How often has this happened to you?
You are flipping through an art magazine, or a National Geographic, or looking on Flickr, and you come across a photograph that is so great that you can’t wait to pull out your pencils and spend a relaxing afternoon making art using that inspiring photograph.
Hold on a minute! Put down that Prismacolor! Drop the Derwent!
Whose photograph is it?
I know, I know…why does it matter? You’re just going to do a little sketching, and it’s such an inspiring photo, and who’s going to notice? All you are going to do is spend a nice afternoon doodling…
That’s fine. You certainly can use the photograph to practice. It’s a perfect tool for that. Using a photograph lets you take as much time as you need because you don’t have to be concerned with a model moving or growing tired. You don’t have to worry about a still life set-up being eaten by folks who might stop by to watch you draw.
Here’s the deal…
What if all your hard work practicing making art all comes together in this one piece of art? The shadows are just right, the perspective is spot on, the orange looks like an orange. You are so proud of it, and rightly so. It’s a real work of art!
Your result is so grand that you want to show it at the next gallery show, and maybe make and sell some prints of it to kick off your art career. Your drawing is a winner and you know it. You can almost see the red “sold” dots at the gallery, and hear the cha-ching of the money rolling in…
Wait a minute. Go back to the question, “Whose photograph is it?”
I don’t want to say this, but better you hear it from me than from the copyright lawyer that represents the photographer, or the artist whose winning painting in the arts magazine you used for practice.
Here’s my little warning lecture, and then you can get back to your drawing…
If you make a great piece of art from someone elses photograph, without permission, you can’t ever sell it. Period. Really.
And you don’t want to risk selling it in the hope that you won’t get caught. Caught happens.
It doesn’t matter that you drew the piece of art. You did not take the photo. You would be “infringing the copyrights” of the photographer. That sounds so technical, but think of “infringing” to be exactly like you opening that photographers wallet and taking out a few bucks without him knowing.
I am certain that I will get disagreement on this subject, and rightly so, because there are all sorts of copyright loopholes and precedents that allow for derivative works, collage, percent of use, public domain, fair use, expiration of copyrights, limited permission, the artist is dead, etc. etc. etc., and that’s just under US copyright law, but if you were to take one of my photographs off of my Flickr photostream, draw a picture of it without getting my express permission to use it for your own personal gain, and sell it in your online store, or at the local art fair and make money from it, I would have to hunt you down with my lawyer in tow (he’s got a cute little briefcase full of documents, and he wears a bowtie) and extract my money from your wallet.
You could of course ask permission from the photographer. You might get a “yes”, and if you were serious about wanting to reproduce and sell the art you make from the photograph, you and the photographer could reach an agreement about you paying him a flat fee for use, or a percentage of sales for the privilege. That would be called a licensing agreement.
Can you never use a photograph to draw from? Are you destined to have to worry about the model having an itchy nose, or the apple being too tempting?
Not at all. Here is what you can do…
Buy a camera, and take your own pictures! Then you can use your own photographs to make works of art to your ‘arts content.
And you won’t ever have to meet my guy with the bowtie.