The difference between a hobbyist and artist - an ethical philosophy

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Blog entry by David Craig posted 06-14-2010 10:23 PM 2186 reads 0 times favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Good afternoon all – just some observations from an ethical perspective of a topic that seems to spark debate from time to time. The subject in question is the sanctity of one’s work and the ethical treatment of a public posting of such work.

Here at LJs, we have a community attitude towards woodworking. We all share ideas, techniques, designs, indulge in problem solving and that open attitude will occasionally cause some friction. In my mind, I see this as misunderstanding between the mindset of the hobbyist and the mindset of the artist.

I am a hobbyist. I create things that appeal to me (which is a feat in itself) but know that my work will never end up in a museum, art gallery, or make the woodworking books. I am good with this. If, by some miracle, I make up a design that has mass public appeal and others want to use it as is or modify to their own liking, I would not be any prouder. My blogging of a project often is not for the purpose of educating or pulling someone in to my craftsmanship but to show others more skilled than I am what is going through my head and encourage you folks to respond to either verify that I am progressing to the proper mindset of a woodworker or whether I am off the deep end and someone will toss me a rope and save me from myself :)


There are others here that are artists. True artists in every aspect of the word. They perfect technique, they agonize over design, they push themselves to go beyond, not just what they could accomplish before, but what anyone has accomplished before. And here is where design can be a sensitive thing and not to be used lightly.

And here is the rub. Legally, if one posts, they do put it in the public domain. And one can argue that once it is out there, the work is no longer just owned by the poster but also the community. That argument is logically sound but ethically wrong. When I see the postings of such artists as degoose, patron, martyn, autumn, I feel as if I am getting a sneak peak in the mind of a Sam Maloof, a Vincent Van Gogh, or a Pablo Picasso (who incidentally bragged about stealing ideas …). What I don’t want to do is rock the boat by taking over advantage of the step by step snapshots and steal the thunder from these special individuals.

But, I can understand how a hobbyist can misinterpret these postings as a tutorial or a step by step instructional to create the same design.

So here is what I propose. If one is working out the details on a project that has not yet gone to fruition, maybe we can add verbage to the working title such as “work in progress” that can be understand by all to mean that this is documented studio time and not a tutorial for the hobbyist. I am sure misunderstandings are not completely avoidable, but we all do respect the work and try our best not to infringe. Establishing a consistent verbage detailing original work that is part of our lumberjock vocab might help at least keep our community a little more free of faux pas’ that might stifle the free creativity we enjoy here.

Your thoughts?


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

28 comments so far

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4030 days

#1 posted 06-14-2010 11:08 PM

I guess i don’t mind someone copying something i’ve designed. If it were to happen to somehow turn into a big windfall for them (like a successful production run)....Then i’d have a problem. Because thats like someone finding gold on my property. They simply found it on my intellectual property.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Derek Lyons's profile

Derek Lyons

584 posts in 3592 days

#2 posted 06-14-2010 11:13 PM

“Legally, if one posts, they do put it in the public domain.”

Wrong. The one and only legal way to place anything under copyright into the public domain is to explicitly do so or if the terms of use of the site specifically state that anything so posted is placed into the public domain. The law is very carefully crafted to prevent accidental release.

“But, I can understand how a hobbyist can misinterpret these postings as a tutorial or a step by step instructional to create the same design.”

By posting on a community site dedicated to sharing woodworking skills and lore, that’s pretty much the only possible interpretation. It’s like posting a recipe on a baking site dedicated to sharing recipies – someone is going to make a cake based on the recipe and only a fool would believe otherwise. (And I should note that recipes cannot be copyrighted… Only specific arrangements of words can be copyrighted.)

There’s no ethical dilemma and no need for any verbiage. This is a site whose culture is built around sharing, and publicly posting indicates a de facto agreement and willingness to share. The ones with an ethical problem are not those who abide by this openly understood social contract, but rather are the ones that insist they are special and should not be bound by the standards they agreed to abide by or the ones who promise to abide by those standards while holding a hand with crossed fingers behind their back.

-- Derek, Bremerton WA --

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3139 days

#3 posted 06-14-2010 11:23 PM

I can´t follow you the hole way and second you
I do agree with you that if some one post a blog serie on how to do
that L J (or on ohter sides ) share there knowledge to all of us
witch is so great (it´s the only way many of us can make progress in the
learning curve.
if we want to copy that work (we have to start a place if we want to try new things)
and we realy like the piece of work in the toturial I can´t see whats wrong
to make one for your self or as a present
after all you don´t compet with the other woodworker/artist
and I think it´s a big kudos to those who has shared there knowledge and used
there valueble time to document it
but one thing chuold be considered is to say clearly if and when people posted
there copy/twisted work is where and who had inspired them
even if it´s not the original they got inspired from
excample : I get inspired from Patron who was inspired from you but you was inspired
by Topamax and so on
who do you have to thank for the original piece if you havn´t seen/not knowing it
after all we are realy a lot of members on this site
one other thing I agree with you is if it is a brand new idea serie at least others
shuold hold there copy back until the hole toturialserie is finished anything ells
wuold not be polite
another tought wuold be that people post the finished peice first and then come
with the how to serie ( can be tricky if you want some feedback and ideas to help you)

just my to sent hope the point come across
take care

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3060 days

#4 posted 06-14-2010 11:27 PM


I just do what I do with what I’ve got, like everyone else. Some acheive more, some less but we all try.

My own perspective is that I like to have a crack at my own idea first. I also like to give; help, ideas, inspiration if thats what you find in what I do. Once I’ve finished making my project, if I’ve published it, then anyone else is welcome to go over it, interpret it, re-hash it in their own style to their hearts content.

I have blogged work in progress and I guess this is where the problem comes in. To be fair to all I think I will publish completed work first, in future, with a blog after the event, if its wanted, to avoid any confusion.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3008 days

#5 posted 06-14-2010 11:33 PM

David, I can relate with you in that, I’m a hobbyist and create things that appeal to me or have a need for. Yes I get ideas from others work and in most cases those ideas end up in a totally different project from the ideas origin. I rarely use plans for my projects, so if I do use plans I’m generally using 2 or 3 different plans to accomplish what I want to make. So if there are plans on the market to be had for free it gives me the right to use those ideas. Popular woodworking and other magazines don’t publish plans that are protected for free. I do understand that there are those that create their own designs for the purpose to profit from their artistic ability and skill. So rightfully their work should be protected. I enjoy seeing the many talented and skilled craftspersons work here and could never come close to their talent and skill level to even try to duplicate their work. It would be a shame if an artist couldn’t be allowed to show their progress with the rest of us who enjoy showing their progress on a project. Its a sad day when the artist/designer can’t enjoy the same privileges as anyone else. Like you David I would be plum flabbergasted if someone thought my idea was worth copying but then I’m a hobbyist and not an artist. I feel for those who need to protect their work before they can share it with the rest of us who enjoy their ability.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View rhett's profile


742 posts in 3691 days

#6 posted 06-14-2010 11:34 PM

Just doing WW for a hobby makes your work no less “art” than any other item made. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and after spending many years and dollars recieving a Masters degree in Art,”piece of paper”, I have basically come to realized that if you call it art than that is what it is.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4030 days

#7 posted 06-14-2010 11:39 PM

I forgot who said “An artist is not a certain kind of man, but every man is a certain kind of artist”.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Jordan's profile


1400 posts in 3149 days

#8 posted 06-15-2010 12:24 AM

The way I feel about it is if someone can copy what I do, then perhaps they are an artist anyways, and once they are inspired by what they’ve accomplished, possibly they’ll come up with their own ideas. Personally, I wouldn’t have a clear conscience putting my name on a project that I copied to a T.
Good topic to ponder though.


View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3010 days

#9 posted 06-15-2010 12:29 AM

The only way to ensure nobody ever copies your work in any manner is to never show it to anybody :)

And even then – quite a few things in history have been invented by different people, at roughly the same time with no possible communication overlap, on different parts of the globe.

I’ve been an artist my entire life – and have long since learned to focus on my work – and not worry what other people are doing.

(Disclaimer: Taking my actual work and claiming they did it is another story. I’m talking about people making the same thing I did.)

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Abbott's profile


2570 posts in 3328 days

#10 posted 06-15-2010 12:29 AM

I’ve noticed that many of the folks who claim to be “artists” whine a lot, hobbyists and professionals seem to keep on working without the whine.

-- Ohh mann...pancakes and boobies...I'll bet that's what Heaven is like! ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

View mtnwild's profile


3474 posts in 3551 days

#11 posted 06-15-2010 01:06 AM

I decided a long time ago to do what I do and move on. If someone copies, it’s a copy. Nothing else will ever be the original. My work included. Most things are a variation on other ideas or inspirations. Some of my pieces I feel are fairly original but I’m sure I’ve been influenced somewhere along the line. That’s cool, we should put our own spin on an idea. It’s all good….............

-- mtnwild (Jack), It's not what you see, it's how you see it.

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9231 posts in 2944 days

#12 posted 06-15-2010 01:17 AM

I had an incident happen recently where I showed a new design online. It was completed (I had made a pattern that I started selling) and there is a series of similar designs that it belongs to – different designs with a similar concept.

So a designer friend of mine sees this and even comments on my photo “I wish I had come up with this – what a great idea” And two months later all of a sudden that designer had almost the same design on their site. I felt really bad and a couple of our mutual friends even pointed it out to me privately – it was my design first.

I stewed about it for a day or so and was debating whether to call the other person on it. It kind of made me angry and it was quite distracting to me. I was even thinking about it before I would go to sleep and it was keeping me up.

And then I thought “So what”. I had other ideas. I liked MY version of it better. Some liked hers better and some liked mine better. I decided to take the high road and not let it ruin a friendship. I have a notebook of ideas that I can’t even find time to make and this one little thing wouldn’t make or break me.

I have been just as friendly to them since and I feel better for it. As I said, the design was already on the market on my site. I can’t hide them if I want to sell them. I agree with Lis. Focusing on my own work and myself was the better path. One of my favorite people told me a great saying – “We follow where we focus” I want to focus on the positive things in my life, not worry about what everyone around me is doing. It makes me happy and in my world happy = productive. :)

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3898 days

#13 posted 06-15-2010 02:10 AM

I guess I consider myself an artist by your definition. I post detailed progress photo blogs along with every major project I build because I love discussing and sharing what I do with other people who are interested. Thats the whole reason I’m here. I wish more people would do the same thing because I enjoy seeing how others work and think.

I’m not worried about anybody “copying” my work. For example, I am currently working on my Credenza project. Even if they like the overall design enough to mass produce it, it would never be the same quality as my one-off original version.

If you are worried about getting ripped off don’t post it. It doesn’t matter what the laws say, there’s almost no enforcement anyway and you would need pretty deep pockets to try to sue someone (assuming they are even in the same country)

-- Happy woodworking!

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2539 posts in 3981 days

#14 posted 06-15-2010 02:36 AM

Weather it’s art you created for the heck of it, or somebody paid you to do design work its never a good feeling to be plagiarized. When I think of plagiarism, to me it means somebody copied your design, idea, creation, exactly as you did it and is claiming it to be their own. I see lots of cool things on this site….with out a doubt inspiration is one of the great things about LJ’s. But INSPIRATION isn’t plagiarism…I almost always change the design some way..and not to just make a tiny change to say “it’s not the same”.... I mean an organically, “I like some things about this but I want to do it this way” kind of thing. Like Blake and Lis both said, if you are that worried about getting ripped off then don’t post or blog, especially with details on how you build something. I personally love blogs where people take tons of pictures and go into motivates me to see something being done…makes me want to try it myself..sorta takes the mystery out of things…..that would be a big loss for this site.


View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3133 days

#15 posted 06-15-2010 02:43 AM

Thanks to most of you, the concept of sharing ideas that intermingle what we do is what this place is all about. I apologize if anyone felt put on the pedestal. I respect and admire the work but don’t have any hidden shrines around the house devoted to anyone :) No one was “whining” except for myself and none of the folks I mentioned consider themselves any more “special” than anyone else. My comments were geared more towards the difference between sharing techniques and concepts and the grabbing of an original idea when it is in the works. Even in type I am prone to misspeak, communication is an art that I have not yet perfected. I often joke to myself that I need an English/English dictionary :)

What I won’t apologize for is the sharing of my thoughts in a manner that is neither insulting nor in an accusatory manner. If names were mentioned, it was only in terms of respect and the only “hobbyist” I mentioned was myself. How you view yourself is open to your own interpretation.

I have always appreciated intelligent debate. It is the only way one can learn and grow as a human being. I can be swayed by good argument and tend to ignore overly aggressive retort. I also enjoy watching a project unfold and I like to watch people work. When I go over to Mike’s house (jockmike2) I could watch that man turn and fix growing cracks in turnings all day. This was my thought line on what can be done to encourage people to continue developing their concept in a public format with a public agreement that those projects are hands off. Human nature, unfortunately, does kick in and that is something we have to live with in every society.

At any rate, thanks for the comments and “real life” scenarios that were shared and the input from those that have to deal with this on a more frequent basis than myself.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

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