A lot of artists fail to realize that it’s unethical, and sometimes even illegal, to use any image you find online to draw from or create your art. Hi, my name is Carrie, and today on Artist Strong I want to talk about the ethical use of photo references, and how you can really use them to help enhance your art.
The safest choice you can make when it comes to photo references and working from them, is to only work from photographs that you have permission to use.
This could be from photographs that you’ve taken, photographs that you have written permission to use, or photographs that you find on royalty free websites. Let’s get into a little bit further.
Obviously if you take a photograph, you have a right to use it. You’ve created it. Photography is it’s own art form, right? A lot of people who take photographs may want to sell prints of their photographs, or get their photographs licensed in some way.
When you take the photograph you have full rights to that image, you get to use it. You don’t have to worry about manipulating it to a certain extent to make it your own. You can keep it as close to the original image as you like, because again, you took that photo.
If you’d like to use a photograph that you haven’t personally taken, ask permission.
You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to say yes. Send an email, ask someone, “May I use your image as a photo reference for my artwork?” Lots of people are going to say yes.
I recommend that you get this in writing even for friends or family. It’s just an added precaution to make sure that should your artwork ever become super famous, no one else tries to take any legal action against you to say that they should benefit financially also from that famous work of yours.
The last area that I encourage you to look into are royalty free images.
There’s websites full of royalty free imagery. They’re like libraries of all kinds of photographs that artists have openly given permission for people to use.
There is a website called Pixabay that I recommend, and another one that I encourage you to look at is Morguefile, I’ll be sure that both are linked below this video. It’s a great way to work from imagery, especially if you want to keep to the original image, and it’s very clearly going to references the original artwork. Royalty free imagery is a great way to then practice and then work from photographs like that, because you don’t have to worry about changing your image.
I want to be clear here, you can work from other images, even ones you don’t per say have permission to use. However, there’s a gray area around how much you have to change and manipulate the image reference to make it your own art. Where is the line between someone else’s original artwork and when it becomes your original artwork informed by that image? This is a gray area, and obviously I’m not a lawyer, if you really have concerns around this, I encourage you to consult an IP lawyer to have this discussion. There are safe ways to avoid having to deal with this and that’s what I am trying to offer you today.
I share this in part because I’ve been witness to a lot of artists online working from photo references without permission of the artists who took the photographs, and then actively trying to sell that artwork later. This is not only unethical but it could lead to legal issues in your future even if you are accidentally making this choice. I hope today’s video helps you make more informed decisions on using photo references for your art.
I want to show you a way to work with photo reference that helps you be inspired by the work, but really deviate from the original photograph, and still express your own unique voice. I have a new version of the Southbrush Sessions, it’s a free 10 day challenge. In this challenge I give you prompts, including a starting photograph to work from. It’s to guide you to create your own unique artwork that reflects your unique style and voice.
Sign up below, there’s a button underneath the video that you can click on to join me in this free challenge.
Today, Be Artist Strong: Share some advice that you have on working from photo reference in the comments below. Why don’t you tell me if you have a royalty free website that has really helped you with some of the art that you make. Share it with us and let’s create a resource for everyone to learn and grow. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time.
This came at the MOST PERFECT time for me since I had been having conversations about this recently on Artist Groups. Thank you so much for taking the time to write about this topic 🙂 there is a great deal of opinions and mis-understanding out there~
You are most welcome Tracey. I thought so too. I hope it helps more artists make good decisions for their art!
I hope so as well~ thank you so much am enjoying reading your articles 🙂
Is there a basic “template” that you might suggest artists use for this?If so please share~
What do you mean “template?”
I was sort of referring to a common /standard letter that many artists might use when seeking permission to use their work as a resource in the event that the works become sold to licensing agents et.,
Hi Tracey. I’d keep it simple. Email them with I love your piece entitled. Or THIS photo and describe it. Then tell them you are inspired to create an artwork based on the image and seek their permission. Then save that email response!
I’m glad you are enjoying my content. Welcome to Artist Strong!
I work with promoting Small Businesses and have an artist now interested in painting some local buildings and buildings on college (private) campuses for retail sale. Recommendations?
S/he needs to work from her own images, or from images s/he has permission to use.
I found a website with thousands of free photos to use as reference photos. Stockvault.net
Thanks for sharing Melanie! I’m sure it will help a lot of artists <3
What about just using images found on google, for instance, just for practice with still life and other skill practice. I hunted through my house and don’t have anything cone-shaped. I ended up just making one out of paper, but google had so many fun cone shapes. I’m not going to try to sell this stuff, it’s just practice. Is there a protocol for using the images of others for practice?
Practice work can truly come from any image. If you have no plans on selling go for it! Find the images that are fun for you.
My advice is: realize that while you may use royalty free photos, you are generally prevented from using art made from RF images in competition.
Another great site for photos is pmp-art.
I win competitions with artwork with photo references that are royalty free. That’s how I have my solo show. I applied for the opportunity to be exhibited and it was accepted. One of the works was also a finalist for a competition hosted by Bombay Sapphire.
It’s important to read the show restrictions. I have yet to read through any for my medium that do not carefully spell out that ALL the artwork, including the photo reference, should originate with the artist. YMMV, of course.
There is a difference between using a photo reference and copying a photograph (especially one you didn’t arrange the composition and lighting for). Almost no show I know of would celebrate copying someone else’s photograph. Your experience suggests to me copying is an issue in your medium that’s led to that kind of outlining of expectation. Thanks for sharing!
I recently started drawing again after decades. I started by drawing characters from a friend’s book. At the time it didn’t even occur to me, but now I’m concerned about any liability to her if she displays them on her social media or website. I did not sell them, and neither did she, but I want to let her know if it’s going to be an issue for her. Obviously, going forward I know better, but I don’t want her to suffer in any way. They are not exact copies, mind, but poses are the same in a couple of them. Thank you!
You can draw from any images really, the problem is when (1) people take credit for the works when they are clearly derivative of another artist’s work and (2) when they try to profit from those images.
I’m not a lawyer so I suggest you refer to one of you are really worried. I can only speak from my experience.