning that came before you. Be aware of yourself in that timeline. And become the person who next generations will steal from. Don’t be afraid to steal, just steal the right stuff.
That last quotation comes from a list of 10 resolutions worth the read. Besides this one, I particularly like the "Stop saving bad work." Probably my worst fault, born out of the traditional quilting mantra of using up every scrap and my upbringing by parents who lived through the deprivations of the great depression. As it pertains to art, working unduly hard to "save" bad work may not be the virtue I would like it to be. I think he may be right in calling it "ego salvaging" instead.
On the other hand, sometimes it only takes more thought and a light bulb moment to discover the very thing that will save a work and propel it to success. Does that mean the work wasn't bad to begin with though? As I stitch away on "Masks" I've had this sinking feeling that my thread choices were not pulling out the design as I'd intended. Not bad work, just not working yet work. As I stitched yesterday, the light bulb blinked on momentarily: beads! I know I'll be adding other elements once the quilting is done, possibly including some buttons I've set aside, but beads had never been on my radar. Now I am excited once more.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Copying, Creativity & Developing Style

"Creativity isn't magic. It starts out simply enough - you're copying and then you're fiddling with whatever you've copied, and then you're merging whatever you copied with something else. It's only over time, with years of practice, that you start to get results that are breakthrough."
 - Kirby Ferguson, creator of "Everything is a Remix," quoted in a CNN piece on DJ Spooky

That CNN link is definitely worth a read in order to understand this connection between creativity and building on the work of others.

"[After copying others for a while] your own style begins to emerge. You don't decide what your style is, you discover it. Style is hard-wired into your brain and it's a matter of discovering what your style is and then sharpening it, exploring its dimensions."

People told me they could recognize my work long before I thought I had developed a style to be recognize. I'm still not sure I totally see it, but I still get told it's easy to see. Follow the link to read the entire post which makes excellent points about immersion and surrounding yourself with people better than you are.

"The idea that people copy because they lack creativity is powerfully harmful…To deny people the right to copy, intimately, from others, is to deny the essence of what it is to be a creative person…Creative people are supposedly those who do not copy or imitate others; copying is supposedly theft. In truth, creative people must copy and must imitate others. Our copyright laws should be changed to reflect this reality."
- William Patry, senior copyright counsel at Google Inc, in an excerpt from his new book, How To Fix Copyright

I realize that last one is controversial but I must admit that I often think people go overboard on the copyright issues, seeing infringement where there may be none.  Feel free to discuss by leaving a comment.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Copying vs Building Upon

When I ordered those Oliver Twist threads to replenish my supplies, I tried a different collection than I've bought before - it had two of the colors I needed and the rest were ones that intrigued, especially the one in the above picture. I had no intention of using it on "Masks", but as I moved to a new section to quilt, I was casting about for something a little different, something that might pick up on the subtle pink occasionally running through the painted fabric. So here I am, adding something totally different and unexpected and hoping it works out.

"Masks" is somewhat unique in a world of creativity where true uniqueness is rare. I would not expect another artist to be able to copy it, although I suppose it is possible. Certainly the technique I used to create the design is well-known and yields similar results no matter who uses it. But it might be difficult to match the colors unless a painter or photographer gave it a go. I'd hope that my perspective and vision would be different enough to make my interpretation somewhat unique. Still, fold a piece of fabric and dip it in dye or paint, and it doesn't take much imagination to find faces in the unfolded results. I would not think I had any right to discourage another artist who saw this piece from trying to get similar results. I'd just hope he or she would interpret it in his or her own distinctive way.

The issues of copying, stealing, finding your own voice, developing style crop up over and over again, usually prompted by a flagrant example of someone copying someone else's work and passing it off as their own for profit or recognition. And then the conversation begins again about where does one draw the line. This happened back in February to a blogger I follow, Paperiaarre who specializes in bookbinding. I was most impressed by her thoughtful response that addresses both commercial and personal use of others' ideas as well as subconscious (or unintentional) copying (you can read her post in full here). I think this passage gets to the core of the issue, emphasis my own:

"I am interested to learn new techniques...My point, however, isn't copying techniques from others, it's copying Ideas from others, something much more sacred to me. I cannot understand how it is okay to take someone's technique, aesthetics, choice of materials and their entire process, and present it as your own in a commercial environment. I do believe in being inspired by others, honestly saying how I got this great idea from reading X's blog so I decided to build on it. I'm a firm believer in giving credit when credit is due."

I've also been collecting quotations from Austin Kleon's tumblr, many of which he later published in a book titled "Steal like an Artist." So, "steel" yourself; I'll be sharing many of those quotations over the next few posts. I hope you'll read Paperiaarre's story, then consider what other artists have said about stealing, copying, finding your own voice and developing style.