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Copying Another Engraver's Work

"imitataion is the sincerest form of flattery" so it is said. While this might be true, few professional engravers are flattered when their designs are copied. While being inspired by another's work is certainly ok, designing jobs that are difficult to tell from someone else's is considerd a breach of etiquette in the engravers world. While it might be painfully obvious that the copied work is not cut nearly as well as the original, small photos in magazines or online can make it confusing and difficult to detect.

An exception to this might be certain production western or jewelry patterns as styles have changed little over the past decades. Scrollwork, however, is as unique as a person's handwriting. Experienced collectors and engravers can recognize another's work quickly by it's characteristic style. A classic example of this would be the scrollwork engraved by Lynton McKenzie. Lynton's scrolls were basic but bold, and beautifully cut. Many engravers (including me) began their careers engraving 'McKenzie scrolls' because they were easier to draw than more complex patterns, looked good, and were certainly easier to cut. Over the years, McKenzie scrolls have been engraved by several engravers on a variety of guns and knives, and many were published in magazines. In nearly all cases the work wasn't as good as Lynton's, but was impossible to detect in small photos. Engravers were copying and selling a style which took him years to develop, and he was angered and frustrated by it. He was not the least bit flattered. Most engravers' styles eventually evolve into a unique style that is their own, while borrowing ideas and influence from others. It is when there is nothing of themselves in their engravings that the practice is frowned upon, and respect by peers and customers is lost.

It should be mentioned that copying another's work on practice plates is one thing, and selling someone else's identifying style is another. Few beginners are prepared to draw designs, so they copy the work of those they admire. This helps them learn by working out the sequence and direction of cuts. When it's time to graduate from practice plates to real-world engraving jobs, the engraver should be prepared to abandon the copying and lay out his or her own designs. If he or she chooses not to, there are plenty of copyright-free pattern books available.

Rod Cameron is a internationally renowned flute maker and engraver who has taken the time to share his thoughts on copying the work of others. Thank you Rod!

"......I consider my engraving skill level to be not much better than beginner. I am full of confidence that my skills will improve rapidly, having discovered excellent teaching courses to enroll in, and forums like this, and others, that offer plenty of friendly hints and tips to beginners. Used wisely, what a rich vein the internet can offer in this age, to encourage us to keep following our dreams!

My main job is making woodwind musical instruments in the style of the 18th century. These wood-bodied instruments have silver and gold key work and rings that were engraved from time to time, and I like the possibility of offering engraved keywork as an option to players of my old-style flutes. By the way, in the area of the modern silver flute, beautifully engraved custom instruments have long been offered to the player.

I started in flutes from square one, at about age 36, and developed my own approach to historical flute making, but I started by calling upon skills I had developed myself as a young boy, and later added to during a seven year toolmaker's apprenticeship with Rolls Royce in
Scotland. Being an old timer, I would be at a loss in a modern computerized tool room, but I feel comfortable around hand operated lathes and mills, and working with hammers and chisels. If you look at an old woodwind instrument, it looks a bit like a candle stick with some keys stuck on. Candle sticks are turned on a lathe, I like working on the lathe, so I set to, developing my own approach. It turns out that my approach is not vastly different from other makers, but it is my own approach, and it was self generated.

I started into working with tools in the freezing back steps of our small family house in Glasgow, Scotland, using scrap and anything I could pick up for free. My first powered lathe was made, at the age of 13, out of a discarded orange box, and an old vacuum cleaner motor. The pulley wheels for the countershaft were made by melting down aluminum scrap in my mother's coal fire in the kitchen, using old juice cans for the melting crucible, and blowing up the heat of the fire with bellows while my mother beseeched me to be mindful of
the danger. I chose various diameter juice cans, and let the aluminum cool down to solidify within the can, while sitting on the floor flagstones. Later, I opened the cans up with a can opener, and pulled out the resulting aluminum disc, all ready for turning into a Vee- belt pulleywheel!

What I loved about my mother was that she would call upon the saints in heaven to stop me before I killed some one, but she herself never stopped me. Something in her recognized that a young lad with a passion to explore should be given some slack to experiment .... but not necessarily in his mother's kitchen fire!

So at age fifteen, having run away from school, I brought a kind of self-starting instinct to my first day of the Rolls Royce apprenticeship, and with it a passion for solving problems that has never left me. Quite frankly the Rolls Royce apprenticeship was not what it might have been, but I stuck with it. I came away from the apprenticeship with some basic skills in the use of toolmaker/ machinist techniques. I used those skills and others I acquired along the way to assist me to shoot for my own star in life.

This preamble makes a point that I want to tie into learning to engraving, in this instance. I could have walked across the road and set about using the information I had acquired, to manufacture my own equivalent of Rolls Royce engines. After all, why not? I had more or
less looked over the shoulder of a Company highly skilled in this product. Well, Rolls Royce and other companies were way ahead of me in 'why not'. In their case, if I were to do this, I would end up in jail for copying something that the company had put a huge amount of
effort in developing, whereas all I had done was look over their shoulder at what had been developed by others.

On the other hand, Rolls Royce had no problem with me moving on eventually, taking with me basic skills and principles that had been honed with them, and applying those skills to some other endeavor out- with their domain, and freely chosen as a new area to apply my
passions and interests.

I have thought about this distinction over the years, particularly during my last thirty three years making flutes. Listening recently to a group of master engravers discuss the subject of 'copying the work of others' brought home to me a recent interchange when a talented friend told me he was copying my flutes. I have no problem with anyone taking up wood flute making based upon originals from bygone eras. I advise them that it is much more fun to try it on your own, and that there are temptations that must be avoided if you are
working close to an experienced maker. Being shown the best way to go about a certain task is a double edged sword. You will learn that technique quickly, but you may loose out on the adventure of exploring the meadow and finding your own path. There will be a temptation to adopt the style and character of the master with the risk of actually delaying your own self expression. Let me hasten to add that this is not cast in stone. There are many examples that prove me wrong here. Think of some great father-and-son examples that we know of, where a young person was taught the craft, and went on to do great, independent, and distinctive work with their own unique character. Ideally we want to develop our skills, and eventually develop our own style. I welcome hints and tips from others as I struggle to get some mastery at tool point, and I want to study the designs of others and try practice plates to see if I can better understand the how they have gone about laying out a design. This gives me the opportunity to sharpen my understanding and sensitivity to what good work takes to accomplish a unique piece. There are temptations when we work close to a master, or even in this day and age, when we can examine remotely the results of other peoples' creations so generously put before us via the internet. Ideally such opportunities can be used as a springboard to shoot for your own star of self expression. The flip side of that is the temptation to tuck under the shadow of your master's style, end up settling for the safe landing strip, and the heck with self expression.

So what is going to be your path? What is the best way to learn. There is no firm answer to that. By all accounts, the artistry out there shows us that there are stunning examples of truly original works in engraving arts. Is it something to do with learning to draw first, and then thinking about learning to cut. I would not dream of trying to define what the creative process is. I haven't a clue. But I sense that it involves an element of risk, the possibility of
failure, a measure of courage, standing on thin ice, and feeling at home in the discomfort of that. Furthermore it appears to be something to do with a willingness to be forged on the anvil of life by direct experience. You see, I am already in big trouble here, making the mistake of trying to get a handle on this!

I would like to know from the experience of others, how it has been for them in gaining a foothold towards individual artistic expression. For those who had the good fortune to being close to a master, was there a temptation, even just a little, to start becoming a carbon copy, and if so what got them past that and out into orbit?

There is a lot of valuable contribution to be made by following in the footsteps of others and turning out very good work. What are your ambitions? We need those who wish to fly high, and those who wish to follow. The writer from Wales, Anne Lister, expresses it much better
than I, and without judgement, in her beautiful song, "Icarus"

I never wanted to fly high
I was too fond of walking
And when you said you'd touch the sky
I thought it was your way of talking
And then you said you'd build some wings
And find out how it could be done
But I was doubtful of everything
I never thought you'd reach the sun

You were so clever with your hands
I'd watch you for hours
With the glue and the rubber bands
Feathers and lace and flowers
And the finished wings they glowed so bright
Like some bird of glory
I began to envy you your flight
Like some old hero's story

You tried to get me to go with you
You tried always to dare me
But I looked at the sky so blue
I thought the height would scare me
But I carried your wings for you
Up the path to the cliff face
Kissed you goodbye and watched your eyes
Already bright with sunlight

Oh it was grand at the start
To watch you soaring higher
There was a pain deep in my heart
The wings seemed tipped with fire
Like a seagull or a lark
Rising up forever
Like some ember or some spark
Rising from earth to heaven

Then I believed you'd touch the sun
I believed all you told me
Do a thing no man has ever done
You'd touch the stars to please me
But then I saw the white wings fail
Then I saw the feathers falter
Watched you drop like a bowl of gold
Into the wide green water

Now some are born to fly high
And some are born to follow
Some are born to touch the sky
While some walk in the hollow
And as I watched your body fall
I knew that really you had won
For your grave was not the earth
But the reflection of the sun

So the purpose of this rambling personal story is to help make that distinction. I hope I can live up to what I have just written as I try to forward my craft in engraving, and apply it to my flutemaking. What a great gift it is to interact and be guided by so many friendly and skilled members of these forums!

Rod Cameron

Roderick Cameron
PO Box 438
10580 Williams Street
CA 95460, USA
Tel: 707 937 0412
cell: 707 813 7593

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