Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Artist Cindi Oldham: an interview about art and imitation

2014 . 07 . 01 - Comments / Commentaires (14)

A few weeks ago, after receiving a lovely email from Cindi Oldham as part of my pay-what-you-will contest, I visited her website. While there, I was struck by the similarities not only in our painting style, but also in the layout and content of our homes on the Web.

Gwenn Seemel and Cindi Oldham

screenshots of Gwenn Seemel’s gallery page and Cindi Oldham’s gallery page

Our sites resemble each other in many ways: the style of handwriting for the titles on each page, the rollover images on the gallery page, the price list for commissions, and much of the explanatory text throughout the site. Cindi’s first blog post mirrors this vlog of mine down to the opening sentence. And she also recently released a collection of portraits that, together, are meant to be a composite definition of a particular concept, which is how I describe my series as well. I’d never seen the presentation of my art reflected so comprehensively before, and, as with any imitation, it provided perspective on how my expression is perceived by others.

Gwenn Seemel and Cindi Oldham

screenshots of Gwenn Seemel’s price list page and Cindi Oldham’s price list page

I was already learning from what I had seen, but Cindi had still more useful feedback for me. When I asked her if she’d be interested in doing an interview for my blog, she admitted she was a little uneasy about it. She felt that I’d been confrontational in a recent blog post about another artist whose style is influenced by mine. In it, I reveal the fears I experience despite how courageous I can be by putting my art into the public domain, but, to Cindi, my disclosure came across less as being open or vulnerable and more as contradicting the copy-happy stance I embraced in my TEDx talk last April. Her reaction helped me to understand my role—both the one I’ve cast myself in and the one that others have assigned me—as a leader in the free culture movement.

I’m grateful for all of Cindi’s feedback and for her willingness to answer my questions, especially in light of her discomfort.

Cindi Oldham artist

Cindi Oldham’s Caroline 2012

Gwenn: You’ve told me that recently you’ve stopped striving toward traditional realism and that the change has been freeing. Why were you drawn to realism to begin with? What is freeing about the change?

Cindi: Not stopped.  I said that I was giving myself permission not to be so “tight” with it.  I’ve always been impressed by artists who could render something that I thought was a photo until told otherwise, I strived to accomplish that with my own art for years, but it became really limiting and there is little room for creativity there.  Loosening my grip on that feels very liberating.

Gwenn Seemel and Cindi Oldham

Gwenn Seemel’s Madeleine 2005 and Cindi Oldham’s Self-portrait 2014
(For more of my work from 2005, go here.)

Gwenn: You say in your bio: “My work is influenced by artists who have in the past, or are now expanding the definition of realism, in subject matter and/or technique.” Who are they?

Cindi: I’ve had many over the years.  Contemporary influences include Ann Kullberg, Daniel Greene, Paul McCormack, Richard Schmid, Nancy Guzik, you, and many more.  Anne paints realistic portraits in colored pencil, Daniel Greene paints realistic portraits in pastel, and Paul McCormack paints hyper realistic oil and watercolor portraits.  Richard Schmid paints portraits as well as still life and landscapes, and he was and still is a big inspiration for me.  I’ve always loved how he throws in random dots and splatters of contrasting color in an otherwise drab area of his paintings.  I also love how he strategically leaves things out.  The little random bits he throws in here and there just just a thrill to me!  It’s like finding a bunch of goodies in the painting.  You, like Schmid include those seemingly random bits of paint and color in otherwise bland parts of the painting and background that I love so much, but you take it a step further.  You add cross hatching to yours, as well as random geometric shapes.  I love adding bits of what looks like arbitrary color to my portrait work (goodies), and I have played around with painting the geometric shapes that I see on people’s faces.  However,  since I can’t completely let go of my drive toward realism, I don’t care for using crosshatching in my work. That strays too far out of my comfort zone.

Last but not least, I’ve also recently been inspired by the mixed media artists who contributed to the Soul Food class.  I’ve incorporated some of the techniques they teach such as using a Gelli plate to make some of my portrait backgrounds, and I’m really pleased with the results!

Gwenn: From what you write, it’s clear that you appreciate these artists’ contribution to your own practice. Is there a reason why you choose to not name these artists on your site?

Cindi: I didn’t name every artist that has influenced me because I was trying to keep my bio page short and sweet.

Gwenn Seemel and Cindi Oldham

Gwenn Seemel’s Michael 2006 and Cindi Oldham’s Chris 2014
(For more of my work from 2006, go here.)

Gwenn: How has imitating other artists’ work opened doors for you?

Cindi: I love get ideas from the all the artists I meet and talk to.  When I see a technique that is intriguing, I try to learn it, and incorporate it into my own work.  It keeps my work always evolving and never stagnant.

Gwenn: How would you describe the differences between your style and mine? Between your style and the styles of other artists who influenced you?

Cindi: The differences between my style and yours as I mentioned above is that I’m doing a balancing act with my ever present drive toward realism, and my desire to let go of that.  I push myself to go outside my comfort zone and add spots, splatters and shapes to my work, but I don’t do all the intense mark making (cross hatching) that you do in your portrait work.  The difference between mine Ann Kullberg’s, Daniel Greene’s, Paul McCormack’s and Richard Schmid’s work is they are traditional realists.  Lastly the differences between my work and the work of the artists who made instructional videos in Soul food, is that a lot of them work in mixed media.

Gwenn Seemel and Cindi Oldham

Gwenn Seemel’s Oliver 2013 and Cindi Oldham’s Gia 2013
(To learn about the making of Oliver, go here.)

Gwenn: Have you ever been copied? If so, how?

Cindi: Not that I remember, or am aware of.

Gwenn: Do you see your website as an expression of who you are? Or is it more a vehicle for marketing your art?

Cindi: It’s really a vehicle for marketing my art at the moment.  I’ve spent the last couple years taking some classes and learning to code the whole thing myself, so it’s still a work of progress.  I’ve recently attached a word press blog, so I hope it can also become more of an expression of who I am as I begin to write blog posts more often.

Gwenn Seemel and Cindi Oldham

Gwenn Seemel’s Katie 2008 and Cindi Oldham’s Marty 2014
(To learn about the making of Katie, go here.)

Gwenn: You put a smiley face at the bottom of each page of your site where many artists put a copyright symbol. What do you mean to communicate with the smiley face? What are your views on copyright?

Cindi: Your blog posts and Ted Talk have convinced me to rethink copyright altogether.  I copied the smiley that you have on your site because it communicates openness rather than fear.

Gwenn: I heartily agree that openness is much nicer than fear! That said, I’m still not clear on your views with regards to your own work. Do you put your art in the public domain?

Cindi: I haven’t done anything formal to put my work into the public domain, (if there is a formal process) but yes, in response the the excesses of the copyright laws, I’m totally on board with this new paradigm!

Gwenn Seemel and Cindi Oldham

Gwenn Seemel’s Chris 2009 and Cindi Oldham’s Joe 2013
(To learn about the making of Chris, go here.)

Gwenn: How do you define originality?

Cindi: I would agree with those that say there is no such thing as something completely original, and that we all owe a debt to those that came before!

Cindi Oldham artist

Cindi Oldham’s Kelly and Rylee 2013

For more information about the Soul Food classes which Cindi refers to, go here. I taught about drawing with markers for 2014 series of workshops, and Cindi was a Soul Food participant.

With regard to the question of putting one’s work formally into the public domain, there are two easy ways to do so. Communicating in a straightforward and obvious manner that the work is free is one way, and using a CC0 license is another way. For more about the various Creative Commons licenses and why artists should be using them whether or not they put their work in the public domain, go here.

- Citing sources as an artist / Citer ses sources en tant qu’artiste
- How my style evolved
- The subtleties of copyright: an interview with Paul Kinsella

CATEGORIES: - English - TOP POSTS - Featuring artists - Interviews - Philosophy - Uncopyright -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

(14) Comments / Commentaires: Artist Cindi Oldham: an interview about art and imitation

-- Libby Fife -- 2014 . 07 . 01 --


A very good interview!

If I haven’t said this already you are a very brave soul. It takes a lot of personal strength I think to withstand the imitation of your art-putting your art out there and weathering whatever comes of that process. Rock on, my friend!


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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 07 . 01 --

Thank you, Libby! I appreciate this comment and all of your comments so much. You feed me!

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-- Kate Powell -- 2014 . 07 . 01 --

That was a good interview.  I think this must have been hard for her.  I don’t think to put the artists who have influenced me, especially if it is some small thing I’ve taken away, but perhaps I should at least put their blogs up on my blog page—I always tell them when I appreciate their contribution.  (As in, my imitating your sketching style to loosen up and drop the pencil altogether . . . )

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-- Dave E. -- 2014 . 07 . 01 --

This is such an important issue and I am glad that you are writing about it and that your admirer squared her shoulders and did this interview with you. She is a modern young person (just guessing) and she doesn’t see anything wrong with looking to you for inspiration. But, she is on a slippery slope, however, with how closely she is matching you. It looks like plagiarism to “less evolved” types (translation: general public!) and she would be smart to take less shortcuts and stop emulating you so closely. This is just common sense. It LOOKS like she is ripping you off even though you are cool with it. People just generally don’t like this sort of thing. She has plenty of talent and ability…time for her to use it to express herself instead of Gwenn Seemel. My opinion. Thanks for listening.

Oh, one more thing. She makes a good point about how you come across a little conflicted on the whole issue. On the one hand, you applaud her…on the other…well….this post does seem to shame her. Or is that just how I am taking it?

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 07 . 01 --

I think this conversation is really about transparency. Is it wrong to celebrate or even simply point out when others imitate you? Is it instead for those others to give credit to you when they feel it’s deserved? Whose transparency is appropriate and whose is not?

In the end, I don’t think everyone has to always publicly thank every artist who inspires them. There’s no way to enforce that and I don’t think it would make for a very healthy culture either. That said, when people do behave transparently, it does show confidence and a willingness to engage with sometimes difficult issues. So while transparency shouldn’t be required, I do think it’s worth setting out there as a goal.

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-- Kate Powell -- 2014 . 07 . 01 --

Hi Dave,

I disagree that her work is matching styles/plagiarizing; I see it as influenced by—and if art critics stood before works of ours, many would see the influences of our teachers and favorite artists.  Artists and architects shoudl know that there is nothing much new under the sun!  Gwenn’s is much more intricately stylized, and Cindi’s is much more realistic. 

I don’t hear shaming or anything denigrating in the interview.  I imagine it is hard to know someone is imitating you to some extent.  I know I felt conflicted the first time someone wanted to try making one of my horses.  She was a student and she meant nothing by it—and btw, I think in many ways we all “plagiarize” some when learning; as long as we are not selling the work I think that is okay.  Artists sit and “reproduce” the masters in museums . . . my opinion, only,


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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 07 . 01 --

This conversation is obviously also about perspective! It’s fascinating how the same work reads as more or less influenced depending on the audience. Makes me love humans! smile

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-- cati breil -- 2014 . 07 . 06 --

salut Gwenn,
pour ma part, je trouve “légitime” que tu pointes le fait d’inspirer une autre artiste, je trouve normal en tant qu’artiste et surtout une artiste “entrepreneurial” comme toi, de faire le job pour que la transparence dont tu parles soit apportée, cela va avec tout le travail que tu fais pour promouvoir ton art…mais je pense aussi que cela te coûte beaucoup d’énergie et que cela nuit un peu à ta vision sur la culture libre. Dans la mesure où tu es une source d’inspiration aussi pour cette idée et ce combat pour la culture libre, je te vois + comme un esprit libre courant comme le vent que comme une artiste sentinelle ! cela me donne la sensation que tu ne te libères pas totalement sur ce sujet de l’imitation. En même temps je sais que cela est toujours ta manière d’avancer + profondément dans ta voie, alors je te comprends. Mais je n’aime pas cette sensation quand-même ! voilà ce que c’est d’être leader !!! on attend toujours + de toi !!! get what I mean dear ?!!!! big kisses from France where you’re beloved.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 07 . 09 --

J’évolue toujours devant un public—c’est peut-être ça être leader. Si j’avais à refaire, il est possible que je ne ferais pas cette interview. Ceci dit, je trouve le geste de l’interview très utile et intéressant. La faire mieux la prochaine fois ou ne pas la faire? On verra! Bises, Cati!

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-- cati breil -- 2014 . 07 . 10 --

tu as fait ce que tu devais faire, dans tous les cas j’admire toujours ton courage, car il en faut pour aborder une telle interview. C’est assez paradoxal comme point de vue mais compte tenu de ta timidité et de ton humilité, je pense que même en te sentant légitime, il fallait bien de l’audace pour “y aller”. Mais en fait tu as raison de parler de perspective, et cela implique la représentation de mon propre ressenti dans cette situation : comment moi je me serais sentie dans cette situation….cela crie directement MON manque de confiance en moi…alors…chut…de toutes façons tu restes leader dans mon coeur !!! bises +++. Cati.

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-- Anika Starmer -- 2014 . 11 . 13 --

Hi Gwen, wow, what a great post! I recently had someone copy a particular piece of mine. She did not credit me in any way, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I left a friendly comment for her in the hopes of starting a conversation, and she chose to delete it. I’m very encouraging of people taking inspiration from me, but I just find it a nice courtesy (not to mention community building) to to give credit where it’s due. So yes, I agree that this is a conversation about transparency, and from my perspective I’d rather over credit than under credit. It just feels kind of creepy to me to see something that was so obviously sourced from me being shown as someone else’s original idea. But then again, I start to wonder if that feeling is justified. So, I guess I’m still feeling pretty ambivalent, but I’m glad to know that there are others who are thinking about this topic as well!

Also from the comments you posed the question: “Is it wrong to celebrate or even simply point out when others imitate you?” I wondered about this same thing! Without being able to engage in a discussion with her, I considered sharing her drawing with my online community. However, that didn’t feel quite right either, especially since my goal wasn’t to shame her in any way, so in the end I chose not to mention it publicly. This might be an issue where there is no one right answer, but instead one just has to navigate it in the way that feels right for them.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 11 . 13 --

I’m glad you shared your story here, Anika. I think that it’s nice to give credit where credit is due and also that it’s important to start talking about imitation like reasonable adults since we all do it!

I just had a conversation with the student artist featured in this post. She wrote me to tell me that she felt I was being unkind in my representation of her and that I should have spoken with her before I published an article about her work. I told her that I thought I was being the opposite of unkind, but that I was willing to remedy the second bit and do an interview with her on my blog about her art, my article, and how artists influence each other. When I offered her this forum to speak her mind, suddenly she was too busy to talk about all this.

I think her reaction is similar to the one of the artist who’s looking at your work. There’s a real fear of having the influence pointed out and then also of having genuine exchanges about it. It’s too bad, and, while you’re right that each case is going to be different, I do think it’s important to keep talking about it. It’s the only way we’re going to get past the awkwardness and the fear.

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-- Anika Starmer -- 2014 . 11 . 14 --

Thanks for your thoughtful response! I must say that I’m so happy you wrote about this topic. It’s really had me thinking about it again from a slightly different angle. I don’t think I’ll directly try to dialogue with the girl who copied me, but I can imagine handling similar situations (if it ever comes up) a little differently in the future and not be so timid or unsure about talking about it!

Also just wanted to mention that I read the post that you linked to, and I must say I don’t think you painted her in a bad light at all. My main reaction was just completely being intrigued by the story and wanting to know more about both artists!

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-- Kate Powell -- 2014 . 11 . 14 --

I know right now this topic has comments on two threads.  I’ve been thinking about artists feeling defensive when this topic is discussed.  It may be deeply ingrained thoughts that what they are doing (being “influenced” by antoehr artist) is so wrong.  To quote Tommy Kane (paraphrasing) “Steel from your favorite artists, try very hard to copy them, and probably you will fall short unless you are some sort of copycat guru, but in the meantime you will be developing who you are.”

Everybody copies somebody, nothing new, ever evolving.  It’s how we work it out and I owuld love to see more credit given to the influencers!

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