The "copying" Debate…

I came across a post about “copying” on my facebook timeline in response to a recent post in an artist’s blog.

I generally try to keep away from controversial topics, preferring to offer tips and techniques or straightforward information in my blog.

However I do feel strongly about this subject.

I think to use the word “copying” is inadvisable.

It seems to me that there is one indisputable fact and that is that we are ALL influenced more or less by artists who have come before us.

Those artists might be the old masters from centuries ago from Leonardo to Claude Lorraine to Monet to Lowry; or they might be the contemporary, living artists whose work is very familiar to us through contemporary media such as Warhol or David Hockney, or they might be the active teaching artists whose work we follow and from whom we learn from day to day from the books, magazines and dvds that they produce or contribute to.

And all this is so much more accessible now with the availability of endless images on line with a click of the mouse.  Where people 100 years ago would have to make a long journey to the city to visit a gallery to see paintings by their preferred artist, now we can google those images in a matter of seconds.

If we are passionate about art and painting we deliberately immerse ourselves every day in a bath of art.  We are hungry for inspiration and ideas and we are always on the lookout for images that please and give us a sense of wonder and make us think, Oh I wonder if I could do that?

And the images that please us the most are going to be the ones that we try to emulate.  But I would say that we are not “copying” but admiring and wondering at the beauty of what we see and wanting to make it our own and master it because we love it so much.

Students of painting in the past would be encouraged to sit at their easel in front of an old master and literally copy it in order to learn.
Now our sensitivities do not allow these blatant methods…well at least not in art colleges.

But hold on…now we have the Step by Step Books!

I myself have had two step by step books published by Search Press where I painted watercolours and someone took photos of me doing it.

Am I surprised that “copies” of those paintings are proudly displayed?  Of course I’m not!  I’m delighted!  That is the whole point of the books.  If they appear on line then of course they should be credited to the artist to avoid confusion and it’s always better to display original work on line.  But nowadays it’s the name of the game that we are all encouraged to have a go.

When I paint my watercolours, I know that I am benefiting from all I learned from every single book I read voraciously and every single artist I admired in the process of learning.  But those watercolours came from my hand and through my personality even though the techniques and methods were garnered over years and years of study.

I think that to say that someone is “copying” my style would be an example of extreme hubris.  Because I know that my style is simply a conglomeration of everything that has passed in front of my eyes and made me gasp with delight.  I warmly thank every artist that I have ever admired for inspiring me.

14 thoughts on “The "copying" Debate…”

  1. Well said Ann, I have learnt so much from you and trying to do a likeness from your wonderful paintings, has inspired me to carry on painting.
    As you say all the best artists learnt from the Masters ! What is your feeling on people painting from your style and then selling them ?


  2. Thanks for commenting Pip.
    To answer your question, there are two points to make…

    1. It's always best to take the techniques you've learned and use them on your own design.

    2. But if anyone wants to paint their own version of the exact painting, then to avoid confusion it's best to credit the artist when signing the work.


    Ann x


  3. Fabulous blog Ann! I have asked Janet Whittle and Terry Harrison if I may try and sell 2 paintings I have done for an upcoming craft fair in our village to raise money for Help the Heroes! As they were the original artists I have copied from, albeit, in my own way, I had to ask for their permission to put them into the fair. Both Janet and Terry have given me their blessings to go ahead. Wonderful!


  4. Well that's very good of you Susan and I wish you all the best of luck with your exhibition.
    I know that in your painting quest you are heading for the day, which for all I know you have reached already, when you can confidently produce a work from your own chosen reference that you can be proud of. Ann x


  5. Hello Ann, I came across your blog via Laura, a facebook friend. I believe you are stating exactly the same as she did, that copying is fine as long as the source is revealed when you show the painting or sell it. Kind Regards Dana


  6. Yes I am, Dana. (By “she” do you mean Laura?)

    But I don't believe that “copying” is the right term to use in this context. It has a negative ring to it as though someone is stealing which they are most certainly not. I like to think that they are being inspired and helping themselves on their honest journey towards learning and improving their skills.

    Thanks for commenting. 🙂


  7. Ann the discussion on copying is worrying me quite a lot. As an example if I follow your excellent WIP on your other blog am I using your work as a learning tool or simply copying? I don't publish my work and certainly have no intention of selling any. The reason I'm asking is I frequently use the work of other artists to help me learn but I would hate to offend anyone.



  8. Dana – No I did not say it was OK to copy directly either. Please do not alter the meaning behind the statement. As Ann said here I meant it is OK to take influence and paint something with your twist on it. There is a difference. It is never OK to sell anything that has been directly copied from some one else.


  9. Ann this is the most sensible post I've read on the subject of personal style and copying. I have never copied anyone's artwork – if I wanted that same composition then I would buy it (or a print if I couldn't afford the original). But I do find inspiration in other artist's work and I am very much influenced by studying their techniques.

    By the way, I found your blog via Laura, and will be following you when I've worked out how!


  10. Jennifer, worry not you are using the blog as a learning tool to help you master techniques. You are not copying. I have invited you tohave a go at producing a watercolour following my guidelines. I enjoy sharing these techniques and I repeat you are not copying!
    So glad to hear that people are finding some benefit. Enjoy!
    Best wishes Ann x


  11. Thank you for your very sensible comment, Stephanie. I'm sure we are all influenced by work that we admire and that is a good thing. It's not something we need to hide or be ashamed about. I think it leads to even greater things being created.
    No artist who understood this would complain about being “copied” .
    I hope you find a way of following…you might have to open a google account which is quite easy to do.
    Good luck and best wishes Ann x


  12. Good blog Ann. We have all encountered this controversial topic many times. I have often done paintings in the style of…my “Inspirations” series for example. I always acknowledged my debt to their original way of working and style. But I would never call it 'copying'. We are like sponges, soaking up everything we see so cannot help but be influenced, and as you so rightly say, it is inevitable that the painters we admire the most are the one's whose style will find a way into our own work. I simply call it “inspired by”.


  13. I agree….I think it is not OK to exhibit any paintings that has been copied from a painting or even a photo from another artist/photography …with out telling the public that this painting has been copied from this photo or painting by….name….of the maker


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