Are Artists Cheating With Technology?



I had interesting conversations with two friends during the past week. In the first conversation, one friend said some of the art quilters she knew were dead set against using “techie” helpers (even things like Thermofax screens) for making art. Essentially, the argument was we (those of us embracing a new tool) were somehow cheating with technology.

Fast forward to my second conversation at lunch on Tuesday. I related this idea to Jane and she just had a good laugh. Her take was this: “Is it cheating to use a dishwasher? Is it cheating to use a cell phone? If a tool is available to make a step less painful, then use it!”

[Tweet “Technology and Art: Is it progress or cheating?”]



Refracted Plaid, Shelly Stokes, 2002

I have this quilt called Refracted Plaid hanging in my studio. I finished it in 2002, long before the current batch of “techie” tools was available. But even then, I used an opaque projector (the technology of the time) to take a very small image of the chunky spiral and blow it up into a larger image.



Refracted Plaid, detail

I cut a smaller size of the spiral from freezer paper and used the stencils to add the image to the border of the quilt with Paintstik colors. Even with the help of the opaque projector, this “resizing” effort was a lot of work.

As I looked at the quilt a few days ago, I wondered how quickly I could create this spiral using the Silhouette Studio software. Here is the sequence of steps I followed:



Cropped image in the Silhouette Studio software

First, I took a photo with my cell phone and sent it over to my computer. Then I cropped the photo of the and dragged it into the Silhouette Studio software. (Technology helpers: Cell phone camera, photo sharing, photo editing program, Silhouette Studio)



Image set to 50% transparency

Next, I set the image to be about 50% transparent to make it a little less bold.



Image traced with freehand drawing tool

Using one of the freehand drawing tools, I followed the outline of the chunky spiral to create a closed shape.



Photo removed and image filled with color

Once the shape was complete, I discarded the original photo and added a fill color to the shape.

The entire process, from taking the photo to having a useable shape in Silhouette Studio took about 15 minutes. (If this is cheating, I’m guilty as charged!)



Section of 6-inch border created with Silhouette Studio

And you know what? The drawing is just the beginning. Using the Silhouette Studio software, I was able to make copies, mirror images, resize and rotate the shapes in ways that I would never have tackled if I were drawing and cutting the stencils one at a time.


So, are we cheating with technology?

I’ll be the first to say that everyone should create their art in a way that makes them happy. I’m also a believer in learning to do things according to “the rules” before striking off on my own path. (Those “rules” got there for a reason, and there is often great wisdom to be gained by learning traditional methods.)

But, are we cheating with technology? Not in my world. Just as we have embraced dishwashers, refrigerators, washers and dryers in our households, we can take advantage of the high-tech helpers available to artists today.

You can draw and cut stencils by hand if you wish, but I’m keeping my Silhouette Cameo. I’ll save my hands for painting, embroidery and beading. I’m more than happy to do those things by hand – the old fashioned way.

[Tweet “Cut stencils by hand if you wish. I’ll keep my Silhouette Cameo.”]

Your Turn

What’s your take on this “cheating with technology” idea? Do you love new tools or hate them? Do you feel like you’re cheating when you use them?

Leave a comment below. I’m not sure why this topic got so stuck in my mind, and I’m really curious to know what you think about it. Thanks!


Are artists cheating with technology? A few thoughts on integrating the latest tools by fiber artist Shelly Stokes.


  1. Janice Skene on June 30, 2016 at 10:39 am

    I love the new technolgy. I can create more in less time. I can do projects that I would not have previously attempted. Technology makes me more creative. There is the same discussion about hand or machine quilting . I say do what you love and love what you do. I probably would not quilt if I had to do it all by hand.

    • ShellyStokes on June 30, 2016 at 11:31 am

      Well said, Janice. There are parts of the process that I prefer to do by hand. Cutting stencils is not one of them. I put 70-80 hours into cutting the large stencils for my last big project, and I don’t think the “cut by hand” added any artistic value to the finished work.

  2. Laura Murray on June 30, 2016 at 10:45 am

    It never occurred to me that use of technology might be viewed as “cheating” in the world of fabric art! I do recall quite a lot of controversy when Caryl Bryert’s Fallert’s quilt won Best of Show at Paducah more than 20 years ago because some felt machine quilting was somehow not a valid form of quilting (when compared to quilting by hand). I thought we had moved way beyond such thinking.

    I will also pass one of my favorite quotes, gleaned from a Caryl Bryert Fallert workshop: “There no points for tediosity…… use the most quickest and most direct method available to reach your objectives.” Words that I try to live by.

    • ShellyStokes on June 30, 2016 at 11:32 am

      My thoughts exactly, Laura. My first thought was that we were back at the argument over hand quilting v. machine quilting. I think we can move on…

  3. Peggi Barrett on June 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

    I have quite a few “family” quilts, not sure if they were made by my great-grandmother, great-aunts, gramdmother, or a family friend. Some are 100+ years old. They were quilted by hand, some were pieced by hand……but when they had access to one, they used a sewing machine. That was pretty “high tech” on a farm in Kansas at that time! They thought of themselves as “progressive”, and quite modern. What we think of as “techie” today will be considered “old-fashioned” in a few years. I can hardly wait to see what’s coming!!

    • ShellyStokes on June 30, 2016 at 11:34 am

      Good point, Peggi. The sewing machines that we take for granted were “high tech” for those who came before us. I’m all in favor of embracing the tools that technology makes available to us.

  4. Marilyn Turner on June 30, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    I’ve been using a computer to design quilts since the early 90’s when the first version of Electric Quilt came on the market. I use EQ 6, CorelDraw, Silhouette Cameo, and anything I can find on the internet or Pinterest that fills a need or saves time. I’m in my mid-seventies and there’s not a lot of time left to use up my stash so anything that saves time is a bonus!

    • ShellyStokes on July 5, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      Good for you, Marilyn. I love that so many of our older community members are such savvy computer users. And you’re right… time’s a wasting!

  5. Carol Sweetapple on June 30, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Our world is now computerised and it can be a scary place but if you are not willing to keep up, for whatever reason, you WILL get left behind! It is hard work for some of us to keep on learning but my philosophy is, if you don’t learn something new each day, try harder the next. If our ancestors did not have the same attitude, we would still be living in caves. Every, and all quilts ever made are all artworks!

    • ShellyStokes on July 5, 2016 at 7:20 pm

      It is definitely a challenge to keep up, Carol. Even for those of us who grew up in the computer age. (Computer Science was just becoming a trending field when I went into college.)

      To me, it’s all art. Made completely by hand, or made with the help of today’s marvelous tools. If it’s color, texture and form on fabric, I’m a happy camper!

  6. Caroline on June 30, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Surely it depends on what the technology is used for? Painters have been using and arguing about gadgets like the Camera Lucida for centuries, so in one sense the computer is simply just another tool if it makes it easier to express your vision. However many do feel that technology can go too far, and if you want a handmade quilt, you mean hand-made, not produced completely by a computer from selecting the pattern to enhancing it using all the different add-ons in the various bits of soft-ware that control the sewing machine. There are a lot of steps in between those extremes where technology can save time and and help in decision making and handle the drudgery. Its a bit like the computerised weaving loom making Harris Tweed, almost the last of the handwoven commercial fabrics that is produced in quantity: is the tweed still made by hand? There will always be purists, but in the end its how comfortable we feel with what we are doing. Technology can take the hard work out of the creative process, but it can never be a substitute for vision and inspiration and while that may be difficult to define, I think most of us recognise that when we see it in the finished product.

    • ShellyStokes on July 5, 2016 at 7:27 pm

      Well said, Caroline. I agree that technology can be a huge help, but can also go too far. I’m happy to see that the major quilt shows are setting entry/judging categories to match the methods used. There will always be a place for totally “hand made,” and a hand pieced, hand quilted peice should not be judged against one that is machine pieced and quilted on a computer-driven long-arm machine. They are simply two completely different works.

      For my personal work, it’s important to me that I am the source of the design. There are some steps that are immensely easier if I use some of today’s tools. There are other steps I will always do by hand. But that’s what works for me. It’s up to each of us to find the right balance.

  7. Patty Adams on June 30, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    The “old masters” oil painters made their paint out of the elements — today’s painters use oils prepared for them by enormous factories. Will that make the current beautiful and extraordinary art less valuable in the future? I don’t think so. Hand quilting used to be the only option, now many quilts are quilted by machine — both methods are wonderful art forms. I think using new technology is not only a good choice, I think it is a wise one providing the user enjoys it! After all, most of us use our creative side for personal growth and enjoyment.

    • ShellyStokes on July 5, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      You’re so right, Patty. This is essentially a rehash of an age-old argument. (It will probably continue until we humans manage to remove ourselves from the earth.)

      I think you hit the key point at the end of your comment. The new tools are a good choice “provided that we enjoy using them.” Amen. If it makes you happy, go for it. If it adds more pain than gain, pass right on by.

  8. Janice martin on June 30, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    It’s a beautiful Quilt. This spiral shape would be a great one to use to use up a lot of those “what was thinking” fat quarters I’ve bought over the years. Fuse them to black fabric, zigzag the edges in varigated threads, and it’s a great quilt. I’m all for technology and making it as easy as possible until I get an intern!

    • ShellyStokes on July 5, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      Thanks, Janice. I really enjoyed making this quilt. It was certainly some of my best work from a technical perspective.

      Love your thought about the intern… When you find some, line one up for me, will you?

  9. Margaret Price on June 30, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    Love all the new technology, just wish I could understand it better, to make better use of it

    • ShellyStokes on July 5, 2016 at 7:35 pm

      Ah, that’s the big challenge, Margaret. With each new tool, especially the “techie” tools, there is a learning curve. My tendency is to get frustrated if I don’t “get it” right away. I am not the most patient person in the world. Unless I make a conscious decision to invest the time and effort into learning how something works, I’ll most likely set it aside and regret my purchase. (I’ve got a pile of those around the studio…)

  10. Judy McElwee on July 2, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    I certainly think all the new technology is wonderful! I am married to a now retired Engineer in a fabric manufacturer. One is his responsibilities were to do “time studies,” on the machine operators. His favorite quote was “why work hard when you can think smart.” And what he meant by that was using computerized equipment in the factories instead of the way grandma did. I say go with the easier methods which are usually more accurate and save those hands as you said. Love your refracted plaid hanging.

    • ShellyStokes on July 5, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Thanks, Judy. I’m rather partial to that quilt.

      Your husband undoubtedly saw a lot of changes over the course of his career. I’ve never been to a fabric manufacturing plant. I would love to see one some day. But I expect they look nothing like they did 25 or 50 years ago. More technology, faster turns, shorter runs. Things have changed a lot.

  11. Irene MacWilliam on July 9, 2016 at 7:42 am

    When sewing machines were available , initially on Higher Purchase I wonder did people say that it was not right to use it for quiltmaking. Of course in those days people were not making quilts as objects to be displayed on walls. I remember the furor when machine quilted pieces began to win awards. I am often intrigued to know when using something new it moves over to become tradition?

    • ShellyStokes on July 12, 2016 at 11:26 am

      You’re right, Irene. When the technology leap is in the “utility” side of our lives, we don’t hear this type of question. Few of us are going to voluntarily give up our sewing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators or vacuum cleaners! I find it curious that we have these “arguments” when technology leaps affect the things we perceive as art.

  12. Patty on July 9, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    I love the juxtaposition of art where the grunt work is done by machines and computers, and the beautiful detail design is done by our own brain and hands. We are fortunate to live in a time when we have so many choices. For me, learning anything new, or old keeps my brain active. I love the quote by Ray Croc, “When you are green you are growing, when you are ripe, you rot,”

    • ShellyStokes on July 12, 2016 at 11:28 am

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, Patty. A big part of my fascination with the Silhouette machine is that it is a learning adventure every time I try something new. I NEED things in my life that force me to learn new things.

      Love the quote, by the way. Very appropriate.