maandag 26 oktober 2015

Art Theft; To do, or not to do?

Hey there!

As explained in the  introduction I have done art all my life up to this point and witnessed various people doing it as well. Naturally, I witnessed my own art grow and of those around me, but I wondered: ‘’Why can’t our work look like the pro’s or even just a little bit?’’  
The question stuck into my head and I didn’t pay much attention to it until I decided to take my art career more seriously. After graduating from High school I decided I wanted to go to Art school, to become a professional Illustrator. Since I did not have a (varied) portfolio, and almost no knowledge of the art world, I decided to take classes at an art atelier. 
The teacher was incredibly helpful, and what he noticed me doing when attempting to paint realistically, he simply said ‘’You are drawing out of your head, it is visible you have not looked at reference from the real world’’. 
At this point I realized, that most amateur and starting artists, including me at that time who aim to make ‘’good’’ art have the preconceived thought, that when we use reference in any way we are stealing,  we are a fraud and that we don’t have a professional attitude. Let me tell you that this is NOT the case.
While the comments of my art teacher at that time opened my eyes, they also created questions I am still hoping to solve. I did my best at solving some, even though I don’t have a great knowledge in law and copyright i hope most information I share with you will be correct as possible.

What does ‘’stealing art’’ really mean? 

‘’Stealing’’ art takes on many forms. Some are bad, and you would be surprised some aren’t! 

The most common known way of stealing art is when you take unique elements from one or more creative content and copying it in a direct or very obvious way, just like in this example what happened to Brom (See picture below). Doing this while making money out of it can get you in legal trouble. There is a certain guideline, which says you copy elements from art 100+ years (?) back without creating a fuss or being embarrassed about it, since it is outdated anyways.

Getting inspired by art

A lot of people have the misconceived idea that getting inspired by existing art or reality is stealing, and they try to come up with ideas all by themselves. The result was not what they had in mind initially and the artwork looks pretty bad. I will get in detail about reference using on the next post, but what i can tell you right now, is that artist from all centuries have used their previous colleagues as inspiration to learn from. They studied their predecessors, copied their work in the process, and eventually aimed to create a new, unique voice. 

 (Artist unknown. If this image is yours please let me know and i will credit you)

Get inspired, but watch out!

Learning from other artist is always good, however, one should find the balance between being influenced by a piece of art and copy-pasting a unique element without modifying it enough to make it uniquely yours. If you do this, it mostly looks unique enough for you to not get sued or anything, but would you want to be an artist that is just like that one great artist but just worse? Here is an example from 4 years ago. I took the upper image and used it as a reference for my own painting. It is unique enough, but for those who know the upper image it most probably will remind them INSTANTLY of the original piece. For study purposes this is a good thing to do like i did when i started out working harder, but do not, i repeat, do not do this with portfolio pieces, in this case you WILL be seen as a fraud most likely and it can be a stain to your reputation if you do this frequently, even though your intentions are not bad.

Top: Orrian Undead, Artist Unknown (I think it is Kekai Kotaki)
Bottom: Piece i made a few years back

For this purpose I recommend using reference images from the real world above using reference from current art directly, that way you have a greater chance of reinventing the wheel without becoming a copycat. Don't get me wrong, keep getting inspired by art that you like, just try to not use it as the backbone of your image.

Interpretations/Fan Art  

First i would like to address i am not an expert in this subject matter, and i have noticed it is very hard to find a precise guideline for the possibilities regarding Fan Art. Interpretation/Fan Art is when you copy a piece of an existing (creative) visual element directly in your painting but in a conceptual way. The ‘’theft’’ has become a part of your painting and thus you still managed to create a unique piece. When you do this you still have to mention the original source you interpreted the art piece from. When selling it you need to ask permission first obviously and most likely pay a fee per sold piece. Interpreting artwork from novels/text is different, because the visuals is entirely unique to your creation, and not on someone else' visual elements, thus you own the entire image.

                                                        Degenesis fanart by Dave Rapoza

Photos and Textures

A lot of digital artists, including me use photo textures these days in their artwork. When doing this, you have to ‘’destroy’’ the image enough so that it is not recognizable as the original photo (which can be copyrighted). When you are using a photo as the base of your image (see below), the likelyhood of getting in trouble is greater, since the general composition of the original photo will mostly remain visible through your process. For this purpose I recommend shooting your own photos to use in your artwork.

                                                           Artwork by Jonas de Ro

So that were my two cent about the greatly discussed topic of ''Art Theft''. I hope you enjoyed it and got something out of it. Please join the discussion below, let me know what you think about the subject matter. Next week i will continue talking about art with Reference Usage .

I am Joel Chaim Holtzman, you can find my work at


2 opmerkingen:

  1. This always seems to be a topic that many artist struggle with. Personally I am of the opinion that its better to steal a good idea than to think of a bad one, as long as you steal it right! However doing so is not always easy ... I guess its also a skill that comes with time.

    Also, if you steal from only one or two places, from Kekai for example, people will tell you that you're the next Kekai. But if you steal from 10 different artists, works and sources, people will tell you that you're so original!

    Looking forward to the next blog post, real life is the biggest source of inspiration right?

  2. Truly agreed. Like the image above shows, everything is basically inspired by something else. It is literally impossible to come up with something out of the blue i think, at least, something that is non-existing, if you get my point. Exactly! i agree with that 100%. I have a list to keep track of artists to study, and without knowing from each one of them you learn a separate technique which will aid you in your journey. Its hard to say if it is the biggest inspiration, i think you first have to learn ''how to steal'' through getting inspired by artists, that way you learn how to adapt elements in a conceptual/technical way. After that you can procceed to real life, which will strengthen your personal artistic voice.