Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Copycat Artists

Why do artists copy other artists? Yes, I know, stupid question. But really, why? I ask because when I was a professional doll artist, my head was about to explode with too many ideas. The thought of copying someone else's work seemed as fun as watching C-span while balancing my checkbook while on a strict diet. And I didn't care if my ideas weren't selling like wrapping paper on Christmas Eve. I just wanted to get them out. Share them with the world. Heck, I'm not making dolls anymore and I still have doll ideas pounding around inside my head.

So, what is so bad about copying anyway? The answers should be obvious to everyone. But it happens so freaking often; apparently, some people just don't 'get it'. So, for those people, I'll list five obvious reasons against copying another artist's work.

  1. Copying another artist's work is stealing. Artists care about their innovations, and it's upsetting to them when people steal them. A couple of years ago, I received an e-mail from a deviantART vigilante angel, concerning my pencil sketch Dragon Bit. Turned out, some girl had posted that drawing there and was claiming it as her own. Heck, the girl even said her boyfriend, a supposed metalworker, was going to make a real copy of the bit, something I had dreamed of doing even before I made that sketch. Whew! Can you fathom how utterly pissed I was? But to heck with my being pissed ... can you fathom how pissed all my friends were? This leads to reason number two.
  2. Copying is a permanent way of killing an artistic career. How? Popular artists have savagely loyal friends and buyers constantly roving Ebay for good OOAKS. If they spot something that looks like a cheap knockoff of their darling's work, guess what? The whole OOAK doll collecting community is gonna be talking about 'the copier' in two days, on private forums and in e-mails. The copier may even receive a snarky letter or two ... if they are lucky. Most likely, they'll just be sitting at the computer, watching their dolls not sell, blaming the economy for their 'bad luck'.
  3. Copying technically makes the copier a bargain counterfeit manufacturer, NOT an artist. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Now, what doll artist wants that technical job title? Seriously?
  4. Copying can fool buyers into thinking the copied work is the real deal. This can be especially sad, because people might think the artist does shabbier work than they actually do. Also, in the event that the copier actually does something unique and original, people may credit the artist for it (which the copier absolutely deserves, of course).
  5. Copying can drain away customers from the artist. Broke buyers, knowing the cheap knockoff is not the real deal, may buy it instead of saving up for one of the artist's dolls, because they like the style--the artist's style!

That said, perhaps I should clarify something. Broad ideas are ten a penny. You could give two talented artists a fashion doll/fabric/clay and say, "Make me a wicked fairy queen." Chances are you'd get two very different dolls, using that same broad idea.

Then there is loose inspiration. Someone's work has loosely inspired me before. Cheryl of Crawford Manor is probably the reason I ever got into dolls. You see, she had a story with most of her dolls, and above all else, I am a storyteller. So when I saw her dolls, I realized OOAK dolls could be a wonderful medium for me to tell stories. In fact, the the main reason I like dolls is because they can tell a story (through their face expressions, costumes, accessories, dioramas, companions, et cetera). Anyhow, people familiar with both our work might notice we share a love for story, detail, and scale. But our work is different. People would never mistake one of my dolls or doll stories for one of hers. And in turn, I know my work has loosely inspired artists out there whose dolls could never be mistaken for one of mine.

So if broad ideas and loose inspiration isn't copying, what is?

The devil is in the embellishments.

Here are a few examples of copying:

Example #1: If someone turns a Barbie doll into an OOAK fairy after being inspired by a bunch of fairies on Ebay by various artists, it doesn't make them a copier. Slightly unimaginative, perhaps, because artists have been overdoing fairies since Renée Coughlan made them popular in the first place ... no offence meant towards all my wonderful artist friends out there who do fairies. Ah, shoot. There is no way of saying that without being offensive, is there? But you all will love me anyway, right? Anyhow, here is my advice for all you newbie artists out there: DO NOT MAKE FAIRIES. Why? There is no unique twist you can put on them that hasn't been done 1,000,000,000,000 times before. Moreover, there is such an infestation of them, I'm about to pull out Dad's pellet gun and shoot 'em down, before they make the world all sparkly. Heck, I bet they'd make splendid target practice, because, unlike the prairie dogs, they are bright, flit about in plain view, and do not disappear down holes. Sigh. Was I rambling? Back on topic. On the other hand, if someone makes a lollita fairy in a pink dress, with a tall boots, holding a lollipop and a teddy bear, after seeing one just like it on Ebay ... ding, ding, ding ... we got a COPIER!

Example #2: If someone sees some steam punk dolls on Ebay by various artists, and is suddenly inspired to sculpt an original one of their own (original as in "entirely different twist or concept", not original as in "different colors or hairdo"), it doesn't make them a copier. However, if someone sees a line of steam punk angel boys sell well by a top Ebay artist, and starts their own line of steam punk angel boys... ding, ding, ding ... we got a COPIER!

Example #3: If someone is inspired to make a centaur after seeing some on Ebay by various artists, it doesn't make them a copier, especially if they do something outrageously unique with said centaur. But if someone sees a "Centaurs of the World" series selling well by a top Ebay artist, and then starts a "Centaurs of the Earth" series ... ding, ding, ding ... we got a COPIER!

Oh, and auction text. Don't get me started on that!

Most of us artists, through trial and error, have come up with our own auction descriptions and terms of sale. Here you might catch a sense of our individual experience, pet peeves, current living arrangements, and voice. Personal stuff. Not to be copied word-for-word. But whew, you wouldn't believe how many newbie artists out there do just that! And what is funny is oftentimes they have no idea what the purpose of that phrase they copied word-for-word even was! Before long, all these artists are using the exact same phrase in their auctions, yet none of them could tell you why they put it in there, except, "all the artists say that".

Come to think of it, I have noticed the biggest offenders of ALL varieties of copying are newbie artists. No doubt, they did not do their homework before jumping into the doll scene. They simply presume top artists' work is the norm.

Well, enough of that.

On the opposite side of the OOAK doll spectrum from knock offs, we have a different kind of doll. I give you the lazy assed artist factory OOAK. You can find her on Ebay under Dolls > Barbie Contemporary (1973-Now) > Barbie Dolls > OOAK & Nude. She looks something like this:

Her defining feature is that nothing on her is handmade, or OOAK. The 'artist' grabbed a violet Mattel blouse, pink Mattel cowboy boots, and blue biker shorts, and then added a cowboy hat from Hobby Lobby (you know the little velvety ones stocked in the doll section?). This doll is exactly what you'd find on the floors of little girl's rooms all across the world, from Alaska to Saudi Arabia. But forget the lackluster outfit. What is important is this doll's story. She always comes with a good one. Makes her a bestseller for sure!

Tessa is the third daughter of an eastern Colorado rancher. She just arrived in Denver with her family for the yearly National Western Stock Show. While she's there, she means to shop for some good tack for her horses, eat a little funnel cake, and see the An Evening of Dancing Horses show. She's also hoping to catch the eye of that cute rancher's son from 5 Hail Ranch--her plan is to work up the courage to walk over and say, "What's your horse's name?", even though she already knows it is Little Rouge Lady.

One thing is certain. You certainly cannot accuse these people of copying detailed ideas! Sigh. If only they put the work in! Then we'd have the coolest dolls ever! Imagine this one: a girl in faded blue jeans, scuffed Ariat boots, a big belt buckle that says Greeley Stampede, a white NWSS t-shirt with green horse slobber marks all over it, short-shanked rock grinder spurs, a heavy duty wind breaker, a Ford baseball cap, and a spectacular face repaint sporting a warm cowgirl grin and that scar she got from coming off ol' Jubilee two years ago. Oh, and don't forget the nylon halter and lead rope over her shoulder. Border collie companion optional.

Sara unleashed


  1. Can I ask if you're you going to start up your blog again? I was really enjoying these posts but unfortunately I only found a few...

  2. You are incredibly judgmental. Are you copying someone's idea in your drawings
    and making fun of someone else's art? Wow, didn't you just slay another artist for doing that?
    Did you know that American masters for years sat in the Louvre and copied paintings and it was accepted
    and promoted. It's not uncommon to copy art or ideas. Do you hold a license in persecuting artists or people in general?
    Are you really a professional doll artist after just two years? Are you a professional judge as well?
    Are you the art police? Should we thank you for pointing out to us that you can use technology
    with your own evil and selfish purposes in mind? Is the ACLU really damp? Do you have statistics
    proving that dolls with dark vinyl sell terribly? Why do you have so many lighter vinyl dolls on your
    display page? I thought you only did the darker toned dolls? How fast can I get out of here and never return to this dark place? First, how many times have I looked at your sister's dolls and your own and thought how fugly? I would never tell you how disturbing I find most of them, what simply unattractive features they display and yours in particular are consistent with extreme poor execution, it's not my place to, nor yours to others. Find something else to do, you offer nothing fine to humanity, for you have no compassion.


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