To feel inspired, not diminished…the "copying" debate continued…

Iceland Poppies by Ann Mortimer

Sometimes I catch myself wondering why I write a blog.  Because the truth is that I am uneasy talking about myself.  It doesn’t come naturally to me.
And that is why in this blog and my watercolour techniques sister blog ( ) I am mostly either sharing and explaining watercolour techniques or putting out information about events and workshops.

However there is nothing I like better than a touch of philosophising about  art today!  Not that I want to get on my soap box or anything…!

Reading peoples’ views about the subject of “copying” has left me asking a lot of questions.

Such as…what should be our motivation as artists and aspiring artists?  How do we weave our way through the complicated maze of ideas and influences these days without disappearing down hidden trap doors or inadvertently tripping over hidden hurdles?

In my reading of people’s comments on facebook and on blogs I am struck by how some artists seem to be tying themselves in knots trying to fit into a mould that isn’t comfortable for them.
Take the subject of “looseness” for instance.  It appears to be compulsory at the moment to be “loose” in style and people feel they are failing if they don’t stay loose and free to an extreme and sometimes counter productive extent with their watercolours. (ie. you can’t even tell what they are trying to depict!)
I am the first to joke with my classes telling them to be “loose women” (because women they usually are) and to try not to be too perfect in their painting, but we have to remember to be true to ourselves as well.

It seems to me that you have to follow your heart in this.  When looking for inspiration, perhaps it’s better not to follow a fashion such as “looseness” but to look to real things,  the things we can see around us and which move and excite us.  A group of people sitting at a cafe table casting shadows on the pavement, a red rose zinging out against a green background, a line of  colourful washing blowing in the breeze, an intensely dark leafy shadow falling across a country road, the pattern made by a network of stalks and buds against a blue sky.
It’s not being kind to ourselves to try to impress. Much better to allow ourselves to feel what these things make us want to say and have the confidence to say it.  Let us be inspired and not diminished.

(At this point I’ll mention the picture at the top of this blog.  I remember painting this years ago and feeling uplifted by the process.  I came out of the studio smiling.)

It seems to me that you have to keep techniques uppermost in your mind.  It is the techniques which will provide the anchor to keep us fixed on the path to originality and honesty in our work.  We should look to exploring  techniques to help us express what we want to say, not the work of others.  This is what one of my favourite contemporary artists Ann Blockley has been doing over the last year or two with amazing results.  She had said that she was looking for new challenges and she used experimental watercolour textures to carry herself forward.

Another way forward if we are stuck in a rut and looking for inspiration is to set ourselves challenges.
I noticed one artist on facebook had set herself the task of painting with red.  Great idea!  Setting constraints such as only using two colours or using a palette knife or stick to paint with can simplify the brief, concentrate the mind and therefore lead to exciting and original art.

I’d like to quote another watercolour artist, New Zealander Nancy Titchborne to end with.  She says in her introduction to her book that despite being lauded as a wonderful artist, she suffers from an “ongoing personal angst” which means that she is never entirely pleased with whatever painting she has just completed.
I love this self revelation and honesty in an artist!  The final sentence in her intro. reads, “As with so many things in life it is the anticipation, planning and doing that can be more satisfying than the actual completion”
“And don’t forget” she says”be immediately suspicious of any artist who tells you how good they are”.

With that thought in mind, Happy Painting everyone!

18 thoughts on “To feel inspired, not diminished…the "copying" debate continued…”

  1. Ann I love your paintings and am truly delighted when I see a new one.
    I only wish with all my heart I could paint like you, I try but my efforts do not have the vibrance your have. You are one lucky lady to have this talent .


  2. That was quick Fay, and you've almost got a real time reply here. Hey, read this again, ha ha! Thank you, you're very kind, but it wasn't always like this…I've done my fair share of ripping up and hating what I've produced. But it all means that we have to have another go and do better next time and therein lies the joy! And there's the added benefit of keeping paint and paper manufacturers in business!


  3. Thanks for all you've said above Ann. I've tried many times to paint 'loose' but just end up putting it in the bin as it looks like nothing. I saw the shadows cast by a tree in my garden last week which had made the amazing patterns on the ground and thought about painting it. But I talked myself out of it as I didn't think I could do it in such a loose style. Next time I see something visually exciting I'm going to paint it as I see it.


  4. I love your work and am a bit thick as I did not realise that I have got a couple of your books that I love, one is Flowers in Landscapes and the other is your new Orchid book and am toying as to what to paint next one of your orchids or a landscape or seascape and not sure if I have got the quotation right but I always thought that 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' which I would think applies to people who try and create similiar paintings to artists whose work they admire


  5. Everyone copies when they first start out. It's IMHO the best way to learn; to try to emulate someone whose work you admire. I have numerous “How to” books from 20 years ago. However there comes a stage where you develop your own style and no fads or fancies should deter you from that. It certainly does seem to be the “in thing” for the past few years to pain loose watercolours. For some people it comes naturally and works; others produce a muddy mess where you can't identify anything. Art is so personal I feel we should paint in a manner that suits us by which we can express what we as individuals see- not to suit the fashion. I thought for a long time that I must be doing something wrong with my watercolours as I definitely don't paint “loose” but the detail I put into my work expresses the way I see things not anyone else. Try out techniques and styles by all means but then develop your own- be true to yourself.


  6. Good for you Jennifer. That's why I try to take my camera with me or iphone at least to be able to record something which is fleeting but which really inspires. I've noticed that the watercolours I'm most pleased with are those painted from something that I loved and inspired. It has to feel exciting to you.
    Sometimes a sense of looseness can come from not over working something but being satisfied with a finish that is not perfect but has character. It can be detailed but still needs to be spontaneous. People generally seem to prefer watercolours that have life and are not too “finished” but show the medium for the spontaneous thing it is. Colour moving through water.

    Thanks for your comment Jennifer. Ann


  7. Thanks for your comment Terry. Ha ha! Yes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and sometimes we love something so much that it's difficult not to let our admiration show in the way we paint. But it will always be coming through our own personality and from our hand and will be different.
    Generally the step by step books allow you to try out techniques…exercises rather than finished paintings. And you know if they are well taught then you can be so proud of the result. But always best to use your own reference next and try out the techniques on that. But honestly learning form a book is not copying, it just isn't!



  8. Absolutely agree Diana. Sometimes though it is quite difficult to let your own style emerge but emerge it will eventually with lots of practice and no one can take that away from you. Yes how else do we learn if not through having a go at painting something someone else has done? Especially when there are so many books out there expressly for this purpose.

    I just don't believe that anyone has a monopoly on any style and it's very damaging to suggest to someone that they are copying. Could put someone off for life!

    Thanks for commenting, it's great to read what everyone thinks. Ann


  9. That's nice of you Laura, but steady now…I'm no fount of wisdom. Neither do I count self publicity as one of my well honed skills! But I'm quite glad about that to be honest. Thanks for commenting once more and so glad you're enjoying the blog.



  10. Brilliantly put Anne – I've always thought we should paint how we feel and this can change from day to day – sometimes that might be looser sometimes more detailed can depend on your mood – we all have a natural style so why try to be anything different – learn and experiment with techniques yes but be true to yourself and what comes naturally 🙂


  11. Love the poppies, I think only when we comfortable within ourselves with learnt techniques will our style emerge. This will require many hours of practise and learning from others and thank goodness we have lots of great teachers and artists like yourself who share their knowledge


  12. Thanks Lorraine for your comment. Yes, no doubt about it, it does take years of practice especially with watercolour and I fancy many beginning people are looking for immediate results!



  13. Ann, your words are so full of pure common sense and I think this is why your art appeals to so many people! Because your art is YOU, the way you think of others when you share your techniques and your continued encouragement for beginners to watercolour! Having met you this year at Patchings and watched you working, I immediately sensed a warm and totally genuine person, so very modest about her work but with an inner strength that just flows into the painting! Your words will stay with many people for a long time!


  14. Gosh, Sue, thank you so much for those very lovely words. I showed your words to my husband and all he could say was how moving the thoughts were. I'm very pleased that what I say comes over as from the heart because that is what is intended.
    Thanks again, I am walking on air now!

    Ann x


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