B.Y.O.B {Q&A} Sharyn Sowell

tell us a bit about yourself : name, business, profession, years in business, etc. (describe your style and medium), website, blog. I'm Sharyn Sowell, and when I cleaned my studio last week I discovered samples from my first licensing deal... ten years ago!

My mediums have changed over the years as I've enjoyed exploring and realized that change is essential to survival. I am convinced that for me, following trends is impossible so I don't even try. I am a horrible imitation of someone else but fairly good at just being me, so I work hard every day to be the best me I can be. I adore form and shape, and am known for my silhouettes. But I also work in letterpress printing, calligraphy and photography, and am experimenting with watercolor and blending inks and paints.

My website is www.sharynsowell.com and I blog at www.sharynsowellartblog.blogspot.com. I perpetually feel that my website is out of date and awful but wearing all the hats to run one's business alone seems to mean that there is never enough time to do it all and my website is one of the areas I need to work harder at (surely I am not alone in this!)

I remember when I was just start and I met a very gifted older man who was an architect by profession and a fabulous oil painter as well. When he asked to see my work I cringed. I'd always felt I was a poor excuse for an artist, that I could design jewelry "but nothing else, because I'm not really very good." This gentleman looked at my work and said, "You can really draw! Oh yes, you have a unique look at the world, you have found your own special style." And I was shocked! Flattered. I almost floated home, to tell my husband, "I can draw! He said I have my own style!" I went to work with renewed vigor and launched my business the next spring.

This man had given me the gift of the seed of confidence. I try to pass it on to younger artists. The ability to draw, and to find your own individual voice is so important. I know other artists who say they can "be" anyone, can emulate any style. I am glad I can't do that, thankful that I am only able to be me. It can be hard to be different sometimes and it can be a lonely path, but I am coming to see that being only yourself and becoming comfortable in your own skin and content to be who you are is a wonderful blessing.
have you ever been copied (your work, art, ideas?) I've been copied so many times. Two stand out. Once when I walked into a major store (I won't name names for legal reasons) in early December and saw a mashup of designs a paper products manufacturer had left with them for consideration in a planogram... My work was remixed and hanging as the main display and on product all over the store. I was literally sick and had to leave the store. My attorney said I couldn't fight it because I had no receipt for the exact work that was left since the manufacturer didn't ask for one when it was left, and that the legal bills would be staggering and pointless, since this huge corporation has very deep pockets and I do not. Needless to say I don't shop that store. Ever.

Another time I was at the Atlanta January show and a client told me there was someone in the temporaries whose work resembled mine. It not only resembled mine, it WAS mine. It was a small wholesaler. I confronted her, she admitted she knew it was my work but since I live in the Pacific Northwest she didn't expect me to show up in Atlanta. "And anyway," she told me, "I didn't steal your work. I was just borrowing your pictures."

I was shocked at how angry I felt. I've been copied before but this time I was face to face with the person who did it and she showed no remorse. I told her to hand me three pieces NOW, which I would send to my attorney. When she told me it was hers, I said it's not a problem. I whipped out my cell phone and began to call the police. I told her we'd let them sort it out, since there was product upstairs with the same images on it. The lady handed me the samples, we were both shaking visibly, and I sent her a cease and desist letter. I've kept track of her since but she has not copied my images again.

how did it make you feel? Angry. Sad. Frustrated. But I am reminded of a comment a cop made to me years ago when I was ripped off at a street fair. "At least you were not the thief," he told me. "You'll leave at the end of the day with your integrity intact, you'll sleep well tonight, and you will get past this. The person who stole from you gained only something they thought they wanted. They threw away their integrity and no matter how hard they try to justify it to themselves, somewhere deep down they still feel dirty and ashamed. Whether they admit it or not they know they did something wrong today." He was right. Someone can steal your idea or your design, but we don't have to become victims. We can do our best to defend ourselves, but then it's important to move on and not become a bitter and angry person. We can choose to live each new day with joy and creativity, not looking back.
what did you do about it? See above

do you feel "copying" is black and white... or is there gray area?
(like copying ONE of something just for yourself vs. a manufacturer copying an item and mass marketing?) It's just wrong. Once you allow yourself to go down that slippery slope you've lost your own unique vision. I avoid looking at anyone's work if I feel it might migrate into my own. I just don't want to go there. Others have to decide for themselves but for me there is no gray area.

what is your creative outlet? I'm addicted to sketching, photography and letterpress printing. I am mad over anything paper and ink and nibs. Scissors make my fingers itch. Besides art I love gardening, hiking, reading and baking. And I can never get enough of spending time with small groups of friends.

how/from who/ where do you seek inspiration? My garden, neighbors, and family are inspiring to me. I also work for cruise ship companies as artist on board a few times a year so I get to travel, and that is endlessly inspiring. I also wake up in the night with ideas, which I sketch on a little pad with a stubby pencil. I draw in the dark, a fact my husband finds amusing!

why do you thing "copying" is bad? Besides hurting someone else, besides the fact that stealing is wrong, it also completely silences your own creativity and ruins your self esteem.

what do you think could be done to eliminate copying? (realistically or otherwise!)
I believe it is becoming more rampant because people are accustomed to snatching stuff so freely from the internet that IP seems far less someone's property than it was in the past. People seem to believe that they are entitled to everything for free. Those who would be horrified at the idea of stealing something rip off images without a thought. They don't recognise that it's theft.
One first step would be for visual artists to do what the music industry did a few years back when they made a big stink about music being downloaded without compensation or authorization. It's a difficult task but I think we could go a long way by finding out how the music industry conquered the issue. At least it would be a start.

please define, in your words the concept of - "inspired by vs. copied from"
Inspired by... If I see something that makes me think of a twist that is completely different I have not stolen. I saw a leaf with a particular cast of green and I went into the studio and created a piece with a similar green. That's inspiration. I saw a relief panel in Florence that made me think I could do something similar with my silhouettes. That's also inspiration. Copying...If I see someone else's work and try to make a piece like it, I have become a thief.

define what "original" means to you. Original to me means being myself, doing the hard work of discovering my own style and valuing myself enough to be satisfied with my own best. It means growing into better and better work and appreciating others. Original means that God made me, me and you, you. And we accept that instead of wanting what we see in someone else.

do you have a favorite inspirational/motivational/ creative quote or mantra?
I collect quotes so choosing only one is like picking a favorite chocolate,
which we all know is impossible. But here are a couple of my faves:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.- Calvin Coolidge

I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply all my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy. - Og Mandino

Alice Laughed, "There's no use in trying", she said. "One Can't believe in Impossible Things!"
"I dare say you haven't had much practice", said the Queen."When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as Six impossible things before breakfast!" - Lewis Carroll


  1. Thank you for allowing me to participate, Shelly. I love it that you affirm each person's individuality at the same time you encourage us to never sink into the temptation to copy. Thank you for being a gift to the whole artist community.