Recently, I made a digital birthday card on Canva for a friend.
The dog sketch was created by manipulating a photo I found with an image search and then using that manipulation for a drawing. It was almost a tracing but the real life dog I was trying to depict looked a little different, so it was not an exact tracing. It is still clearly taken from the photo. I reached out to the photographer on Instagram and asked permission to use the drawing commercially. I am not sure I will, but I was thinking about it. She was nice enough to agree. Here is the beautiful original photo by Emily Rieman:
There has been increased discussions on Tik-Tok and other platforms about artists stealing images and/or ideas for Etsy or other websites. Some of it is legalistic and obvious. Some of it is not. Posting a homemade Mickey Mouse necklace may get you and/or your item banned from the selling platform. There are some companies that do not seem to mind “fan art”. Without permission, that seems a bit risky to me. It takes a great deal of time and effort to create some of these pieces. To invest that much in something, not knowing if your inbox will be stuffed with a letter threatening legal action, is too much for me.
To be clear 1) I am not trying to parse out legal definitions for copyright and I am not giving any sort of legal advice. This is more of an artist ethics discussion. Please add your thoughts in the comments. 2) Getting inspired by another artist is not what I am referring to in this post. Watching what other people are doing on social media and the internet is amazing. I may watch an intriguing approach or color combination that sparks a train of thought that leads to an idea for a new project. That is different than copying their work. 3) Experimenting and playing with techniques and ideas that other people use is a great way to practice. Can you draw something like that other guy drew? Give it a try! It is great practice, but it is not appropriate to then sell that image.
One area of ownership that I had not initially considered was using names in descriptions or tags. I mentioned Oprah one time in a description. Teespring pulled that listing down in seconds. A couple of sites would not let me publish something that had a tag of “COVID”. I have one design that brushed on a couple of these ideas:
This is from a spray paint vs acrylic pour video I did last year. The anvil stencil I used was made by finding an anvil that was for sale, manipulating the photo, tracing, and then cutting. There were multiple product photos with the same silhouette and the end product does not come close to what a sales listing would look like. I watch the show “Forged in Fire“. Rarely have I been able to write the name of the show on the same page as the art. I knew that it would not be okay to try to use the show’s name to get exposure for the video or to sell the art. I may have # them on IG and Twitter, but not on YT (YouTube) or POD (print on demand) sites.
Confession time: While thinking about this post, I pulled down a couple of designs that leaned on learn to draw type images. I manipulated the drawings and turned them into my own creation, but not enough for me to be comfortable continuing to use them commercially. The Easter Bunny I pulled because of the pose. It was a unique pose among the images I searched through. The second one I just warped around and stretched out a little. I just tried to find it in Google images and was not able. Maybe it has been taken down, or maybe I do not recognize the original reference anymore. Right click search found nothing for the nose and rose and only fish for the gold one. I originally drew the rose for a breathing exercise illustration not to sell. So I slid into that mistake before I realized.
I do not remember her name, but one Tik-Tok artist stated that it is best to take your own reference photo. (Another made a good point that using someone’s personal image without their permission is wrong.) That would be best practice, in my opinion. I would broaden it a little and say to create your own reference. If I paint an image of what another artist created, it would seem appropriate to try to contact that artist. I have created references by cut and pasting different images into one. Think of it as cutting hair out of one magazine, eyes from another, adjusting the shape and form of each individual bit, and then manipulating the final image into something even more different. Is that an acceptable reference?
One area I need to get a bit better at is researching an idea before I roll with it. A saying or phrase may pop into my head and I think it is unique and clever. I may have forgotten or never seen that someone else has made it a whole thing. Researching before I create would save some time. I guess that is part of why I love to do abstract art. No detailed references are needed. It becomes more about color, texture and mood. Driving around and watching the world is my jam.
Where do you draw the line? Has anyone ever copied you? Have you ever been called out for copying a piece/idea?