Matthew Diffee and Mother Sea Turtles

Are you a mother sea turtle?  If you’re a creative person, maybe you should be.  That’s the advice of Matthew Diffee, and I think he’s right.

Matthew Diffee Interview

Human Demo: New Yorker Cartoonist Matthew Diffee Shows How To Be Creative – Forbes vianews.google.com

… Among Diffee’s pieces of advice for aspiring creative people is this aphorism: “Be like a mother sea turtle.” By that he means lay a hundred conceptual eggs in the sand, then swim off and don’t fret over what becomes of them. Most of them will never hatch; most of the hatchlings will get eaten by predators. That’s not your problem. Your task is just to keep laying eggs. …

In a way, when he says, “Your task is just to keep laying eggs,” I’m reminded of the Cult of Done Manifesto, where Bre Pettis says, “There is no editing stage,” and “Once you are done you can throw it away.”

As artists, I think we can be held back by fear of failure.  In our heads, we’ve already become critics, even before picking up the pen, pencil, or glue stick.

It’s important to just go for it, and allow serendipity to play a part in the dance we call creativity.

a lot of people have been summarizing Matthew Diffee’s SXSW 2012 talk.  (It must have been tremendous.  If anything could make me think about braving the crowds — and heat — of Austin for SXSW, the comments about Diffee’s talk might be it.)

And finally, here’s one summary that I like a lot. Click on the link and scroll down to the section that starts “Best sesh.”  I think the summary at the very end of the article is the important part.

SXSW Day 3: It’s all about Bob (Marley) and creativity – Vancouver Sun (blog) via news.google.com

SXSW Day 3: It’s all about Bob (Marley) and creativity. Matthew Diffee, a cartoonist whose work appears in the New Yorker, defined his YEP! approach to idea generation at “How to be an idea factory” session at SXSW.

… Caffeine kicks starts the “Process”, so he sits down with an empty sheet of paper and doesn’t stop the free flow of ideas until the paper is full and the pot of coffee is empty.

How he does it: He simply starts with a word or phrases and then applies the following: Add things to one of the ideas…

And, speaking of Bre Pettis, if you’ve never made an art shrine in a book, here’s his video showing one way to start the project:

About 10 years ago, I taught a class like that at Artfest.  I have no idea how Pettis took only 20 minutes to cut the pages; some of my students spent the entire day cutting.  (Yes, that was the last time I tried to teach that as a one-day class.)  Usually, the cutting took me about an hour and a half, with breaks to keep my hand from cramping as I held the cutting blade.

During those breaks, I’d work on elements that would go inside the art shrine.  I’ve always liked tooled metal, similar to the journals Tracy Moore created, so I found ways to include some sheet metal (doesn’t have to be very thick) in some of my altered books and art shrines.  To stamp the words into the metal, I like a good, heavy tooling set like this one.  (Some of the lightweight sets sold at arts & crafts stores… they just aren’t sturdy enough to hold up for very long.)

And then, I’d go back to cutting more pages in the book.  It was tedious, but the finished altered books made it worthwhile.

Today, I’d probably do a lot of the cutting with a Dremel tool or something.  Yes, it could accidentally gouge some of the back cover, but if you use Pettis’ idea of putting a felt liner there, nobody will know if the Dremel got a little out of control.

I’d also consider using a wood burning tool here & there, along the inside edges of the opening.  That could look cool and antique-ish, and cover any raw or weird areas, as well.

Tea staining could work, but it won’t be as good at disguising “oops” areas where the blade may have been sloppy.  And, in a single-day workshop, the tea won’t dry quickly enough to move to the next step — sealing the edges — unless you use something like an embossing tool (heater) to dry the pages.

After whatever edge treatment I chose (if any), I’d cover the edges with clear, matte finish acrylic gel medium, so the pages would hold together, but it wouldn’t look too obviously glued. (For some projects, I might mix in some small, dried leaves or glitter, depending on the effect I wanted to create.)

This next video starts with some altered book ideas, but he’s using a board book and cutting out part of each page.  Then, he wanders into some interesting mixed media techniques that might work well with the first (shrine-style) altered book, above.

I hope those give you some creative ideas!

With thanks to David Locicero for telling me
about Matthew Diffee’s interview.

Journaling – Part of the ‘Happy Secret’

Journaling is included in this TED talk about the “happy secret” approach to living a more fun, productive, rewarding life.

It starts with how you feel, and how positive you are.  Your emotional level — how happy you are — determines how happy your life events are.

Click the Play arrow to watch it.  The video is about 12 minutes long, and very worthwhile.

If you’re in a hurry (though I hope you’re not), the screenshot below shows you the point to fast-forward to.  Start at about the 11 minute marker.  (The graphic, below, is a screenshot… click on the video above, to watch it.)

All of those suggestions can help.  Of course, “meditation” will mean different things to different people, from prayer to conscious meditation, and from time spent admiring art in a museum, gallery or studio, to the simple act of “being there”… being in the moment.  However, I believe that the more of these elements you can include in your life, the happier you’ll feel.

In the context of this website, the idea of journaling each day — making notes (words, images, a recording, etc.) about one happy event of that day — can make a big difference in your happiness.

Of course, the studies were based on a 21-day practice of… well, whichever of those choices seem most appealing to you. 

In some cases, people will become happier the first day.  Others will need to acquire or develop the habit, and — somewhere around day 21 — the person will pause and realize that she (or he) is feeling happier.  Colors seem brighter.  There seem to be more opportunities, more fun, and more whimsy in daily life.  Serendipity is in your favor, and life is better.

I’ve always been an enthusiast of journaling or keeping a diary.  Now, there’s evidence that it can improve your happiness, as well.

Sock Dolls – Step-by-Step, in Photos

Sock dolly reads vintage newspapers.
Sock dolly reads vintage newspapers.

Last year, I began making sock dolls. I was inspired by the book Stray Sock Sewing.

Here’s how I made my sock dolls for the Wild Art Dolls swap in July 2010.

Supplies

You will need one sock, some batting or stuffing, Fray-Check, and your basic sewing supplies. (Needle, thread, scissors, and a thimble if you use one.) You’ll also want something for eyes, nose, and other embellishments. At the very least, that will be embroidery thread, yarn, or a contrasting color of regular thread.

Directions

Start with a large, children's sock.
This is the sock I started with.

First, I started with a large, children’s sock. I’d already washed it in the laundry so, if it was going to shrink, it had already done so. (If the sock dolly needs a bath later, we don’t have to worry about him or her shrinking, puckering, or losing color.)

You should do the same.

Then, stretch it out so the heel is exactly centered, horizontally. Then, the finished doll won’t look too off-center.

Prepare the sock to become a sockdoll.
Arrange the sock so the heel is centered.

Next, you’ll cut off the toe part of the sock. You’ll be removing somewhere between 1/2 and 1/3 of the sock above the heel. That will vary with the size of the sock and your plans for the doll.

Remove the toe part of the sock.
Remove the toe part of the sock, and a little extra.

If you remove a smaller amount, the doll will have longer ears and shorter arms. If you remove more, there will be shorter ears and longer arms.

Remember: If something goes terribly wrong, you still have another sock. You can use that to supplement the pieces you cut from this sock, or you can start all over again.

The next step is to cut the cuff of the sock, perpendicular to the cuff. What you’re doing is cutting the seam area for the legs. For shorter legs, leave more uncut. For long legs, cut closer to the heel.

Above all — unless you have an octopus kind of doll in mind — don’t cut all the way up to the heel.

Cut the legs by starting at the sock cuff.
Starting at the cuff of the sock, cut both layers up the middle.

The next step is to cut a notch where the ears will extend. Once again, the deeper the cut, the longer the ears. Avoid cutting all the way down to the heel, unless you want a really deranged-looking doll with a strange, short face.

Sock doll directions - cut a notch for the ears.
Cut a rectangle or square out of the remaining area where the toe was.

Finally, you’re going to use the toe part that you cut off at the beginning. Lay it flat and snip in into two equal parts. These will be the arms.

Sock doll arms.
Cut the toe part in half – just one snip – to make the arms.

Now, it’s time to seal the edges of the sock so they don’t unravel as you’re working. You’ll use a product called Fray-Check for that. You can find it in many sewing supply stores, or order it from Amazon.com. If you’re making a lot of sock dolls (like for holiday gifts), pick up a couple of bottles of Fray-Check. You will go through it pretty quickly. (Plus that, it can dry out in the bottle, after a few months.)

Fray-check by  Dritz
You’ll need Fray-Check, a product by Dritz.

Apply a moderate amount of Fray Check to every raw edge on the doll. Be especially generous where there are angles, indicated by the blue arrows. Those points will get the most stress as the doll is being finished.

Apply Fray-Check to the raw edges.
Apply Fray-Check to all raw edges. (Remember the arm pieces, too.)

Let the Fray-Check dry completely. This can take an hour or two. Don’t sew while the fabric is damp, or it can stretch and bubble.

Next, sew the top of the head. That’s where you cut the rectangle out, and it’s on the right side of the sock in the photo above.

Sock doll ears, ready to sew.
Sew the ears and the top of the head.

Sometimes I sew along the wrong side of the fabric, and then turn the doll right-side out. At other times, I sew the whole thing from the outside, using an overcast-type stitch.

Then, turn the doll right-side out, so you can start stuffing it.

Stuff the doll from the bottom.
Stuff the doll from the bottom.

When you’re stuffing the ears, it’s a good idea to make them fairly solid. I use a chopstick or a stuffing tool for this purpose.

If the ears are really long, you may want to insert a wire after the ears are stuffed. You can use a pipe cleaner or any firm but flexible wire for this. Then, you can bend the ears in zany angles.

Now, you’re ready to sew the legs, stuff them, and then sew the edges of the feet.

When your doll looks like this, you're ready to work on the legs.
When your doll looks like this, you’re ready to work on the legs.

Sew the leg seams, but not the feet. Stuff the legs. (A chopstick, smooth end of a pencil, or stuffing tool is ideal.)

Finally, when the doll is how you want it to look, stitch along the bottom edges of the feet.

At this point, I like to add the beads or buttons for eyes, and a nose. I usually use embroidery floss for the nose.

The doll is beginning to have character. I think that’s important, before attaching the arms. Arms can make a remarkable difference in the attitude of the doll.

Ready for the arms.
Ready for the arms!

For the arms, you’ll sew the seams on the toe pieces you cut at the beginning.

Sock doll arms.Sew just the longest side of each one and stuff it. Depending on how hard it is to hold the shoulder part together, you may want to baste it closed after the arms are fully stuffed.

If they’re only loosely stuffed, you can skip the basting step and attach the arms directly to the doll.

After that, you can add wings, hair, a pom-pom tail, or any other embellishments you like.

Completed doll.
The completed doll!

Additional examples

Here are a couple of other sock dolls I’ve made. They were propped up in Rubbermaid sandwich containers, so you can see them better. That also gives you an idea of the scale of them.

Black-and-white sock doll. Bead & button embellishments.

Here’s the same doll in profile. He has a yarn pom-pom tail.

Another doll, shown below, is made from an adult’s pink sock. The top of the head looks like the doll is wearing a cap. I made the cap from a second, different pink sock. I let the lower edges roll up, like the brim of a knit cap.

I also embroidered a heart on her, and gave her faerie wings.

Doll in profile.

Once you get used to making these dolls, you’ll find ways to mix n’ match pieces from different socks for different effects.

I can usually make one doll in an evening (about three or four hours), while I’m watching TV or talking with my family.

More Sock Doll Tips

  1. Sock dolly helps in the kitchen!

    Use children’s socks for the best colors and patterns. For larger, colorful socks, I find good patterns & prices at places like TJ Maxx, especially in their sale sections. If you’re interested in tiny socks for the dolls or to add as ears, arms, or a tail, check the $1 section of Michael’s Arts & Crafts. Some of their Mary Engelbreit-type socks can be wonderful for sock dolls!

  2. Use Fray-Check by Dritz. Amazon carries it, or you can usually find it at a sewing supply store like JoAnn Fabric. I seal all edges before I sew them. (Usually, it takes a couple of hours for the Fray-Check to dry thoroughly. If you sew the edges while the Fray-Check is damp, the fabric can stretch too much.)
  3. Always use good batting or stuffing. Even more than other cloth dolls, the squishy nature of sock dolls means you can’t afford lumps or flat spots. (Among my favorites: Soft-Touch by Fairfield.)
  4. If your doll might get soiled easily, use any waterproofing spray on stain-resisting spray, after you complete the sewing but before you add any beads or buttons.
  5. If you’re making a doll that you’ll turn inside-out, after sewing, always try to make the final seam (the one you’ll sew on the outside) where the doll sits down. That way, the seam isn’t so noticeable.
  6. If your doll should sit and not fall over easily, make a small bean bag that will fit inside the “rear end” of the doll. Fill that bean bag with something heavy. I use anything like poly-pellets, or well-rinsed gravel intended for fish tanks, or even unscented kitty litter. (The latter, being clay, can deteriorate and turn to messy dust if handled too often.)
  7. If your dolls are small enough, check the dollhouse furnishings aisle (at Michael’s, etc.) for accessories you can use with (or glue to) your sock dolls.

Art Journals – Beauty is in the eye of…

not coloring in my art journal... yetToday, I was browsing some sites where people have posted their art journals (or artist’s journals… same thing… it’s a term always in transition).

I quickly found a wonderful series of pages, and the artist  (Zom) muses if they’re part of an ugly art journal.

I want to say, “No! Those pages are lovely!” but I hold back.

It’s sort of like when I was pregnant.  Each time, I’d refer to myself as “the fat lady.”  At the time, it amused me.  Obviously, I was pregnant, not fat, but the size of my stomach… well, my humor runs to sarcasm.  Telling me I wasn’t “fat” made me question the vision of the observer.

Hello.  60 inch stomach…?  Fat! *chuckle*

But, of course, I understood the point.  They just didn’t understand mine… which was also okay.  Often, people don’t get my humor.

So anyway…

I look at these pages in all their loveliness.  I absolutely love the juicy colors and the choice of images.

However, if Zom wants to call them ugly… well, it’s her journal.  My opinions are different, but that’s my experience, not necessarily hers.

Moving past that semantic moment…

I love it where she says, “I don’t know how much of a connection I am feeling with this art journal. Is the form no longer relevant?”

That resonated with me.  For a long time, I didn’t connect with my artists journals.  I looked at them, tried to add to them, and generally felt a sense of ennui before completing even one page.

I became a different person over the past several years.  The reasons I’d kept an art journal, years ago… they weren’t there any more.  It was a different context altogether.  For starters, I’d been driven to keep my journal… it was a manic, almost “outsider” thing, for years.  It was how I kept my sanity during challenging years.

Since then, my world gradually shifted.  It wasn’t quite like watching paint dry, but it was very slow-moving.  I didn’t want to articulate it because the changes — even the minute ones — were radical, but — at the same time — they were constantly in transition.

What I’d say one moment might be totally different, even an hour later.  I suppose they were very subtle ah-HA! moments.

So, I’d put things down on paper and, later that day or sometimes a few days later, I’d shred them.  They weren’t me… not a “me” that lingered for more than a few minutes, anyway.  And, with such fleeting changes, I didn’t want to keep art around that represented that.  It took me back in time, uncomfortably.  It wasn’t a real ME-me, if you get my meaning.

I do like to document the process, no matter what the process is.  However, there are times when the changes are like trying on a huge stack of clothes in a fitting room: By the time I find what fits me and looks good, I’ve pretty much forgotten the oh-dear-heaven-that’s-not-me stuff, now at the bottom of the pile.

I don’t want to save some of those half-baked journal pages any more than I’d take photos of myself in unattractive clothing in the fitting room.

They’re not me.

They don’t have significance in my life, even as process.

Keeping those pages would be making the moment more than it was.

Perhaps I should journal about those pages.

Anyway, this blog entry (linked below) is wonderfully, deliciously thought-filled.  Click to read the pages.  They’re very good and some may resonate with you as they did with me.

pinch me to see if you’re dreaming: An Ugly Art Journal

pinchmetoseeifyouaredreaming.blogspot.com10/13/11

I don’t write as often about my art journal as I used to. I think my AJ and I have been going through a difficult phase. I knew things needed to change, not because anything was ‘wrong’ but because, for me, the innate nature of

Art and the Economics of Giving

Online picture of a free poster and ATC - Imagination by Aisling D'Art

Are your usual fans in a temporary financial jam? In recent years, that’s been sadly commonplace.

The fact is, as of 2011, Half of Americans don’t have $2000 for a rainy day.

In an emergency, even with 30 days to come up with $2000, only 25% of Americans are sure they could beg, borrow or steal that much money.

If you’re in business, you need to know your potential audience and customers. In 2011, if your usual fans & collectors are among 75% of Americans, they can’t buy your $1500 painting, wall hanging or assemblage, no matter how gorgeous it is.

Sure, your art may be worth that much or more. Value isn’t the issue here.

The more pertinent questions are:

  • Do your business practices make your future customers feel better or worse about themselves?
  • Do they like how they feel around you and (especially) around your art?  
  • Do you have rapport with them?

If they don’t feel that sense of mutual understanding on a personal level — even as artist-to-customer — they won’t be as open to connecting with what your art communicates.

Sure, you can focus on the minority who can afford your art. That may be a smart tactic, for now.

However, that probably shouldn’t be your exclusive focus.  Even if you don’t put as much time into laying a foundation with the rest of your audience, they’re still important to your future as a successful artist.

Reaching the 75%

If you’re meeting some of that 75% at art shows, galleries, or even as you’re running errands — and hope to attract them as clients, customers and collectors in the future, when they’re back on their feet — now is the time to establish rapport. They’ll remember it later.

Think about what you can do, so they feel a connection with you right now. What can you give or sell to them that they can own, and — at the same time — help them feel better about themselves?

Even if the person can’t purchase any of your art right now, he or she should walk away thinking, “That art is so great.  I’m going to own some of that, some day.”

Contrast that with the sad, “That art is beautiful, and yet another thing I can’t afford. Maybe I never will.”

See the difference?

So, make it possible for the person to connect with your art and feel good about it, right now.

The importance of gifts

FREE Product Samples for home and officeWhether it’s a happy conversation, a free art postcard (like VistaPrint’s freebies, which I use), a link to a webpage where they can download something… make sure you connect with your friends and fans, and they remember it as a happy meeting.

This isn’t a reciprocity thing.  It’s not, “I’ll give you this now, and you agree to give me something in return, later.”

The gift economy is a little different.  It’s about bonding as individuals, and as a community, to establish a personal connection and goodwill for the sake of the group and each other, period.

What do you get out of this?  You get to be part of a happier, more connected community in a happier, more connected world.

You get the satisfaction of having done something good.  Too often, that’s vastly underrated.

Remain sensitive to what’s really going on, despite appearances.

It’s important to stay current about the world in general.  Use other people’s surveys (such as the article linked above) to understand your audience and what’s going on with them.

Right now, the global economy is in transition.  This effects artists as much as anyone else, and perhaps more than most.

This is your opportunity to do something nice and helpful… and be remembered for it.

Everyone wins!

Pave the road to your successful future.

It’s fine to focus on people with cash who also like your art.  That’s common sense.

However, pave the road for your continuing success — and invest a little happy karma — by making it possible for everyone to own some of your art, right now.

It’s not difficult.  It may require a little creativity, but you can do it.

(Note: If you liked my graphic at the top of this article, it’s a free download.  You can click on the image or here to download it as a 5″ x 7″ poster.  If you collect ATCs, click here for that free download.)

To understand more about
our economy and the importance of gifts
be sure to read Linchpin by Seth Godin

Copyright, Flickr and Google Images

Gummy worms, photo by shinjaejun (USA), shinjaejun.comWell, my recents posts on the topic of copyright — especially related to Flickr and Google Images — seem to have opened a can of worms.

I did a little more research so I could refer people to the best resources & opinions I could find.

Here they are:

Flickr photos and images are not in the public domain. The photos and images are generally copyrighted.  Some members of Flickr choose to release some of their rights via Creative Commons licensing, and you can search the photos for pictures that are okay to use.

There are several copyright-related threads at the Flickr forum.  Click here to read one of the best replies, by joepphoto.

Combination lock - photo by Linusb4, AustraliaHere’s one of the clearest explanations of what’s what at Flickr:  Understanding Copyright on Flickr.

(Flickr itself, and its parent company, Yahoo, default to the normal rules of copyright as outlined by the U.S. government.  And frankly, that’s fine.  Flickr shouldn’t have to repeat the laws.)

Google Images are usually copyrighted, as well.  Google aggregates (or “scrapes” or collects) images from all over the Internet, the same as they post the titles of webpages, and summaries or excerpts of them.

  • Nobody’s webpage is automatically in the public domain because Google indexed it.
  • Nobody’s photos are automatically in the public domain because they’re among the visual indices at Google Images.

Bootleg video recording, photo by Piotr Ciuchta, ScotlandA copyright thread at Digitalpoint includes good answers and some stupid ones.  Correctly attributing ownership is not enough to meet copyright laws.

That’d be like someone copying a recent movie and thinking it’s okay because all the credits are intact in the copy they added to a torrent site.

(Oh. Wait.  People do that.)

Google explains the rights pretty clearly.  In a nutshell, you have permission to view the images in Google Images.  You don’t automatically have permission to copy and use them.

However, you can use some of the Advanced filters to find images — in Google Images — with Creative Commons licensing.

Highlighted in yellow on the page linked above, Google reminds people to verify the exact terms of using images that appear at Google Images, even when the images bear Creative Commons licensing.

Here’s what Google says:

Before reusing content that you’ve found, you should verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, most licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license is legitimate, so we aren’t making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed. [Link]

I hope that helps explain what people can & can’t do with your images, and what’s okay (and not) if you’d like to use someone else’s images in your art or other products.

Personally, I’m rabidly enthusiastic about Creative Commons licensing.  I’ll talk about that in a later post.

For now, I’ve ordered the following book. I want to see suggestions about apparent conflicts between unbridled creativity and the copyrights of those who’ve created works of seminal (= strongly influencing later developments) importance.

While I’m Talking About Public Domain…

Never underestimate the value of the U.S. government when it comes to surreal and absurd images, many of which are in the public domain.

I mean it.  And, if you’re easily offended or the subject of VD bothers you, avert your eyes.

1940s poster from the U.S. government (Artist, "Christian")Seriously, this poster (at right) appears to be in the public domain.  (See notes at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.) You can download a 4MB copy of it at the gov’t website.

I can see so many very wrong uses for that image.  I’d like to put it on a tee shirt, except that I want to replace the VD words with… something else.  I’m not sure what, yet.

I look at her and think, “Really? I mean really? Is that what men found alluring in the 1940s?”

However, that’s not the only image of its kind. A search at the gov’t website using the phrase “venereal disease” turns up all kinds of strange posters of apparently dangerous women.

She may look clean...Check out the sweet girl in the poster on the left.  (Click on the image for the full, print-quality image at the NLM.)

Wasn’t she a famous movie star?  She looks really familiar… like someone I’ve seen in old movies.  Well, now we know about her history! *LOL*

I’m amused by the phrase “‘good time’ girls.”  It makes me wonder, were there “bad time” girls?

That poster is in the public domain.

1944 - beware waterThe next poster for your consideration (or amusement) is about clean water.  Gosh, it looks like our boys were dealing with all kinds of dangers in the 1940s… wasn’t war enough?

Because that was produced specifically for government use, I’m pretty sure it’s in the public domain.

Click the image to see a really large copy of it.  There may be even bigger versions in the NLM files.

(Of course, if you’re going to use it for a product, it’s smart to research the provenance at the NLM website.)

And, so it’s not all one-step-away-from-zombies, at left is an early poster that has a lot of possibilities if you’d like to alter it for a political statement.

This one is from 1917, so it’s almost certainly in the public domain.  (Most — but not all — American works from before 1923 are now in the public domain.)

If you have questions about copyright law and what’s in the public domain, one of my favorite resources is Cornell’s chart about copyright terms and limits.

If you’re really concerned about the details of copyright law and art, the following book is one of the most complete (and recent) to address this complex subject.

Copyright and Free, Royalty-Free Resources… again!

Dripping data? (CD image by Matthew Bowden, UK)Many people — perhaps most people online today — aren’t aware of how copyright laws apply to what’s on the Internet.

I know no one who deliberately breaks copyright laws.  They’re just misinformed, or misguided by how they see copyright laws ignored online.

Often, people believe that anything online is okay to borrow, at least for personal or one-time use.  After all, everyone else is doing that… right?

I understand. Until you’re caught, there’s probably no reason to think twice about using someone else’s images, especially if those images aren’t clearly marked with a copyright symbol.

So, I don’t want anyone to feel as if I’m pointing a finger.  I’m not.  I deal with this subject constantly, and I’m very aware of how popular misunderstandings are when it comes to copyright law.

I’M NOT A LAWYER

I’m not an attorney.  My interpretations of the law are my own opinions, not legal advice.  To get adequate legal advice, you’ll need to speak with an attorney that deals in trademark and copyright law.

However, even judges don’t seem to agree on copyright law.  How harshly you’re treated, if caught, can vary from one courtroom to the next.

WHY I CARE

I’m an artist.  Since the mid-1990s, when I created my first website — gosh, was that really over 15 years ago? — my own images have been stolen.  The tragedy is, I usually give permission when someone asks, first.  I was thrilled when one of my original photos was used for a record album cover; the band asked permission and I gave it freely.

When I find someone using one of my illustrations illegally, I approach them directly.  Most people quickly (and apologetically) remove the image from their websites.

However, a few balk.  They insist they bought the image from someone else, as part of a package, so they think the image is in the public domain now.  Or they found the image at Flickr.  Or something.

Then I have to contact the person’s website hosting service, and the usual result has been: The hosting service shuts down every website that person has.  They’re banned.  Nobody’s happy, and it didn’t have to conclude that way.

I’ve written several popular articles about copyright, the “three stroke” myth, and how copyright law affects artists.  Some of that information may apply to you.  My original article is at http://aisling.net/copyright-and-the-three-stroke-rule/ , along with several other copyright-related articles.

I also teach artists, including photographers, how to protect their images so they can prove they’re the original creators of the respective works.

It’s a simple technique: I remove about 1/2 inch on at least two sides of the original image, before I post it online.  When the hosting service asks me to prove it’s my original graphic, I can show them the larger version that has never appeared online. So far, that’s always worked for me and for my students.

Others use techniques such as digital watermarking: http://www.digitalwatermarkingalliance.org/default.asp

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Okay, maybe you shrug off copyright laws.  If you don’t know anyone who’s been caught “borrowing” images, and you don’t know the anguish of having your own work stolen, maybe it’s no big deal.

However, there is new software in production — I’ve heard that it’s in beta right now — and it’s designed to identify images being used illegally online.  Art museums facing budget crunches are especially interested in using this technology to protect their images, online.

As it was explained to me: The basic technology is similar to how cameras “know” where faces are in the photos, and always make sure they’re in focus.  Or, software that now replaces unattractive faces in family photos, and instantly fills in with a better face (from another photo) in the same size & location.  (I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on TV.)

Similar software recognizes distinctive elements in your original graphics and — through Google Images, Flickr, Facebook, etc. — scours the Internet looking for any matches.  Once you’re caught by someone who has deep pockets or an attorney with whiplash mentality… heaven help you.

We’re fast approaching a time when you’re playing a dangerous game if you’re using photos or other artwork without permission.

USE LEGAL IMAGES INSTEAD

There is no reason to use illegal images in any product, including website design.

There are many great, public domain images online.  Pre-1923 images are generally (but not always) safe to use.  You can find them online; Wikipedia often features gorgeous public domain images by famous artists such as John William Waterhouse.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_William_Waterhouse

Many (but not all) works on the United States’ government website are in the public domain.  http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Graphics.shtml

Some modern-day graphic artists & photographers have released some or all of their rights.  Some websites include modern, public domain photos, such as http://www.4freephotos.com/

You can also find great, legal images — with various licenses to use them — via Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/image/

There are many great resources for free, completely legal, royalty-free images.  (Remember: The images are still copyrighted. You’re simply given permission to use the images without paying a fee.)

Stock.xchng is one of my favorites.  Just be sure to search with “Restricted OK” set to “NO.”  http://www.sxc.hu/

Morgue File (not what it sounds like), also called MFile, is another great resource.  Like Stock.xchng, be sure to check the licensing terms for each image.  http://www.morguefile.com/

Most free, royalty-free websites also offer higher-quality images for a fee.  The fee can be as low as $1 with unlimited use rights, and that often depends on the size of the image you want (for online or print use) and whether you’ll be reproducing it on tee-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.

Or, if you found an image — like one of mine — through an image scraper or photo-sharing site, you can find the owner by doing an image search at Google.  Free browser plugins like Search by Image for Google make it right-click easy.  Then, ask the owner for permission to use the image in your project.  Many of us are happy to say yes.

The best idea of all?  Take your own photos.  Practice makes perfect (or at least good enough), you don’t need to get a photography degree… though you could.  And, once you’re comfortable with your camera, consider adding your photos to sites like iStockPhoto.com and earn money from them.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve been using images without permission. 99% of the people I teach or consult for have no idea they’ve been doing anything wrong. This includes respected artists including photographers and illustrators.

What’s important is to use legal images as much as you can, starting right away.  The Internet is always changing, and copyright law is becoming a far greater issue across the online community.

Besides, there is no reason to copy others’ graphics without permission.  There are many wonderful, free resources for great images.  Use them instead.

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Want to reprint this?  You can.  It’s free.  This work by Aisling D’Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Art Journals v. Artist’s Journals

Two phrases are often used interchangeably:  ‘Art journals’ and ‘artists journals.’

For me, an artist’s journal is an illustrated diary or journal representing the artist.  It’s about the person’s life, or some aspect of it, such as a travel journal, a diet & fitness journal, or something like my ‘decluttering journal’.

It usually includes art and the journal is also a work of art, in itself.

Art journal page showing inspirationBy contrast, an art journal is where I keep notes about art I’m working on or might want to create later.  It includes visual inspiration — photos, articles, etc. — as well as my own thumbnail sketches, etc.

It’s sort of my pre-art brainstorming, in a journal format.

At left is a page from a 2011 art journal. The photos and sketch represent ideas that I used to inspire an oil painting.

I use an art journal as my on-paper memory of inspiration and original ideas.  It’s sort of like a visual thumb drive of art ideas, for later use.

If I don’t jot down my ideas in a journal, they’ll vanish from my thoughts in a matter of days, if not hours.  I tend to have a steady stream of creative ideas, and one soon replaces another in my consciousness.

For me, it’s part of the creative process.

People often ask me where I get my original art ideas. Well, I’m not sure that they’re entirely “original,” but they are fresh and new, if only to me.

Here’s a typical sequence: I started by surfing the Internet to see what other artists are currently working on.

Yesterday, I viewed a website called The Starving Artist’s Way, which included a project using second-hand woolen sweaters that had been washed and dried to shrink them in a “felted” style.

I didn’t think much more about that — not on a conscious level, anyway — but later in the day, after a nap, I woke up thinking about what else I could do with that kind of wool.

While the thoughts were still fresh in my mind–and evolving–I jotted them down in my art journal. These are my two pages of notes:

art journal notes - felted jacket idea(click image to see full size 118kb)



Click ‘play’ button to hear me talk about the wool-related pages

In a nutshell, I was thinking about the kinds of wearable art that I could make with felted-style wool.

(Geek note: It’s not actually “felted” wool when you wash & dry woven/knitted/etc. wool to shrink it. It’s called “fulled” wool. Felting is when you use the raw fibers and a tool to tangle and/or compact them.)

This merged with the Mondrian art that I was reminded of when I was playing an online game, Kingdom of Loathing, yesterday.

And, once I started jotting down these ideas, I remembered when I used to make stained glass windows. Those patterns would adapt nicely to this kind of wool treatment, too.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever actually do anything with this idea. I get a bazillion of these ideas, steadily.

So, I’m scanning the pages from my idea journal, and putting them into an art zine for two reasons. (The zine will be online, by the way.)

First, it documents that it was my idea. It drives me crazy when I decide to run with an idea and it turns out that another artist has been working on a similar concept… and people think that one of us is “copying” the other, when we’re not.

Second–and more importantly–I am sharing this idea so that someone else might be inspired by it and adapt the concepts (or copy it line-for-line, for all I know/care) to his or her own art.

    When my grandfather’s original ideas were copied, he used to chuckle and say, “Plenty more where that came from.” In other words, he didn’t feel any need to complain about those who copied him. I’ve always liked that, and he was the richest man I knew, when I was growing up. He literally made millions (when that was a lot of money) from his creative ideas; he was a good role model.

But, I’m also sharing my art journal pages so that people see what one can look like.

However, these may be my own definitions.  How you use the terms ‘art journals’ and ‘artists journals’ may be different… and that’s fine with me.  The creativity that matters more than the words!