There is a long tradition of learning by copying. My journey in creativity has been no different. I started quilting several years ago by making quilts by Kaffe Fasset and Malka Dubrowsky using their patterns and their fabrics to make almost identical replicas of their work. Attracted to the aesthetic of the Modern Art Movement and buoyed by my improved skills I soon started designing quilts using artwork seen on Pinterest as guides in my making.
Why is this germaine you ask? Last year I had two quilts accepted and displayed in the Modern Quilt Guild Exhibit at the Houston International Quilt Festival. It was the first Quilt show I submitted anything to. I was so naive to the whole process, as a quilt show virgin I think even Jacquie Gering weighed in on IG and helped direct me to a tutorial on making quilt sleeves. Of the two pieces that were accepted and shown, one piece I call “Life in the ER” was a fairly direct copy of a 1958 poster I reinterpreted in fabric. The other piece “5/325” was highly inspired by the work of Cecil Touchon but certainly not a direct copy of any of his work.
Fast Forward to this month when I have another piece hanging in the Modern Quilt Guild showcase in Houston. This piece, “Bloberella” is a work inspired by many but designed soley by me. In it I see the color inspiration of Gwen Marston, improv piecing techniques of Sherri Lynn Wood and needle turn appliqué learned from Carolyn Friedlander. It is unequivocally improved by the quilting art of Krista Withers.
There has been significant unease over the Modern Quilt Guild’s recent blog post and discussion about “Derivative works”. As one who has been pretty derivative in the past I welcome the discussion. Clearly everything we make is to some extent “derivative” and I don’t envy the task force of the MQG who will need to parce out what is “too derivative” for consideration in future quilt shows. For perspective, these copyright topics are not isolated to the MQG and have been evolving in the rest of the world too. I know in day job, I now need to get permission now to use photos by others for lectures. Speaking to my brother who is a photographer if he wants to gain profit from pictures that even display public art he has to get permission from the artist.
To be clear, I have not profited one cent from any of the derivative pieces I have made. In some ways though I have benefitted from standing on the shoulders of the design work of others though also likely have gained the disdain of purists.
This year of making has been one of significant evolution as I have directly steered away from trolling Pinterest and instead have been experimenting, designing, drawing, painting and sewing, sewing, sewing. Designing work from scratch is hard but oh so satisfying.
In all of this I am not suggesting that derivative work will ever go away (indeed there are several directly derivative pieces again on display this year at the International Quilt Festival from what I have seen of pictures). We all should be allowed to grow as quilters and artists and again the normal evolution of that process for most means being derivative. For me however it has become important to move forward and discover my own voice. I am finding that much more satisfying. In my opinion if I want quilting to be considered the art form it is, I owe it that.
Thanks for listening and keep making.