Incorporating “influences” in my art

My cat ornament, after a class from Layl McDill on making these.

My cat ornament, after a class from Layl McDill on making these. The sun cane in the lower left is one of her scraps, and the curly whiskers are her style, but the rest is very much my kind of work.

In “How to Steal Like an Artist”, there is a statement about wanting to learn to SEE like an artist we admire rather than learning to create art like that is a copy of the other artist. The former, for me, represents harvesting something we admire or are moved by to expand on my own expressive abilities. The latter feels like simply copying the other work, which would be inherently a thin imitation of expression at best when compared to the original. It may display wonderful craftsmanship, but would fall short of what I want to see in my art. It is, not surprisingly, far easier to say I want to see like the artists who inspire me than it is to actually do that in practice.

In having more time to do my art, I can now “afford” the time to look at more techniques and expand my repertoire. I can do the experiments and reflect on what seems to work and not work for me. The challenge that I have found, though, is that when I first look at these inspirational pieces (such as those in my Inspiration blog posts), my tendency is to consider the “how” of the piece. I break it down in to the components and consider what technique might have been used, or could be used, to create the piece. What materials would I use? Would it be functional or sturdy or effectively mounted in a display?

Layl McDill’s cat ornament

And then the “original voice” part of my mind kicks in, and starts saying “you don’t want to just copy it!”. That is definitely true, which sends my analytic thoughts sheering away from the very things about the piece that I love the most since those are what I would be most likely to want to copy directly. Argh! It’s no wonder that when I sit down at my bench to play with those ideas that so many of the experiments are disappointing, since I end up leaving out the “best” parts! (In the case of the cats, that didn’t happen, possibly because there is little that can dampen my love of cats!)

So my next hurdle is to try to retrain my analytic and creative minds to work more in concert when I look at these inspirations to identify the heart of what is appealing to me. I think if I can do that and listen closely to that voice when I start to experiment at my bench, it may bring me closer to capturing the essence rather than the surface appearance.

I can always chalk up those times when I don’t succeed at focusing on the heart of the work as learning failures. It’s hard to throw out something that just isn’t right, but it is infinitely better than having it sit in my studio reminding me of the failure. Or maybe I will just start a box of them that I can sift through occasionally to remind myself of what isn’t “me”, and say that that is okay. One thing I learned well from my decades in IT is that Things are defined not only by what they are, but also by what they are not, so there is value in acknowledging that it would be quite rare for hot pink to be an MVP in any piece of my work!