It’s Rough Being A Little Fish


Hello, imposter syndrome, my old friend.  It’s been a while since you came around – I guess I’m overdue for a dose of self-doubt.  Nothing personal, I just wish you would go away.  And stay there. 


It’s been a disappointing few days.  First I got my hopes up, then I had them dashed.  One right after the other.  Now I’m starting a long slog on the interminable project: art curriculum.  Multiple people have encouraged me to make this into something I can sell on Teachers Pay Teachers, and I’m trying.  But as I knew would happen, I ran smack into the brick wall of copyright protection.


Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m an artist.  I’m in love with copyright protection because it’s (supposed) to keep people from blatantly ripping my stuff off and running away with it.  In practice it’s less helpful unless you’re up for a lovely court battle with an idiot who may have more money than you.  So there’s that.


Why do I need to deal with copyright?

My curriculum is set up with an artist or technique to learn about, samples of their work, questions (and answers) to talk about, and the nitty-gritty details of how to do the project.  My focus on fun and engaging art means that many of the artists I link to are current or their art is still under copyright protection.

In order for me to include the artwork, I have to first get permission from literally hundreds of artists.


But what about Fair Use?

Fair Use is a tricky principle, but in general it does not apply to commercial stuff.  And selling my things on TpT is commercial, despite it being an academic curriculum.  Academics get a little more freedom for Fair Use but not in this case.  So if I want to do a unit on Jackson Pollock, for example (and I am/was) then I need permission to include the images in my curriculum.  Specific, written permission, or risk having my store shut down while I get sued.


The process of asking for permission is annoying

I decided to use Pollock as my test case.  He was a very famous artist, his work is still under copyright protection, and I could get a good idea of the standard costs – a little on the high end – that I could expect to pay.  The problem is that it’s slightly difficult to pinpoint who and where to ask!  Some detective work and voila!  I found the right people.

One standard submission letter with the pertinent details later, and I was done.

They asked for PDF mockups before they made a decision.  But they also told me the prices for different sizes.  And when I read it, my heart sank.

I requested permission for 3 images, the smallest size possible, and the smallest print run (amount of copies reproduced) that I could.  Their reply?  $36 for each image.  At that rate I might as well burn the curriculum than try to finish it.

So I told them no.  Thank you, but that’s impossible.  And because that’s impossible, I’m going to have to leave Pollock out of this curriculum for elementary aged kids and they will not learn about his work.  End of story.  You killed the little guy, kaput! 


Imposter syndrome snuck back in

Who was I to think that it was a good idea to ask?   My little piddly curriculum: no big publisher will ever publish it, no one but a few other educators will use it, and very few kids will even learn much anyway.  Why am I bothering?  Why am I putting so much time and effort into something that isn’t worth it in the long run?

I’m a little fish in a big pond, I’ll always be a little fish.


The little fish keeps on swimming

I’m not quitting.  Imposter syndrome or no, I’m going to finish this darned curriculum because that’s what I do.  I don’t like leaving projects hanging, and I’ve talked enough about this mess that I need to finish.  It’s going to need reworking to pull out stuff, it’s going to take a slew of letters to the lesser known artists asking for permissions, and it’s going to take more time.  The one thing I don’t ever have – time.

Imposter syndrome would have me quit, frustrated and upset that I cannot make this work.  Imposter syndrome says I’m not good enough, not talented enough, not “right” enough to get this project finished.


Bleh.  I’m a little fish, and I’m ok with that.  Who wants to be a shark anyway?  Go away imposter syndrome, I have work to do.










  1. For my curriculum Writing Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, I ran into the same problem. Most publishing houses wanted incredible amounts of money for me to give them free publicity by quoting from their writers………I found a few famous writers who personally gave me permission (Dean Koontz!!!) and one publishing house that wanted to encourage me and gave me blanket permission (Marcher Lord Press, now known as Enclave). But outside of those few and some public domain works, the rest of the over 130 people I quoted from were self-published writers I had to find (first quotable work and then) the authors one by one.


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