Monday, December 22, 2008

Copyrights and Plagiarism

QUESTION: I am in the process of writing a book illustrated with my own watercolors. However, some of these images were copied from other watercolors, even though the actual painting was ultimately done by me. Is this plagiarism? How different does the final image have to be to be different? These are primarily pictures of tea cups. I don't want to do the wrong thing so would appreciate your opinion. Thanks.

SUSIE'S REPLY: How exciting for you! Writing a book is almost like giving birth and could be considered a labor of love. I wish you every success with your adventure!

Now to get down to the nitty gritty: First and foremost: My opinion is given for guidance only; you're advised to consult a copyright lawyer on copyright issues. My information is based on US copyright law. Remember, although there are international copyright agreements, every country has its own copyright laws.

According to the information found on the term "plagiarism" usually applies to literary theft. Plagiarism occurs when a writer duplicates another writer's language or ideas and then calls the work his or her own. The writers' words are protected by copyright as their legal property. It is permissible to quote another writer as long as you carefully give credit to the writer and the source of your quote.

In regards to visual art there is a myth about how different an image needs to be to not be a considered a copy. Some artists believe (and/or have even been taught) that you can legally use another artist's work if you change or alter a certain percentage of the painting. Some say changing an image 10 percent is enough to make it a new image while others say a change of 20% or 30% is required. This is absolutely not true and is only a myth. A copy is a copy.

A good rule of thumb would be when comparing the two images side by side if the another artist's work is recognizable as what your image is based on then you are risking copyright infringement.

Objects or subjects such as "teacups" or the "sunset" can not be copyrighted so that they can only be painted by a single copyright owner. Another artist's work can inspire you but the concept and composition of your painting should be uniquely your own not a copy of their work.

Since you asked for my opinion, if it were my book, I'd use my own teacups, my own sketches and my own reference photos to paint the illustrations from. Let it be totally and uniquely your own without the shadow lurking over you that you might not be doing the right thing.
Just consider any copied images you've done so far practice for what's yet to come.

My personal policy is "if in doubt, don't!" Let you conscience be your guide.

Again, I wish you success with your new book! Please let me know when it's available... I like teacups!

I look forward to seeing your original watercolor illustrations.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Stretching Watercolor Papers- Removing Sizing

QUESTION: Hi, I just finished your DVD Painting across America The Oregon Coast. The DVD was fun easy to follow. I do have one question about stretching paper. There are several pros and cons to stretching. One of the pros that I have been taught is that stretching removes the sizing. What do you think? Debbie

SUSIE'S REPLY: Hi Debbie! I'm so pleased you enjoyed the DVD on painting the Oregon Coast. Thanks!
About stretching watercolor paper: If you asked five different instructors about the pros and cons of stretching watercolor paper, you'd probably get five different answers. That's because we all develop our own style and techniques for painting and what works best for us as we learn to paint. None of us are wrong, but my method may not be best for someone else's style. And that's OK!
What do I think?
About sizing: For me personally, I like the sizing on my paper. Sizing enables me to use techniques that require a more durable paper surface. (Like glazing, scrubbing and lifting) I use Arches 140# CP for most of my paintings. I understand (with Arches watercolor paper) the sizing is added to the paper pulp as it is processed (referred to as internally sized) so the sizing is the same on both sides of the paper. Some brands of watercolor papers spray the sizing on the surface after the paper is made. I'm guessing those papers might need to have some of the sizing removed to make the paint flow better for the artist. Which is better? It really depends on the technique and style of the individual artist.
So for me personally for my style of painting removing the sizing isn't a pro, it's a con.
More About stretching: I know some artists who will not paint on unstretched paper...period!
My preference is to paint on high quality unstretched loosely secured watercolor paper. I enjoy the freedom to tilt and bend the flexible paper to create interesting mingling of the paint if my painting session take a turn in that direction. Plus I work on a number of paintings at the same time so if I did stretch my paper I'd need dozens of backer boards to hold my works in progress.
When I've worked on the taunt surface of stretched paper it wasn't that I didn't like it, but I did need to make adjustment to my brushstrokes and work differently.
Call me lazy, but personally, I'd rather be painting than spending the extra time it takes to stretch my watercolor paper. But that's me!

Thanks for your question!

How important is drawing?

QUESTION: Hi Susie! Love your work. My question is this: I want to be an artist, like you. I practise drawing and painting for approximately two hours a day. Is this enough? In Gordon MacKenzie's book he states that to be an artist you have to start building a data base. What does he mean? Any pointers you can give me would be much appreciated. Paul

SUSIE'S REPLY: Hello Paul, thanks for your question. I'm sure many other artists wonder about the importance of drawing and how it applies to painting....especially watercolor painting!

I believe that the more you draw the better you will be in every art medium. Drawing is a great hand and eye coordination exercise. Transferring what you see to the paper can also train your eye to really look at the object/subject. Draw every chance you get whether it for a painting or not.

When I'm teaching I use a simplified line drawing (for my students to see what I'm visualizing in my head) to illustrate placement and/or perspective. To me the lines are meant to be guidelines like a road map and are not intended to be the exact edge of my subject. I like to use my brush to create the shapes of the objects not following pre-made pencil lines exactly. When I try to force the paint to stay inside the lines my painting looks and feels tight and over controlled.

Most of my paintings are painted "free hand" without any pencil lines. It took me several years to get to this place. However I did draw on my paper when I started painting. The reason I can paint without pencil lines is because I do draw a lot and the information I save in my "data base" is accessed when my brush starts to draw on my watercolor paper.

In response to your specific question --- I thumbed through MacKenzie's book The Watercolorist's Essential Notebook to find what you were referring to so I wouldn't take it out of context and I'm sorry to say I didn't find it. (Perhaps you could send me the the page number.)

What he could have meant by "starting to build a data base" may have meant to become familiar with your subject and how it is shaped so that when you start to paint it you have an understanding about how it is put together or how it grows so as you paint the subject it looks natural. If we are painting something from memory or sometimes even from a photo, and we get to a place where we don't know exactly what's next we have to fake it to fill in a gap. It's much better to have a 'data base' from previous drawings to refer to. As I said I'm not sure that's what he meant but its a good guess.

I hope that helps some. Draw Draw Draw! Enjoy drawing and learning all you can about the subjects and objects that interest you. Then when you start to paint those things you will be so familiar with them painting their shapes will be second nature.

Most of all have fun!

ADDITIONAL COMMENT!! I found the MacKenzie reference! It's in his Landscapes book. What he means by "Start building your own data base." is to take notes and write down what it is you like about a specific painting or photo that inspires you. Take photos of your own when you see something you'd like to paint. Keep a sketchbook to remind you of the things you want to paint. He also says, "...there is no better way to improve your ability to see than to draw."
So we were on the same track. :) SS