Kelly Kautz

The blog of Kelly Kautz, a copywriter and content strategist based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Steal Like a Fiber Artist

I visited the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival with my mom last Sunday in search of art batts. (For those of you not immersed in fiber arts, they’re colorful combinations of fibers used for spinning into yarn.)

Art Batt by Nikol Lohr,

Art Batt by Nikol Lohr,

I wanted to take a few photos of the Festival to share with my aunt, another fiber arts enthusiast. But navigating the baby’s stroller through the huge crowds took all my focus. When Mom stopped to watch the border collie demonstration, I seized my chance. I left the baby with her so I could explore the surrounding vendors and snap a few pics.

I Hit the Art Batt Jackpot

The first booth I entered had a whole wall of art batts, exactly the kind I’d been searching for all afternoon. Spools of brightly-colored hand-spun yarn filled another wall. And next to them, open bins of fibers for making your own art batts.

I wanted to grab as many as I could carry. I wanted to buy everything. I wanted to come home with the vendor and live in her studio as her new apprentice.

After selecting a few batts, I snapped a picture. That’s when I heard the vendor’s voice behind me.

I could have used a sign

“Are you taking photos?”

I turned and saw her glaring at me.

“Um, yes. Is that not allowed?” I’d been to fine art shows that prohibited photography, but they’d all had signs.

“What are you going to use it for?”

I searched my mind for a reason she might find acceptable. I didn’t want her to think that I was stealing her intellectual property. Or that my aunt was a corporate spy, sourcing ideas for some budget-rate yarn manufacturer in China. “I’m not sure. Maybe Instagram?”

Her face hardened. “No. Absolutely not. If I see that on Instagram I will be very upset.”

I swallowed. “I completely understand. I’ll delete it from my phone right now.”

“I’ve had enough of people stealing my work. It’s unbelievable. Just last month I taught a class on how to make rolags, and then I saw some woman online passing them off as her own. That’s why I never post any of my work online. And I will be very upset if I see that on Instagram.”

“You don’t sell online?” I asked, disappointed. I’d been hoping to check out her store and maybe buy a few more batts.

“No, I certainly don’t. I don’t do Facebook, I don’t blog. Too many thieves out there. That’s why I will be very upset if I see that on Instagram.”

I reminded her that I’d already deleted the photo from my phone. I paid for the two art batts I’d selected. I listened to another story about someone who’d stolen the vendor’s ideas. Then I left, feeling shitty.

Can inspiration be stolen?

Part of me couldn’t blame the woman. I’ve had my writing stolen countless times, and it always sends me into a fury. But no internet presence at all? Wasn’t she hurting her own business?

And how could she claim that they were her ideas in the first place? Had she never been inspired by someone else’s color scheme? Did her ideas just pop from her head like Athena from Zeus?

She wasn’t even selling completed works of art. She was selling yarn and fibers—the raw materials that other people use to make things. If I posted a photo of the yarn I’d spun from her batts, was she going to be angry?

I spent the ride home rehashing the conversation in my head. I wondered if I would be able to spin the art batts at all without feeling annoyed that she’d soured an otherwise lovely experience.  

ideas are everywhere

But you know what? The batts are beautiful. Her work is beautiful. And it will undoubtedly inspire a plethora of other works that are just as beautiful and just as unique, which will go on to inspire other ideas and other works. Because that is how art works. Some people will steal your ideas without remorse. But the more energy you devote to protecting your work, the less energy you’ll have to create.

I’ll be reminded of that every time I spin with her art batts. For that I’m thankful. And if you want to see photos of her booth, which truly is fantastic, you can find them at Elysa’s blog 222 Handspun, where there’s a collection of photos from 2014’s Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Perhaps someone should warn Elysa about never posting those photos to Instagram.

If you agree with these sentiments, you will love Austin Kleon, whose book title "Steal Like an Artist" I have stolen borrowed for this blog post.

How to Make Silhouette Studio Stencils from Photos

A few weeks ago I saw a stunning series of bird prints by Claudia Zill, and I wanted to try a similar technique using my Gelli® plate.

To do so, I needed bird stencils. So I made my own using JPEGs and Silhouette Studio software.

Making your own stencils, I've learned, is surprisingly easy if you have a little basic Photoshop knowledge.

Make Silhouette Files From Photos in Under 10 Minutes

1. First, find an image you want to use. I chose one of my mom's bird photos because it had a simple background and fell under a Creative Commons license.

2. Delete the background. You can do this by opening the image in Photoshop and using the Magic Wand tool or Eraser. I used both. I left the branch, but you could delete that too and trace the eraser around the blue jay's feet.

3. Make the image black and white. I did this by adding a Threshold adjustment layer (Image > Adjustments > Threshold ... ), then adjusting the Threshold Level under "Properties" until the bird was entirely black.

4. Save the image as a JPEG.

5. Open the black and white JPEG within the Silhouette Studio software. To do so, click File > Open. Then adjust the File Type in the bottom of the pop-up window to show JPEGs. Select your image, then resize it as you see fit.

6. Within the Silhouette Studio software, open the trace window. (It's the icon in the top-right toolbar that looks like a sandwich with blueberry jam.) Choose "Select Trace Area," and drag the selection area around your image. ThenIMPORTANT!uncheck "High Pass Filter" in the Trace Settings window, so the entire image appears in yellow.

6. Under "Apply Trace Method," select "Trace." Next, select and then delete the black image so you're left with nothing but a red outline. That's your stencil!

7. Save your stencil as a .studio file on your hard drive, or to your Silhouette file library. Then cut out your stencil!

Get MY Free Bird Stencils for the Silhouette

Download the blue jay and five other Silhouette bird stencils for your own art projects! These are all made from Creative Commons-licensed photos. Just click on this shared Dropbox link to see and download the .Studio files.

I'd love to see what you create!

Post-Thanksgiving Art Therapy & Abstract Landscape Collage

Pregnancy hormones. Seasonal affective disorder. Holiday blues. Depression.

I could attribute my mood to any number of things, but the fact remains: I've been feeling down. Thanksgiving wreaked havoc on our comfortable routine. My two-year-old fought me at every turn. He refused to eat and refused to nap, and by the end of the weekend the whole family felt irritable.

I excused myself during one of his tantrums to go cry in the car. It didn't help. I returned feeling worse than ever. We ate peanut butter and jelly and watched too much "Diego."

When Liam went to bed, I got out my art supplies. I'd enrolled in Ashley Goldberg's online class "Paint. Plan. Play" the week before and wanted to try her scraped paint technique. (It's simple: you just use a credit card to scrape acrylic paint across paper.)

I made about a dozen papers in all, using a mix of pink, mint green and navy blue. My mood brightened. The mental fog cleared. I felt restored.

I've always seen art as a means to an end. I'm making these papers to use in collage. I'm studying composition so I can make better artwork. I'm going to sell these one day.

But that night made me realize that the process is just as important as the product. Because that instant boost in mood meant so much to me. It meant: Maybe I am not spiraling into a lengthy depression. Maybe I am not the world's worst mother. Maybe I don't have to be the world's most talented artist to find joy in making art.

Every time I look at these papers, I feel that same joy. And I know that any time I need a lift in mood, I can break out the paints and make more.

The next night, I turned a few of my favorite painted papers into finished collages. Looking at them makes me happy, too.