Friday, June 15, 2012


"The only art I'll ever study is stuff that I can steal from." David Bowie

Recently I came upon a neat little book called, Steal Like An Artist by Auston Kelon.   Auston maintains that nothing is original and what a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere.  

He's got a lot of great quotes in the book too, like this one:

"Immature poets imitate;
Mature poets steal; bad
poets deface what they take,
and good poets make it into 
something better, or at least
something different.  The 
good poet welds his theft into 
a whole of feeling which is 
unique, utterly different from 
                  that from which it was torn."   T.S. Eliot

You could substitute 'miniature artisan' for poet there and that would explain a lot.

"Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing."  Salvador Dali

Magazine Clipping from 2003
So as a miniature maker the game is pretty much to imitate real life in miniature.  We all do that and probably for that very reason  - to create a world we'd love to see or be in or own.  I ripped this out of a magazine years ago with the intention of one day doing it in miniature. I can't remember the magazine now but hope the shout out to "Patina' makes up for slapping it here without permission. I finally found a Bespaq cabinet that seemed to suit the design. I had to replace the glass with wood panels but in the end my copied design suits the miniature piece. It's not exact but I did steal the original style of the real size piece. 


 And then.
I followed through with a chair to match this is now an original piece but I still used the swiped design.

Painted Miniature Pieces after Full Size Piece

There's more.
Lots of people really enjoy this next style - which is obvious, but I won't mention their name.  They are very touchy and think they invented black and white checkerboard.
Bashed Bespaq cabinet and hand painted plates
This style has been copied in miniature over and over again - expertly and poorly.  I put my pilfered design on another Bespaq piece that has been seriously bashed and you probably wouldn't recognize it. Oh, and yes, the plates are in the same style. I did not think to take a photo of the original but maybe I can steal one.  But that would really be stealing.  Taking photos and plopping them in your stuff without permission is not nice.  Kinda like what I did with the magazine clipping. What could I do? I'm proving a point.

"What is originality?  Undetected Plagiarism."  William Randolf Inge

Speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil
There are of course those among us who really do steal.  I have seen my own things copied other places.  Things like my dressed skeletons.  I did not think up dressed skeletons.  You can find them in real life in some awful places. Dead and still in their clothes. But I had them in 'original' poses.  Like this one. 

I later saw it ripped off on eBay.  And of course, neither one of us originated the monkeys from which this came. And hey, those you see everywhere.

Some people hang out on other people's websites and copy everything they see. Exactly. 

Sometimes you see something unique and then you see it again and again. 

"We are shaped and fashioned by what we love." Goethe

I have in fact copied full sized original pieces line for line in miniature.  But they were antiques and that would, I think, make them in the public domain.  I am for sure not the only one.  Some of the most sought after pieces are things in miniature based on real stuff that people just need - to evoke a feeling - and in miniature that would be totally unique and 'utterly different'.  I think.

What do you think?   Tell me.  I can take it.
Oh, and all the quotes I used in this blog came out of Austin's book.....


  1. superbes, les meubles peints sont superbes. Quant à ces "dames squelettes", elles me font frissonner d'effroi ... Mais, il faut reconnaitre, qu'elles sont élégantes avec leurs ongles vernis et leurs jolis chapeaux !

  2. Great post Patricia! Enjoyed every bit of it. J xx

  3. Excellent post. I think we are all influenced by what we see around us but the trick is to turn an inspiring idea in to an original twist of your own. I've copied things in the past, always trying to put my own slant on things. Sometimes, in fact often, it's been the case of admiring a piece so much but knowing I'll never be able to afford it in real life. So I've done an approximation, used it for inspiration and done something similar. My work is never the craftsmanship of the original piece that inspired me, but if I end up with something I'm happy with that's good enough for me. Is that stealing or just being inspired to create in a similar style? It's a difficult question.

    Author Terry Pratchett once did an interview where he spoke of how people would come up to him and berate him for copying J. K. Rowling's themes from Harry Potter with his University for wizards in Discworld books. His reply was that some themes are just generic, like wizards going to school. The themes didn't really belong to anyone and both authors used the themes differently. If they carried on, he gently informed them that it was doubtful he could be accused of copying as his books came out first. They then turned that around and accused him of blaming Rowling for copying him. As he put it, some arguments you just can't win.

    There are few genuinely new ideas, styles, fashions out there. All these things have been recycled through history and often tweaked just a touch to fit into a new era. At what stage does something become a generic theme? Copying something exact is stealing but finding the line between that and using something for inspiration is sometimes difficult.

    Your work is lovely. The cabinet is similar in painted style to the magazine but enough of a difference to not be a copy and the chair adds a new dimension. I've seen loads of furniture painted in checkerboard style with picture doors, so much so I'd say it's a generic theme not belonging anymore to anyone. I can't remember ever seeing two artists do exactly the same thing.

    J x

    1. You could almost write the book on this !!! Yes you have it exactly. I do believe a lot of us get the same ideas at the same time. And hey, whatever we do in miniature is definitely different if we are using full size anything as inspiration.

      But there are those who just plain steal. I have more to say about them, I think.

  4. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I am the sincerest, snarkiest flatterer there is, at least in thought. I get *ideas* from what other people do, but interpret it very differently; sometimes, it's 'OMG, why would anybody buy something like at price? Hey, wait a minute...I could make something like that, better.' I don't want to copy styles, unless it's antiques in full size; I figure they are fair game, but if someone makes an interesting, but crappy, widget in miniature, I just might be challenged/inspired/annoyed enough to try to make it better.

  5. Make that 'OMG, why would anybody buy something like *that* at *that* price? Hey, wait a minute...I could make something like that, better.'

    Angle brackets ate my text.

  6. Yes we are all inspired by each other and everything around us. And having your own style is what makes anything you make uniquely yours. Always challenging yourself to improve is where the fun is. Nothing like skill building.

  7. I will admit to stealing, antique furniture has always been my passion and I do try to create them as close as possible to the real antique. Since the great furniture designers like Chippendale, Sheraton, etc wrote books with designs and tips on how to make the furniture, I guess they wanted to be copied and they were on many different skill levels in their own time and are still copied even to this day in full scale. I think they would have liked the idea that people are still pleased by their designs hundreds of years later, they will live on forever while others are forgotten.

  8. Elga, I agree 100%. And how else would we own any of these fabulous minis after those amazing artists if someone did not copy them?

  9. I love your patina furniture!

    And as for inspiration x plain copy, we all know what is pure actual stealing and what's being inspired by and re-creating. It IS hard to define, but we know so well when we see. It's just like 'porn'. We can't define it well, but we identify the second we see it! It's instinctive.

    But sometimes people get too carried away and get overprotective with the copyright thing. Like the checkerboard people. Like magazines that won't let you publish the very same articles YOU wrote and which they paid you absolutely nothing for neither signed any papers giving them any rights over it.

    I think we have to use common sense (which, alas, is NOT that common!) when sorting wheat from the chaff when it comes to this subject.

  10. Evelyne, I love your comment. You are so spot on. That is it exactly - we know it when we see it.

    And yes, those magazines that are very possessive of YOUR work is baffling.

    Thanks for chiming in.

  11. You can always stick to making things that are so difficult and time consuming that no one in their right mind would try to copy them! Of course that does imply you are crazy doesn't it?

    Miniatures are generally considered to be scale copies of something much larger. Copying antiques ...well why not? It is not as if the makers of the obects are going to come back to haunt you for stealing is it? The again in your case it could be likely so you might need to be careful as they won't care if the copyright has expired or not! Tell us..have strange things been happening in your workshop for which there is no logical explanation? Do miniatures drop right out of your fingers and fall on the floor?

    The current checkboard people are not the people who actually created the style. Of course they purchased the rights to copy it which makes them legitimate copycats versus illegits. That is why they really get mad about copycats, because it cost a fortune to become copycats therefore they have to protect their investment. Legal or not they are certainly not being original.

  12. LOL. Yes, things just up and disappear in my studio. It's the ghost, I guess. I do make unique things AND I do see them copied. Usually poorly but it's obvious where they got the idea. Just like you can tell where I got mine. The thing is, I don't rip off miniature artisans. Unless its for outing the cheaters and copiers.

    Convoluted, I know...

  13. Tus trabajos son muy interesantes y personales
    Te felicito

  14. I usually find miniature artists so generous and sharing with their work so much so that if you can't take what is freely given and give it your own spin--which is what this book is about-well, then you've gone to the 'dark side' and have failed to grasp the lessons of 'stealing like an artist'.

    Loved the book, love your work, can't wait to see you and it again at the Guild Show!

  15. Yes, the problem is that they don't bother putting a spin on it. But taking inspiration from EVERYWHERE is what fuels creative people. And those on the 'dark' side generally disappear. Thankfully.