Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I've been thinking about the issue of "copycats" for a while because it is one that every so often comes up in the ceramics and pottery threads. Some people copyright their designs and then send out cease and desist letters. In addition to copyright notices, others include statements in the descriptions of their items that are similar to the "don't be fooled by imitators" messages we often see in ads. My own feeling is that it's hard to come up with anything new in a medium as old as pottery. So you stuck a carved frog on the side of your bowl. How many pieces of pre-Columbian pottery could we find with carved frogs on them? Lots and lots!

I am pretty happy with the carved designs on my yarn bowls and berry bowls. I haven't seen any quite like mine, but I have started to see more carvings on the sides of yarn bowls lately. Mine evolved from my round carved night lights, which evolved from the tall carved luminaries, which had their genesis in a pottery class taught by my friend and mentor, Jane Cullum, at Manassas Clay. Was it my idea to protect? I don't really think so. For one thing, it seems obvious that the holes in a berry bowl don't necessarily have to be round, right?

One of the things I love most about working in this medium is that potters tend to be so generous with their knowledge. If you ask a potter how they got that pretty green glaze, s(he) is not only likely to give you the recipe, but also tell what firing schedule works best and whether you should apply a thin or a thick coat! At any moment there are all kinds of potters giving workshops, in person or on line. These workshops are not vague lectures but detailed how-to classes complete with secrets of the trade.

And, why is that? I think we grow as we share our knowledge. I also think that imitation is a way of learning and that the person learning to make my item will evolve and infuse it with their own personality and experiences. Also, my work is not static, it will continue to change becoming something new as well. And that is the challenge, to continue to grow. I have found that my reaction to "copycats" is most negative the more "stuck" I am.

I was finally inspired to put these thoughts down because of a recent article by Jenny Hoople in Handmadeology, titled Don't Be Afraid of Copycats.  Jenny concludes that  "1) No two true artists will produce exactly the same work. 2) You’re always coming up with new designs and ideas...and 3) The more you give, the more you get!" And she's absolutely right!