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Emulating other people's work

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In many courses of creative study, an early step in learning is to copy the work of others. In training in painting, for example, a traditional way of learning has long been, with a few periods of exception, copying masterworks.

Have you ever, in order to develop your own skills or style in ceramics, tried to copy another's piece?  (I don't mean for sale, of course. I mean for practice).

Two things gave me the idea to ask this question. Yappy, also a painter, mentioned having tried to paint in a style reflecting Van Gogh and Redon.  Second, when my copy of Ceramics Monthly arrived yesterday (saw your Tip, Pres!) in the part that I have read I saw a couple of things that made me think, I wonder how he/she did that- whether I could do something like that (Both hand-built. I couldn't copy anything on a wheel yet, still being at the point of my stumpy shapes).

Edited by Gabby
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There is nothing wrong, with trying to emulate another artist's style.  As you said, unless you are trying to sell it as a knock off, there is no problem.

With all types of Art, there aren't many completely original ideas left anymore.  Everything has been done, to some extent.  

But taking something, and creating your own "Spin" on it, or combining multiple styles or techniques, that is how an Artist sets themselves apart.  

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To be honest Gabby I can’t see how you could escape copying in clay. 

At our JC I see students bring in references - but they copy some aspect of it - not all. 

I’m constantly asking how did they do that - for both form and surface.

However copying in clay is not always as precise as copying say in painting.  I am originally a painter too and copied paintings to understand the surface. How to get skin tone luminosity depends totally on the underpainting.  

But I don’t have access to the real thing in pottery. Both surface and form and so I am always guessing. 

Throwing.  I can’t see how one can copy without working in a series. You are drawing in air. Each pot is is one of the many lines one draws to get the final in a drawing. 

One of my inspirations is a Persian cup with blue stripes.  Totally looks like something out of ikea.  I have tried so hard to copy it - get its exact proportions but without seeing it in person it’s tough. 

I spend a lot of time looking at pots. In person and online.  Not just clay.  I have a gridded sketchbook. I spend a lot of time drawing to study proportions because I don’t have a wheel at home yet.  Sometimes I feel like taking a class in CAD so I could superimpose. 

However to be completely honest with you - I cannot copy. I try. Before I sit at the wheel or the slip or glaze table I have already spent a lot of time studying it so I already feel I know it intimately. But at the last moment this “But what if you did this” guy jumps out.  

I most admire people like Margaret Odundo, Hans Coper who have changed form itself. Or Pippin Dysdale’s surface from Australia reflecting the countryside around her. 

I feel what I call my pots are really just a mush mash of others pots  that was alive in me at that moment. I always sit with a plan in mind - very specific - but my end result never matches what my initial thought was. 

In other words my every attempt is a copy with the what if guy showing up.  My pots are built on past pots. I can’t see how it can be anything else after thousands of years   



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I found a photo of a vase in the book "500 Vases* that I liked and had one of those "I wonder if I could make that" moments. I was taking Ceramics 1 at Sierra College and had chosen the vase as one of my class projects. I had made an almost exact replica of the piece . I was working on it at home and had a lot of fun handbuilding and was handling it with impunity... until it was bone dry. The morning of the day I was taking it back to class, I picked it up in the same manner as when it was damp and it literally exploded in my hands leaving me with a pile of bone dry shards. 

Wondering what I may have done wrong, I had found the original artist's website and started a correspondence with him, telling him my situation and asking him for pointers. He sent me his exact process for making the vase wishing me luck in my class project. The way I constructed the piece was almost exactly the same as his with a couple of slight variations. I then proceeded to successfully complete the project making an almost exact replica of his vase with a surprising outcome in the glazing process. His vase was red with black accents. While I had painted my piece with what was supposed to be a Christmas Red commercial glaze with black accents, it had come out of the kiln a dirty white with black accents. I asked my prof what had happened and after consulting the head of the dept, she said there may have been other pieces in the kiln with a high manganese content next to my piece which may have affected my glaze.

I learned a lot with that project and was able to use the principles involved to produce variations of the original vase... So I feel that copying someone else's work can provide valuable insight into amterials and methods which can be incorporated into future endeavors. Just saying...


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In my college Intro to Wheel Throwing course my professor had us all do this as a project over the course of a few weeks. We found pieces in Lark 500 and other ceramic books or from websites like Schaller or Musing then did our best to deconstruct and reconstruct the forms. As very green clay students we were completely unaware of the challenges that lay ahead of us when trying to recreate salt/soda/wood effects with only cone 6 ox, but it was a pretty great exercise for getting a crash course in materials we likely wouldn't have otherwise touched: latex, oxide washes, oxide resists, colored slips, underglazes, vinyl. Very few of the pieces looked much like the originals they aspired to, but the project was graded on progression through a few rounds of tests, and it planted lots of seeds for how to use the other materials in projects for the rest of the course. So in that case emulating was extremely valuable not for the products of emulation, but the lessons learned about the medium. 

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