Collage, Creativity, and Copyright

An entire classroom of people bent over their artwork today, placing painted pieces of paper onto an underpainting in the technique we learned from Elizabeth St. Hilare Nelson. Using the paper we painted yesterday, we tore, shredded, and ripped pieces no bigger than a quarter and glued them onto the underpainting. At points in the day, my fingers were numb, coated with glue from pressing the work flat. At other times, my shoulders cramped from the concentration of bending over the work.

And at the end of the day, here’s the apple. Everything you see is paper glued onto a canvas board. No underpainting is showing.

I have a few corrections to fiddle with tomorrow morning. I want to extend the shadow under the apple just slightly on the right side tucking it under a bit more. And on the wall behind the apple, in the upper right-hand corner, there’s a bit too much unbroken blue–a piece too big. It needs to have a smaller piece placed on it to make the blue look more like a part of the rest of the wall.

appleThe parts I like are the words hidden in the collage and the gold threads defining the curve of the apple.  Sheets from my journal went into the work, as well as stamped words, done for pattern. That is going to become the way I make this technique mine–adding texture through words and letters. Tomorrow–on to the more difficult koi image.

While I was thinking of putting this piece on my blog, I was thinking of copyright again. With artists showing their work on the web, and more people caring about speed and less about giving credit and accuracy, it’s hard to own your own artwork and writing.

On one hand, most artists and writers don’t want to be so private that none of their work is seen. On the other hand, no artist or writer wants to see their work claimed by someone else. Not much better is seeing your work on Pinterest or on another blog with no link back to your website or blog. Mash-ups and sampling are popular, giving credit and linking back, not so much.

Copyright won’t protect you from theft, and it’s often hard to find the person responsible for a blog in order to contact them and ask them to give you credit or remove your work.

The DIY Doyenne has an excellent blog on the matter. Margot Potter, better known as Madge has some great ideas. KevinandAmanda will help you discover if your photos are being used on other blogs.  If you are searching for the original source so you can give credit (thank you!), you can use the tips from The Graphics Fairy.

To protect your work with a watermark, Madge suggests using the easy directions at Picmarkr or Stipple. And after passing on all that great information on Madge’s blog, I should mention that Madge has a pdf book out called The Fine Art of Shamelss Self-Promotion. Because unless we promote our own work, it’s a slim chance anyone else will.

Quinn McDonald may never get all the glue off her fingers.

10 thoughts on “Collage, Creativity, and Copyright

  1. Excellent information and I do suggest the watermarking. I get lazy in the interest of immediacy and sometimes don’t follow my own advice. But, I’ll still give it to you. As far as the glue goes, “pick and flick” is your best strategy.

  2. Copyright is a form of license, and there are more workable alternatives available at There are six licenses to choose from, based on whether you want to allow sharing, commercial use, modification, and attribution. There’s even a tool that helps you choose the license that’s right for you and declare it.

    Copyright as it now exists is not intended to protect individuals and their work; it is to be used against them. It seems to me the battle most creative people are engaged in is with obscurity, not copying.

    • Obscurity can also happen if an artist who depends on licensing has work stolen and the credit, money and recognition goes to the stealer. I love creative commons and think it’s an important new direction. But the basic fact remains that often the person who does the work doesn’t get the recognition. Ask any art teacher how long it takes for one of the students in the class to photocopy notes (often complete with copyright notice), claim them as his/her own and teach a rip-off of the class and the answer is “one week, maybe two.” When I made jewelery, I would often sell three pieces to someone and then see the same piece on their site a few weeks later, with no recognition or attribution, being cast produced for less than I could produce it. There are hundreds of cases of large stores sending buyers to art festivals, buying a product, then mass producing it in China and selling it, with no recognition or money going to the artist who developed it. Artists don’t have a strong union to protect them, and most artists don’t want to spend a lot of time chasing after people who misappropriate their work. Yes, the idea of ownership has changed hugely since everyone shares on the internet, but integrity hasn’t grown proportionally. I was in an office the other day and on the wall was a lovely photographic image with a large circle C copyright notice in the middle. When I commented, the person had no idea it wasn’t supposed to be a part of the photograph. Ethics isn’t taught in school, and it’s not a requirement in college.

      • The situations you describe are not new; Charles Dickens and Mark Twain described exactly the same things. My two points are they are not solved by copyright (in fact they’re often made worse) and there IS something new now: direct connections among individuals are now more possible and more immediate.

        Very few people can fight huge corporations, and even if they sometimes win things seldom change much; commercial corporations are designed to act sociopathically. But the possibility of direct connections means that just maybe there’s a twisted little bit of opportunity buried within a corporate seizure.

        I didn’t suggest that the internet had changed the idea of ownership. I *personally* have what’s probably a radical position on ownership and intellectual property, but I’m well aware it’s not mainstream.

        It seems to me ethics is taught in school all the time. Our whole educational structure is designed to convey a particular approach to ethics. It is in my (again, probably radical) opinion fairly wrong-headed in some areas, but it’s there.

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