Theft or Flattery???

Goldfinch Miniature 4" x 4"
Goldfinch Miniature
4″ x 4″

“A lotta cats copy the Mona Lisa but people still line up to see the original.” Louis Armstrong (from The Painter’s Keys)

Help me out here! When is it okay to appropriate someone else’s work to use for your work? Is it ever okay? Suppose you like to paint in the studio from photographs. Would you consider it acceptable to take someone’s photographs in the public domain for use in your work? Can that be considered acceptable if the original work cannot be identified in your work?

In the studio, I often work from photos. To do that, I take numerous photos. I do not consider myself to be a photographer because I lack the talent and skills of many of the wonderful professional photographers I know or see on this blog forum and others. I am adequate to get what I need for painting. But sometimes I will look online for other photos of the subject I am painting to get another angle or another light exposure. Is this an acceptable practice?

I ask this question because I recently posted a photo on a social media site of a scene from my garden. In the comments, a friend tagged one of his/her friends suggesting this other person should make a painting of my photo. My first thought was, “Did my friend suggest his/her friend should steal my work?” Or should I be flattered? I would love to hear what others out there have to say about this subject.

A popular opinion I have heard repeated is if your work is at least 10% or more different from the original work then it is acceptable. The Arts and Business Council of Nashville sponsors regular workshops on topics of interest to artists in the community. In June, Nashville attorney, Mary Neil Price, discussed this very subject. From what I gathered in her talk, it is never acceptable to appropriate another’s original artwork in yours without permission.

Two blogs I frequently enjoy are Avian101 and Talainsphotographyblog. Both regularly post beautiful bird and nature photography. To me, making a painting of any work from either blog would be stealing, not flattering. What do others think? Does that mean I can’t look at the way these photographers have caught the light on a bird’s head? I would love to know others opinions. Help me out here! Enquiring minds want to know. (Did I just steal that quote???)

Beautifully Purposeful


“Create we must, and respond to this dark hour.” Makoto Fujimura

The artistic process for many can be a compulsion, striving to express an idea, a thought, a feeling bubbling up from deep inside. The expression is often not consciously mulled over before erupting into reality. How much time is spent reflecting on the purpose of the churning creative urge before releasing the explosion? What if this flow of artistic need is consciously directed in such a way as to nourish the human heart?

Even in the midst of the direst of poverty, the soul seeks beauty. Anne Ciccoline of Creator, Created, Create and leader of Creative Communion, describes her trip to Nairobi where she was taken to Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa. Anne was captivated at the sight of a mud hut with an entrance adorned with strips of fabric and a tin can planter with a green vine growing up the side of the hut. Anne says, “…no matter how primitive or impoverished our shelter, we strive to make it beautiful.” Beauty lightens darkness as nothing else can.

The human heart longs for beauty.   Our darkest hours are brightened by the simplest of beautiful sights. When there is nothing else, there is still beauty. Artists have a gift. Are we seeking to use it in a way that demonstrates gratitude for the gift? What better expression of gratitude could there be than for artists to bring the longed for beauty to the hearts of others? Creating art to nourish the soul is a noble purpose, a goal worth pursuing. And that is a beautiful thing.

Mako Fujimura talks about his painting, “Golden Sea”

Eyes of the Heart

Reelfoot-Afternoon Shadows2


“I shut my eyes in order to see.” Paul Gauguin (from

How can one create with eyes shut? Gauguin’s statement would seem to not make any sense. Does he mean painting with a blindfold on? Many paintings out there look as though they have been painted with a blindfold on. Many more look like they need to have been painted with a blindfold on. But is this to be taken literally?

Gauguin, in my opinion, is talking about the heart. Let the heart see with the heart’s eyes. That is a difficult thing to do when the brain’s eyes want to remain in control. There is the natural inclination to recreate in exact detail what is physically present.   It may be necessary to actually close the eyes to get the right visual. It may take practice. It may take concentration to let go of one set of eyes to allow the others to open.

The art of opening the heart’s eyes and allowing them to take over does not necessarily mean losing realism. The heart’s eyes are eyes of feeling, eyes of emotion. Emotion is the spark that lifts realism out of simple recreation and gives it life. Emotion is the spark of any form of art that lifts it out of boredom and lights a fire.

A blindfold is not required to paint with the eyes shut. It just takes getting in touch with the heart’s eyes. Of course, painting with a blindfold may make for new and interesting art. It could even start a new movement in “blindfold painting.” Who knows, it may become all the rage. Anything can happen when the physical eyes are closed and the heart’s eyes are open.

Soaking up Enchantment


“I do not understand how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of Cross Creek and The Yearling


Do we, as artists, require a place of enchantment?  Can we create without a place of enchantment? Do we have to physically be at that place or can we go there in heart and mind? When I first asked these questions nearly a year ago, I wasn’t sure of the answers.  Since that time, I have to expand to ask these questions of all creative people.  I am more convinced than ever, that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was on to something.

Rawlings was a moderately successful New York writer until she moved to a small Central Florida orange grove near a place called Cross Creek. Eventually Rawlings wrote about the people of Cross Creek, FL. Her writings about life in the Florida orange grove rocketed Rawlings to her place as a treasured American icon after the movie The Yearling, starring Gregory Peck, hit the big screen. She drew her creative nourishment from the beauty of her place of enchantment.

For me, that place has always been Reelfoot Lake.  Though I now live almost 200 miles from Reelfoot, I get there as often as I can.  Sometimes I coerce friends to ride along with the promise of magical scenery and the best fried catfish known to man.  Occasionally, I get up early and throw Twinkie and my camera in the car and drive over for a brief afternoon, returning late that night.  But I don’t paint there.  I breathe in the energy, absorbing the air.  I take in the visual feast and snap some shots.  Later, back home, when I sit down to paint, I go back to Reelfoot in my mind.  I remember the sights, the sounds, even the smells.  But what  happens with the paint is more the memories from childhood.  The infrequent trips to Reelfoot never fail to stimulate the childlike sense of awe that makes Reelfoot a place of enchantment for me and probably always will.

Reelfoot is not the only place of enchantment for me.  Gardens can also stir up feelings of enchantment, especially butterfly gardens.  When focusing on the place of enchantment, the feeling and spirit of the place returns fully.  Rawlings knew what she was talking about.  We all need those places.  The question is, how many of us take enough time to soak up enchantment?  I know I don’t.  Currently, I’m overdue for a major soaking.

For more on Reelfoot go to:

Dramatically Simple


“When you lose your simplicity, you lose your drama.” Andrew Wyeth (from The Painter’s Keys)

Many of the greatest artists, writers, poets, and creative people in general comment on the importance of keeping it simple. For some artists, this can be a difficult task, especially for those drawn to the dramatic. Although, at times, complicated fussiness has been popular, the simple is what is more often remembered. A look at a few of the great master’s work would seem to bear this out.

Rembrandt painted a number of complicated scenes such as the famous Night Watch paintings yet he is most often associated with the soft, unique light of his many portraits. Leonardo Da Vinci painted the complicated famous Last Supper mural and many more yet is most often connected to the Mona Lisa. What could be more simplistic in subject than the Mona Lisa? Michelangelo painted the fabulous intricate Sistine Chapel. While thousands flock to see the Sistine Chapel every year, the marble sculpture, David, is the image most often connected to Michelangelo.

The list could go on and on throughout the history of art but how often do artists think about keeping it simple? The problem for many may be in knowing when to quit. There is always something more to do. A little more color here. A dab of paint there. Eventually, the simplicity is lost and some of the drama with it. Perhaps, an alarm can be installed above the easel that can be programmed to know when the point of no return has been reached where simplicity will soon be lost. This alarm could send out a resounding, “Put down the brush, and step away from the paint!!” That could work but it might be simpler to keep it simple by making a simple effort to enforce simple self-restraint. If the self-restraint fails, there is always the alarm to fall back on.


Here is a Flash Mob performance of Rembrandt’s Night Watch. What fun! I wish these guys would show up at my local mall!

Shedding the Cocoon

Gulf Frit on orange zinnia

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” Richard Bach (from The Painter’s Keys)

Change happens to everybody sooner or later, some planned, some unplanned. Planned changes in art take care and timing. It sounds easy but isn’t always. People get used to a certain style from an artist and may not accept a change. Change may mean learning new materials and techniques. But the artist may be at a dead end and realizes change is the only way to get out of the corner. To continue on the same path leaves the art, flat and lifeless, dead as a doornail. What’s an artist to do? Keep making dead doornail art at a dead end or move into an exciting new direction?

Only the individual can know what direction is the best for each circumstance. But if change is inevitable, some considerations can make the transition easier. First, know the consequences of staying in the same place or changing to a new and different direction. It helps to outline the points, one by one. Second, look at what the possible new directions can mean to time, supplies, and other logistics.   A new direction may change the materials adding a cost factor and learning curve to the equation. Make a list of costs, supplies and time for learning. And lastly, who will be the new customer base? The old base may not like the new direction creating the need for new marketing to a new base. Make list of ways to market for a new base.

Another way to make a change is to tear up those lists you just made into tiny little pieces. Take those pieces up to a tall building and throw them off. Or put them on the grill and set fire to them. You could also flush them away. Now that you have disposed of your new direction lists, what’s next? Take a leap of faith and dive right in. What do you have to lose? Well other than time, money and customers. How about stagnation? Getting rid of stagnation is worth losing all that other stuff. What’s life without a few risks? That’s where the fun is. Go ahead. Shed the cocoon and fly. You know you want too. Besides, what is a dead doornail, anyway

Hatching Art Eggs


“Hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.” Ralph Ellison (from The Painter’s Keys)

It’s easy to think art just happens. An artist sits down at the easel and paint flows into something beautiful or meaningful or whatever. This hand, holding a brush, flows across the canvas and a painting appears. Presto! Maybe for some, that is what happens. For others, there may be a down time, a time to incubate ideas. What happens if that down time becomes a protracted period of hibernation? Is it time to panic and give up? Maybe go hang out on the beach for a while? What if inspiration never comes back again?

According to, downtime for inspiration incubation was necessary for poets, T.S. Eliot and Keats. The website quotes Eliot as saying, “We do not know until the shell breaks, what king of egg we have been sitting on.”  It’s the sitting on the egg part that is so difficult. It could take months to develop that particular egg. Most eggs take their sweet time hatching. They won’t be hurried. They’ll hatch when they are good and ready. What can be done while the incubation is in process?

One can give in to panic or take a cue from Horton, the elephant. Give in to panic and fly off to Palm Beach to lie around on the beach like Mayzie, the lazy bird from the Dr. Seuss classic, Horton Hatches the Egg. Mayzie dumped her egg onto someone else to hatch while she played in the sun.   The heck with this sitting on the egg thing! The beach is way more fun. Or follow Horton’s plan and reap the surprise of what can happen when the egg hatches. Make a choice: Mayzie or Horton? What’s it gonna be? You never know what might fly out of that egg.

Here’s Horton and his infamous egg:







The Whispering Heart


“The man who follows a crowd will never be followed by a crowd.”  R.S. Donnell (from The Painter’s Keys)

The world is full of quotes about different drummers and roads less traveled, not following the crowd and so on. Who are these different drummers, these solitary travelers?  They are the ones who get things done, who see different horizons.  They are the creative people, the artists, the inventors, the innovators, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, and photographers. How do they break from the crowd to seek the solitary path?

It takes courage to listen to the creative heart. Hanging with the crowd never gets to the road less traveled.  That noisy crowd obliterates the sound of the different drummer, obscures the horizon.    The creative heart longs to be heard but never raises its voice.  It quietly continues to whisper, “create, create” hoping to be heard. The creative heart is polite, never speaking over the crowd.  The only way to hear the creative heart is to stop moving and actively listen.

Breaking away from the crowd takes strength, as well as courage.  The crowd always fights to stay intact.   As soon as one starts to separate, the crowd moves in threatening to bowl right over the upstart.  To gain freedom will require a bold move, a quick sharp slice through middle of the pack. Once in the clear of the cacophony, the heart can breathe, its whisper can be heard.  Those with the courage to listen will find the path.   To do anything less is to suffocate.

The Non-fiction Artist


“All has not been said and never will be.” Samuel Beckett (from The Painter’s Keys)

Does originality and imagination require an artwork be cut from a whole new cloth or is it simply to look from a fresh angle? The push to constantly startle the viewer has led art further and further out on a limb to the point of barely hanging onto to anything that can actually be defined as art. Calling a pile of sticks or a stack of paper, “art” stretches the definition so far that the result has been the dilution of ability to appreciate the originality and imagination of the realist painter.   This push for startling novelty has led to a confusion of what is imaginative and original in art.

If an artist takes a subject such as trees and creates paintings depicting a certain aspect of these particular trees, does it require imagination?  Suppose you walk by those trees everyday but have not noticed the intricacies of the bark or the root system, or maybe the color until that artist’s painting called your attention to the detail.  Suddenly, you are seeing that tree in an entirely different way. Could that painting not be called imaginative, if it has spurred a new look at an otherwise mundane subject?   Did it not require an artist’s imagination to see something in that tree that may have otherwise not been seen?

The work of the non-fiction writer, likewise, requires the imagination and originality of the author as much as the writer of fiction.  There are few constraints on the fiction writer, who is free to go in any direction. But the writer of non-fiction must find a new and different way of saying what has already been said. Otherwise why read it? The same is true of the realist artist.  If the subject does not give a new look at an old subject, why look?  The non-fiction artist, like the non-fiction writer, reveals a way of seeing a subject that has not been seen before. To paraphrase the opening quote, “All has not been seen and never will be.”  It takes imagination to see that.


Note: This topic was inspired by a comment conversation with Margaret Rose Stringer, author of And Then Like my Dreams.  Click on the links for a wonderful book and blog!


The Artist’s Portfolio Magazine is featuring an exhibit of “non-fiction art” by Carla Nano.  Follow the link to Nano’s beautiful work.


Imitating Imagination


“Don’t play what’s there.  Play what’s not there.” Miles Davis (from The Painter’s Keys)


Definitions and claimants to the dominion of imagination abound.  Everybody wants to claim imagination.  Has the word lost its meaning?  Who really understands what imagination is all about?  Everywhere you turn someone or something is called “Imagination” from cruise ships to engine companies to everything in-between. If everyone is claiming to be imagination this and imagination that, what has become of the real thing?

The definition from Merriam-Webster for imagination is: “the ability to imagine things not real; the ability to form a picture in your mind of something you have not seen or experienced; the ability to think of new things; something that only exists or happens in your mind.” It seems difficult to put that definition on a cruise ship or an engine company.  Overuse dilutes the intensity of the imagination into something rather tepid, almost boring.  With so many out there hanging the imagination name-tag out, how can real imagination be heard of felt?

All that imagination chatter becomes deafening and stifles the real thing. The imagination bird must be set free from within. That bird has to be able to fly above the chattering crowd, to soar high above it all.  Real imagination is new and different, definitely not part of the crowd.  Real imagination blooms in a dry desert.  It sails on a windless sea.  It belongs to the realm of things not real, not seen before, never experienced. It soars through the places only seen in the mind.  Real imagination belongs to those with the courage to set it free. Real imagination has no name-tag because it has no name.  Everything else is just imitation.