I know I just featured Katie Way in February, but this is such a great example of taking a technique and making it your own that I didn’t want to pass by this opportunity. This seemed particularly apropos after an incident came up a week or so ago that I was consulted about involving a student submitting something to a contest that they created either in a class or based on a class. The problem was not in taking something that was learned in a class and creating from that knowledge but using the design choices that the teaching artist used. So, let’s just review what that means. In a way, it’s very simple – you can replicate technique, but you cannot use the design decisions of another artist.
I think part of the issue is that there is some confusion as to what’s is technique and what is design, so let me try to define that.
Technique is how you manipulate the material including how you apply texture, the process of forming/sculpting, the mixing or application of color treatments, the creation of mechanisms or use of materials for constructing the piece, etc. In other words, it’s about the process of creating.
Design is about the specific choices you make about how something is going to look. So, your choices about the type of texture (not how you apply it), the shapes you create (but not how you create them), the colors you choose (but not the source of the color), and the arrangement of your construction (but not the mechanisms used to put pieces together), are all design choices. If the majority of your choices are based on someone else’s examples, then you’re in danger of copying their design. Changing the color or shape is simply not enough, nor is it fair to the artist that inspired you and, equally so, it’s not fair to you and your creative growth to skip the exploration of what a piece could be by not making the design decisions yourself.
In the piece we see here, Katie Way took a class with Alice Stroppel and made a piece that is uniquely her own. You can see the influence of both artists in this work. The big, bold cane work shows Alice’s influence, but the color choices and all those bulls-eye circles are absolutely Katie. I would’ve known this was Katie’s right away, but it would’ve taken me a few moments to realize where her change in technique came from if she hadn’t made note of her influencer. And that’s really how it should be.
You can absolutely copy the work of the teaching artist in class as a way to learn. Most of them do prefer that. But when you go home, don’t make that same basic piece ever again. Have enough confidence and belief in your artistic self to work out your own designs. It is far more fulfilling to create from your own sense of aesthetic and ideas than to simply be successful with someone else’s design.
Okay, getting off my soapbox now. If you’re intrigued by Alice’s cane mapping class, go to her website to check out where she will be teaching next. And if you’ve somehow missed Katie’s work, check out her Etsy shop and her Instagram page.