Copying and coincidence in art

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Many artists–especially new and/or tired ones–talk about being “copied” by others. Sometimes, it’s not clear who is doing the copying, if anyone is. And, artists–even established ones–are often influenced by the same things as others, and develop startlingly similar ideas as a result.


For example, awhile ago I visited Rice’s website,, and saw milagros-type dolls almost identical to the ones that I’d been quietly working on for several months.

(Mine didn’t turn out as well as hers did. I sold a few and then abandoned the idea. Rice shines in this area; I don’t.)

There is no way that Rice knew what I was doing, and vice versa. It was simply coincidence.


Likewise, in the early 1980s I made pieced and appliqued quilting squares for other artists to use in their fabric art vests, wall hangings, and other art. I sewed them on my favorite treadle sewing machine, using a variety of techniques including primitive image and text transfers. These squares sold quickly in shops along coastal Maine, but by the mid-1980s when I moved to Florida, I’d stopped making them.

Nevertheless, I was stunned when I saw Lesley Riley’s “Fragments“, which are almost identical to what I was making in the early 80s.

Was she “copying”? Of course not! I doubt that she ever saw one of my fabric art pieces. Nevertheless, after seeing Lesley’s pieces I delayed plans to make more of them myself. I’m a little phobic about being accused of “copying,” I guess.

(Note: Both Rice and Lesley are very good friends of mine. And, I’ve mentioned my dilemma to Lesley, who immediately laughed and told me to go ahead with my fabric art, and not worry how it looked to others.)


My point is, we’re working with similar materials, often similar inspirations… it’s impossible NOT to be on the same wavelength as other artists, whether you share contact or not. You really do have to just plunge ahead with your own projects, products, visions, and dreams. As your work evolves, your unique signature style will be there, and make the differences clear.

But, it’s vital to keep these kinds of coincidences in mind, when you think that someone has copied you, too. It could be simple coincidence then, as well, no matter how “just like mine” their art/workshop/project seems to be. And that’s difficult to detach from, sometimes, when the similarities are overwhelming… especially when you’ve invested a lot in an idea or project.

Yes, my visibility makes people think that I invented the techniques that I use. I didn’t. NObody “invented” them really… we’re all inspired by different resources, or at least in different ways.

Oh, people do research some techniques. I’m responsible for several in popular use, including one kind of gel image transfer. But, that’s still not “copying” as far as I’m concerned. I stumbled onto a few things that worked and cheerfully shared them with others. We all do this. Techniques generally aren’t proprietary.

What makes our art unique–not “copying”–is how true we are to that individual, internal voice that speaks from our respective souls.


Copyright issues come into play when someone is using your notes, or copying your art, line-for-line. But, you cannot copyright an idea, a trend, or a project, per se.

You can trademark a name or a slogan. You can patent a specific design, including the essential points that make it distinctive. But, to do this formally can be complex and expensive, and making it into a legal issue if someone copies is generally more expensive than it’s worth. And, nobody looks good when you sue. There are always hard feelings.

This is an area where we may always have confusion and problems. We must keep moving ahead and creating from our own visions, and take a chance that someone 100 or 1000 miles away isn’t acting on the same impulses and inspirations.


Stay true to your own voice. Always be yourself, and trust in that. Art has the most vitality when it is authentic.

When you’re expressing your deepest self, your message will be uniquely yours, but it will also have elements in common with what everyone else thinks and feels, because–underneath it all–we share more than people may realize.

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