WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again


Sometimes–no wait, always–it’s a good idea to cool down before you speak your mind.

A few weeks ago, not one, but TWO small drama played out in my studio.

At the very same time I was dealing with someone using my identity to post disparaging and rude remarks about another person…

…It felt like someone else was publicly scolding me on a professional polymer website for me getting upset about people copying my work.

Their article was written in response to MY article, What is the Story Only You Can Tell?

If this is confusing, the chain of events were 1) I write the “What is the Story Only You Can Tell” article; 2) I get an emotional phone call from the victim of the identity theft issue; 3) I wrote an article about the experience; 4) Kerrie read my WITSOYCT article and publishes her response on the IPCA website; 5) I found the article and wrote my response to Kerrie’s article; 6) and now I’m publishing this article. Got it? Whew!

My first emotional response was the lizard brain talkin’. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Even humiliation. And my first article draft in response showed that clearly. With brutal sarcasm and my debate team finesse, I quickly tore apart every argument offered in the article that defended copying.

Fortunately, I WAS embroiled in that identity-borrowing thing. It kept me from immediately publishing my response to Kerrie’s article. The identity thing was a very prickly situation, involving a group of rowdy local activists a sane person just wants to avoid at all costs. In the end, as upset as I was, I resigned myself to damage control–and moved on.

But I was delayed in writing that original response to Kerrie. And I’m soooooo glad.

I realized the identity issue all started because a person had written in anger, fear, resentment, and perhaps a haze of alcohol. (Not Kerrie! The anonymous poster identity-blurring person.)

They may not have even deliberately chosen to “look like me”–as Katherine Tyrrell (whose Making a Mark blog is an astonishing artist resource) posted in my blog comments, it looked like a clumsy effort to use one of my blog articles to bolster their argument, and that came off as appearing like “me”.

So I sat on my hands for a day or two. The anger dissipated. Cooler heads (not Bobohead Lizardbrain) prevailed.

Instead of the wrathful diatribe I’d prepared, I wrote a nicer article in response to Kerrie’s article. I hope it’s nicer. I meant it to be. You can read the discussion in full here. And you can be the judge.

I wanted to write a better response, because I realized, after much deep thinking about where my anger, fear and pain came from, the real issue is our current culture’s LACK OF SUPPORT for artists.

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and “I can do that!” prevail. “That’s so cool, I want to make that, too!” The internet makes it soooooo easy to do that, too.

I’ve actually had visitors to my booth pressure me to tell them exactly how I make my horses, because they want to make them, too. Their attitude is I actually owe it to others to share.

Aside from the fact that I choose other ways to share, this attitude is the extreme end of this condition:

This a very natural, very HUMAN response to the new, the beautiful, the powerful. We want it for ourselves. We want to touch it, do it, have it. We want it to be a part of us, in any way we can. We all feel this. And throughout time, all humans have. It’s part of being human.

After all, didn’t I respond to the cave of Lascaux with my own desire to make work that would resonate in the hearts of others long after I am gone?

It’s what we do, and where we go with that natural, human response that’s important.

My request is simple:

Rather than give in to the notion the artist owes us something…(beyond what they’ve already done by bringing their work into the world…)

Instead of “using up” the artists whose work inspires this in us….

Instead of only seeing these artists as a source of great ideas for our own amusement and use….

Instead of just viewing the work of these artists as a sort of “cosmic clip art”….

Why don’t we REWARD them for their efforts?

Why not give back to them, for the joy they’ve given us?

Why don’t we figure out some way to support them, whether that be financial, emotional or spiritual support?

We should consider supporting them….If only so they’ll keep making the beautiful work that inspires us. (It’s okay to be a little self-serving in our altruism.)

So in the end, I’m glad I waited to respond. (And, after reading my eventual response, maybe I could have even waited a few more days. I still sound exasperated. (But hopefully, not as angry.)

I truly appreciate the support and the good wishes of all involved.

Copying is a spectrum of behaviors and decisions–some useful, some unavoidable, and some outright hurtful. I know everyone’s intentions were good, and I hope this all brings about the desired result–a CONSTRUCTIVE dialog about copying, and one that helps people make thoughtful decisions.

So, taking my own words of advice, and being open to the gifts in front of us, I thank Kerrie for her honesty, for putting into words what many of us think when we justify our actions.

I thank her for loving my work.

And I thank her, and the International Polymer Clay Association for giving me the chance to publicly respond.

I am grateful I had the chance to work through this issue, and get to the other side. The place where I should be….

…In a place where I can leave this behind, and go make my art…

…And tell the story only I can tell.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

15 thoughts on “WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again”

  1. Cor, Luann, having to keep a cool head, take the high road, write about it lucidly, and keep on making great art, wooooah the pressure to be you! I wouldn’t want it. But yes I do covet your little critters and I hope that sometimes you might share advice on how to get the polymer clay to the texture one likes. Then again, I don’t really work the stuff myself, and I suspect much of it has to be trial and error for the knowledge to have any lasting meaning. Keep up the good work. oxoxo


    1. Lizzie, the actual technique is no secret–check out Irene Dean Semanchuk’s book on faux techniques with polymer clay where I wrote a chapter on ivory.

      Or check out “the master”, Victoria Hughes–she originally developed the faux ivory technique, and I think she wrote a book about that and other faux materials.

      The rest is just….practice. :^)


      1. Thanks Luann.

        Yes I saw later as I read on that the ivory texture is a shared trade secret, so I’m good. Yes, practice. Like I should do with my situps. lol


  2. Wow. How disappointing that someone who works for the association would see no problem with treating one of it’s star members in such a shoddy fashion. And really disappointing that the association approves (it would seem to me that they do, by publishing the article) of that kind of behavior. Not very professional.

    I make fiber art. And I adore the work of so many other fiber artists out there. But in order to keep them making the art I enjoy looking at, or articles they write, I have made a conscious decision to purchase their work when I can afford to. I would never ever consider trying to copy one of their works. There is no joy in that kind of process….it’s just like a paint-by-number project.

    Good for you to at least be able to write a positive response!


    1. Mandi, thank you for your support! And yes, I felt the way you do, at the beginning of this journey.

      But now I’m glad Kerrie had the courage to allow her original article to be published alongside my response. The IPCA very quickly gave me permission to respond, and that was brave of THEM, too.

      I’m grateful because this helped me sort through MY issues.

      Copying has been with us since the dawn of time, and it’s not going to ever go away. We all have our own internal monitor about what is okay and what isn’t.

      I truly appreciated a chance to say something fresh about it. And I hope it resonates.


  3. I think your response to Ms. Venner’s article was a model of restraint! Personally, I was shocked that she would have so little feeling for your process and the amount of hard work that goes into the creation of your pieces that she would have no compunction about copying it. And to justify it by saying that her customers don’t know your work so….it’s ok to copy. I posted on my blog about this yesterday and I quoted you and Nan Roche on the issue. This discussion of copying and what’s public domain has been bandied about for months now on various jewelry sites that I read. Unfortunately, the discussion has not been very civil and this has stifled the flow of ideas and made people feel afraid to show their work. I think it’s ok to be angry about copycats– it’s a much higher space than depression. But I think it’s brilliant that you have moved the discussion to a higher place while putting the finger on the real source of frustration– that today’s touch-screen, quickest-way-to-get-anywhere-do-anything world doesn’t honor its artists. Because discovering the artist in all of us might just be the one thing that can save the world.


  4. Luann
    I am so sorry that these kinds of things happen to such gifted & giving Artists as you. I wish there was something I could do to help support you. I have to say I have been a HOARDER of jewelry making supplies (beads,components,tools) and I am a VERY faithful buyer of ALL BEAD and (OH GAWD am I ever ) (I hope the producers of the Hoarders show do not show up on my doorstep)Jewelry making magazines , my closets can prove it but I know for a fact I am not a Artist and I buy from my favorite Artists all of the time and I wear all your pieces proudly. I most likely have enough supplies to make 100 people jewelry for a life time but I know I can’t , I am not talented & I do not join colors well together. It’s just the facts. I finally got enough courage up after at least 8 years of collecting to bead something for my friend to support her in her fight for Breast Cancer but I have been struggling ALL DAY LONG & now I have a head ache due to the fear of someone thinking I might have copied them and that it is not that pretty but I LOVED making it for her. I really didn’t copy , I just picked out my favorite colors of beads, wire and toggle and it is still not fully put together(which a actual artist would of had done in 10mins) but I would NEVER EVER want to offend anyone, I admire all of you who are gifted in such HIGH Caliber & then you share with the world. My heart goes out to you. You are one incredible, Highly intelligent, most giving human being. People need to learn to be more grateful.
    Hugs to you


    1. I want you to not worry a second longer, and just make something beautiful for your friend. I know your friend will love it and she will wear it knowing it carries all your good wishes for her.
      And thank you for your kind words and your support. (You done good!) :^)
      Hey–someday we should compare stashes! :^D


  5. Luann–
    After reading your A RESPONSE TO “COPYING VS. STEALING” I sat here and thought– Wow, this woman’s got class! And as an artist with a blog and a couple social networking accounts, I personally appreciated your list of things we can do to support artists. I feel motivated to work a bit harder to introduce other artists to my audience.

    After reading, minutes later, WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again, I was more impressed. To not get angry in the face of such provocation takes a lot of maturity. To get angry, and control that and channel it to something beneficial takes even more. Thank you for sharing this with your readers.

    And finally, thanks for pointing out that this is a cultural issue. Not that I’d expect anything to alter this. But it’s a good reminder.

    And to Lynn– those patterns in magazines are for personal use– so even if you copied one you’re not doing anything reprehensible because you’re not selling it. Since what you did was your own original work anyway there’s no reason to be anything less than proud of your friend for fighting and proud of yourself for supporting her. As Luann said, you done good. No more fretting!


  6. The issue of sharing your work on the internet or in print anywhere is a double edged sword. No one wants to be copied, unless they give out “how to” instructions. When I teach or post, it is done in a way to inspire creativity and share the delight of making the work, not to have it duplicated without permission by someone else. Actually, it is against the law to lift someone’s design/art work. Most people do not know this. It is especially odious to sell a duplication of an artist’s work without written permission, usually paying for the privilege. Yes, it can be changed slightly and then sold, but……why not just do the work, and think of an original idea. I want to share my creativity as an artist, but I do not like being “ripped off.”


  7. Being an Artist is like being a Scientist (I am both), you stand upon the shoulders of others they should inspire your understanding of colour, medium and technique. In the academic world there is no greater sin than plagiarism(copying). I was taught (and believe) that if you are inspired then acknowledge the influence of your peers – it is being honest with yourself and your clients.

    For example I love Monet, my work is influenced by him and other impressionists I don’t copy their works but they inspire me to look at colour in a different way, this is inspiration. The artist who admitted to copying your work now has no credibility.

    Credibility is so so hard to earn and easy to loose.

    I caught a gallery owner/artist out recently I was in the gallery spruiking my work, and an unfamiliar name on a photograph caught my attention, the imagery was familiar but the name wrong and the prices were a v.cheep. So I gently drilled the owner… it turned out she was passing off photos she had taken that were similar to another artist under the name of her partner, she wanted to have a large artist list and turn over . I immediately decided not to sell my work through her gallery, she has no credibility and I now question everything that she sells.

    I am often asked by other artists how I do things; my standard answer is (nicely)

    ‘Sure I will tell you, if you can work it out for yourself, If you are a serious artist you need to learn how to analyse works for yourself. Trust me I am doing you a favour. Go away work it out then tell me what you think’

    Unsurprisingly the genuine people, who want to learn will go away and work through it and come back and discuss their ideas with me, and we both learn something, the copiers look confused and go away.


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