I remember my first cover for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. I wish I could say I was thrilled. I was horrified. I always imagined my first cover would be beautiful, elegant and colorful. I would be so proud of it.. Well…not even close. It came from the step by step in that issue, and later I found a number of people really liked those earrings and attempted making them. Now I laugh and accept the cover…sometimes. They were simple cones, and I certainly don’t have a copyright on a cone. Since then, Todd Reed has riffed on a cone design, and so has Phil Porrier. But I have no reason to be angry, a cone is a cone, and I get to tease Todd about how his look like mine (OH, how I wish!) But there are only so many things you can do with a cone when you are teaching beginning jewelers, and the magazine asked for a beginning project. Since then I hope I have redeemed myself with other more graceful and complicated projects.
But as a teacher, my students sometimes cry ”Someone copied my work!” Well, I write step-by-step projects for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, the 65-year old leading art jewelry teaching magazine, so don’t expect any sympathy from me. I struggle over designs just as hard as you, and then put them out there for them to be made world wide. Without you knowing it, if you post all your work on the www, you will be copied, too.
Not only do people copy my step-by-steps, but also what I put out in the Contributor’s Page, which is not taught in the magazine. Some people even send me the photos of what they have made when they were inspired by my work. Some look like my pieces, some are way off base but they tried. They are learning, and they liked my piece enough to try an copy it. I am sincerely flattered.
I know one teacher who teaches the technique project, and then get upsets if the student makes something that looks like it. That’s not nice. If you teach, your student ‘s work may emulate your work. That’s just part of the game. They will soon find their wings and their own style. Be happy that you were part of the process. But what about those of you who are not teaching? Your work gets copied, and suddenly something appears in a store or gallery, or just a photo shared online, and it looks like yours? Does that upset you? Now, think about why. Is it because the other person’s may sell, and yours may not? Believe me, everything will sell if you find the right niche. Is it because you were so brilliant that nothing like this has ever been done before? Well, maybe, I have seen several artists whom I consider brilliant, but in the history of the world, there MAY have been something that looks similar. What can you do about it?
Oh, you have a copyright? Ok, your copyright is only as good as the money you have to defend it. Don’t worry. A lawyer will get most of the money, anyway.
One day at the Peter’s Valley Craft Show in Layton, N.J., I was horrified to find “my” piece in the collection being shown and sold by a very well-known artist.. I had just designed and made this same design, and though the stones were different, the design was exact. EXACT. Size and everything. I hadn’t seen his piece, and I’m pretty sure he hadn’t seen mine. So I approached the artist, and told him I had just designed one just like it, I hope he wasn’t offended. He laughed, and said “Well, then I think you are a pretty good designer. I just finished this piece, and there’s only a few things to do with that shape stone. I hope yours sells, too.” What a gracious professional.
In my my first semester of college jewelry I did try to copy a piece of Jeff Wise’s work. His stuff is gorgeous, and there was no way I could copy anything of his, even now! I finally confessed my dastardly sin to him last summer. He laughed and said “I hope it worked out for you. I did the same thing when I was learning. I’m flattered you liked my work enough to try.” Again, a very gracious professional. And my piece never looked even close to his.
As Harold O’Connor once told me. ”Congratulations! Your piece is in a book. Now there will be a thousand copies out there.” Maybe, if others liked it. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I made it because of what it meant to me, and if someone copies it, they won’t get that same feeling. So I tell my students, “You don’t want your work copied?” Then make it, put it in a zip lock bag, put it in a drawer and never, ever let anyone else see it. They laugh and say “Yea, right.” Truthfully, that is the only way your piece may never be copied or inspire anyone else. Personally, I think that is sad.
So everyone, just relax. Will some one copy you exactly? Heck, I can’t even copy my OWN work. But if someone does, think highly of yourself, you have inspired someone. Be proud of that. Someone thought enough of your work to imitate it. Now if they sign your name to it, that’s a different story. But with the internet, and you put your work out there, it may be imitated or copied if the design is good. But also think back,what inspired you? Maybe somewhere in the back recesses of your mind you saw something similar to it. You changed the bail or added a longer stone. To truly make someone’s inspiration your own, change it 25%, then change it another 25%. Then it becomes your own. Just try it, because its easier than you think. My idea book is full of pictures by other artist that I pasted in and love to look at for inspiration. But that’s what it is–inspiration. Please don’t copy designs from a fellow artists sketchbooks, that just not nice, but to use something as inspiration and to change it and make it your own, then you can call yourself an artist. And work on being a gracious professional.
That being said, I still find the greatest inspiration is nature, and not someone else’s work. But I still LOOOOVVE looking at other’s jewelry.
Now I have to go call Todd and hassle him again about using “my cone” earrings.
Have a great time designing and exploring jewelry–
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