Original art only


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Roger Asselin of St. Petersburg, Florida wrote, “I always see ‘Original art only’ as a prerequisite to entering art shows. A definition is seldom forthcoming. Is this like one of those rooms you are not supposed to enter until the preacher comes to visit, or do you make your own rules and endure the consequences if you’re wrong?”

Thanks, Roger. It’s been my thought that some juried shows need an appointed ombudsman to draw a line between copying and research. This person needs to be knowledgeable, professional, impartial and accountable. Working with or without fellow jurors, his or her decision needs to be final. Some ombudsmen will be tougher than others. In throwing things out, there will be errors of both commission and omission. Entering artists need to understand it’s just a juried show. They need to know that juried shows generally reflect conventional wisdom and that long-term careers seldom hinge on them.

That being said, the history of copying has had its ups and downs. When it comes to loose definitions, ‘original art’ takes the cigar. Trouble is, copying other people’s work and other people’s subject matter is a traditional means of gaining proficiency. In the 15th Century, the granddaddy of all art teachers, Cennino Cennini, asked students to “Take pains and pleasure in constantly copying the best works you can find.” Nowadays many instructors tell students to drag it out of the inner man at all costs, even if there’s not much of an inner man to drag it out of.

In 1890 Paul Gauguin noted, “Out in the sun, painters are lined up. The first is copying nature, the second is copying the first, the third is copying the second.” Nowadays painters actually take printed reference, even shaded laptops with popular images, out into the sun. The lines between copying and research lie in the shade. “Paintings are but research,” said Pablo Picasso. For both little and big name artists, research can turn into plagiarism. Andy Warhol made a big success of proliferating prints from someone else’s copyright photos of Marilyn. And Picasso had something to say about that too: “Success is dangerous,” he said. “One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.”

Best regards,


PS: “Every conceivable aspect of painting has its roots in copying. Painters are by nature copyists.” (Leonard Niles)

Esoterica: Good luck to Mary Jones should she enter a copy of a well known photo from the National Geographic. Come to think of it, people break the speed limit every day, and only a few are noticed, let alone caught and fined. These days we aspire to justice, idealism and the rights of individuals to private ownership. We just don’t enforce them very well. Maybe we can’t, because the nature of art demands freedom. These days we honour freedom and abhor control. “Art,” said Marshall McLuhan, “is what you can get away with.”


Copying for knowledge
by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany


“Heart Broken”
mixed media
by Faith Puleston

Copying is a sore subject. Since we are not alone in this world, we cannot avoid seeing other people’s work. Copying is a way of exploring the mind of the original painter (who probably left his work largely to instinct). Painting in the style of Matisse does not make you a Matisse, but it might teach you what Matisse was trying to achieve. The invisible hand of the master gently corrects one’s own hand. The most startling and unforgettable thing about the most coveted and loved artists is that they have been inventive, innovative, and “before their time.” They have trodden new paths. Copying is artisanship, not artistry! Ignoring what has gone before leads to ignorance!


Products of Bob Ross
by Michael Chesley Johnson, AZ, USA / NB, Canada


“Spring Pond”
pastel en plein air, 8 x 10 inches
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Once, when judging an art show, I noted that several paintings depicted exactly the same scene – same composition, same colors, same style, same everything. I decided that they were copies. Rather than disqualify them, I simply didn’t give them any awards. I later found out that one of the organizers of the show, going against show guidelines, was a Bob Ross instructor, and that these were student pieces done under his tutelage and from the same photo reference. He had encouraged them, like any instructor proud of his student’s work, to submit them.


Giving credit where due
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA


“Stick and Stones and Broken Homes”
original painting
by Diane Overmyer

The old adage “Give credit where credit is due” is best.  I also feel if an artist wishes to copy the work of anything other than free domain images, then they must ask for permission prior to putting such work in front of the public. If I copy a section of book for my own study notes for a Biology class, that is fine, but woe to me if I try to incorporate those exact words into a paper for a college, or even a high school class. In the same token, artists should never attempt to hide their methods for producing their work. Too many artists are using technology and then lying about it. The problem is not the use of the technology, it is the dishonesty about how it is being used. That type of thing creates skepticism within the public and makes it harder for artists who actually are not using technology.


Mixed meanings
by Susan Garriques, Key West, FL, USA


oil painting
by Susan Garriques

I always thought that “original art only” meant no prints or giclees, or even, you must be showing your very own original art and not art by other people. I remember witnessing an argument between artists at the Key West Fine Art Festival a couple of years ago. Apparently one of the booths was filled with art that came from “overseas,” and was not art done by the artist in the booth. And I’ve heard lots of people complaining that artists are selling giclees and calling them “originals.” I never considered that someone might actually copy another artist’s work and then submit it to a juried show.


Copying before the age of photography
by Susanne Kelley Clark, Dallas, TX, USA


oil on linen, 30 x 30 inches
by Susanne Kelley Clark

It is difficult to imagine not having all of the images from photography and print available to us as artists. I sometimes ask my young students to imagine a time when there were no telephones, television or i-pods. Often I get a bewildered response. Attempting to go back in time to the days when the only images artists could see to learn from were in fact other paintings or maybe engravings or etchings, is difficult for us to imagine. The learning from these images was vastly different than the copy of photographs (no matter if the photos were made by the copyist). We have to imagine what the photo leaves out when painting from them and many beginning artists cannot do that yet. Working from paintings helps us to “see” the artist’s process and the way a painting is built. We see the simplification of design to create a stronger composition. We see how composition and message are inseparable. We learn about the value structure, color and manipulation of those elements to create balance, rhythms and movement through the composition. The photograph, however beautiful and art on its own, is a different one-eyed and flat presentation of subject. It leaves out and distorts the color, air and light we might find in the real world, not to mention our response to reality.


Emulating vs. imitating
by Sandy

Because we humans are not developing in our moral/ethical/restraint technology at the same rate as our other technologies, perhaps rules and regulations about what we do is necessary. Self interest is a strong human component which can help artists develop, humans develop. Taken too far it over-reaches and turns into thievery, grandiosity and an ungenerous spirit. It seems to me that the issue is the difference between a student practicing handwriting and composing astute, elegant, communicative essays. Emulating the latter is no reason to receive credit for the former. Evaluation must be made and credit not given or given — tough stuff to do, particularly today with limited understanding of copyright (how many artists file?). Also, with many folks wanting to claim persona and identity of being an artist — representation is deep in our success as a species — human attachment to this energizing of an idea, an identity, can be very strong. We have dynamic strengths and dynamic weaknesses: we want things and we get disappointed. There are a lot of us: humans and artists. Nothing is completely settled in this world, everything changes. Getting into a show can become too important, not getting into a show can become too important. Best to approach art like a Buddhist who does the dishes to be doing the dishes, not expecting/ energizing/ attaching to an outcome.

Still, I don’t want to see people gaining from someone else’s efforts (artwork/photo/essay) without written agreement. Rules need to be made, humans need to evaluate and feelings will be hurt. Money can drive these things, desires can get super-charged and human minds are the only thing on the planet that push so much energy into the propping up of identity.


Endorsing plagiarism?
by Robin Miltner, Sautee, GA, USA


“Blue Daisy Slide”
pastel painting
by Robin Miltner

I am rather concerned by the “clearly obscure” way that you treated the concept of copying art. On one hand you mention the time-honored Masters traditions of having students copy work to learn… and yet it seems that you find that copying any and all material, be that photos, others’ art work, whatever, to be okay in today’s learning and exhibiting circle. I find this kind of loose, if not downright endorsement of plagiarism, to be dangerous and a big part of the decline in artist morality. We have been inundated with more reference material than one could possibly handle in a lifetime. If the old Masters had such a wealth of printed reference materials, I am sure they would still have had their students work with them to learn brush strokes, and paint handling… not content nor image duplication. Their methods of teaching by mere fact of the times required a model with which to teach. That was the original, as there were no duplications to work from.


Difficult to be original
by Karen Cohen, Alphaaretta, GA, USA


“Seeking Wings”
print on watercolor paper
by Karen Cohen

It would be extremely difficult for anyone to be entirely original and/or unique. We all try new techniques in our effort to grow and add to our respective skill sets and to find that special something that truly sets us apart from all the other painters (a signature style). In doing so, with the enormous amount of visual stimuli we receive, that which we intentionally seek out and that which is inadvertent or subconscious, it would be difficult indeed to pinpoint every one that influenced us. And even if we hadn’t seen it done before, who can say that among all the painters the world over, two or more could not have (even spontaneously) arrived at the same or a similar idea?


Students: copy the Masters
by Michelle Philip, Boulder, CO, USA


“…and your mama’s good looking”
encaustic and 23kt gold painting on panel
by Michelle Philip

I was very interested in this letter because I require all my advanced students to copy master paintings and drawings. I can explain edge quality, lost and found line, color harmony, etc., until I am blue in the face and have the student grasp these concepts very slowly in their own work, or I can assign a master copy and show them line for line how their attempt differs from the master’s in terms of those qualities. It is then a quick step for the student to change their approach and gain the technique needed to create the required effect. When I critique students’ work, I am careful to avoid damaging their confidence, because God knows we need all the courage available to us to survive in this business. I have found I can be much more direct when critiquing a copy, however, because it is not the student’s original creation, and all that needs to be focused on is the issue of similarity. In addition, when the copy is complete it seems to be a real high when the student looks at it at and realizes that they “own” a little piece of that Master.


Digital art getting shafted
by Jack Atkinson, Jersey City, NJ, USA


“Double Portrait, Aura Painting”
pigmented ink on canvas, 30 x 72 inches
by Jack Atkinson

The “original art only” usually refers to No Giclee Prints — meaning no reproductions of your paintings — but goes further and also means no digital output art of any kind. Since I am a sincere proponent of original digital output art, that means I am eliminated from all of these competitions as an artist. My artwork starts with preliminary sketches done from life but the painting is all done in the computer and the unique digital output is my final artwork. But many in the art world are very weird about accepting this new medium as even being classified as art, much less original even in Chelsea’s shi-shi galleries in New York City. I have been working in digital output on canvas as a fine artist for 15 years now. I enjoy making my original (unique 1/1) digital art. Although I dislike the word Giclee, (French for spitting or spraying ink) it is a confusing distraction from the real medium, digital output art. I look at the naysayer as being akin to the “Academy de Beaux Arts” in Paris 1890s, of rejecting the Impressionist, because their approach and technique was different.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Original art only



From: R Joe Hutchison — Apr 14, 2008

Today’s truncated response forum was interesting on two fronts: first, it was near-dominated by responders whose essays were not only obtuse, but also were reaching, too far, to make some meaningless comment just for the sake of reading themselves; second, and this is more to the gist of today’s subject, far too many of the letters appear to be written in the image of Robert’s writings, copying his syntax, his phrasing, and his word choices. It’s hard to know whether this is in the spirit of “imitation’s being the sincerest form of flattery”, or if it is in the spirit of “imitation’s being the lowest form of sucking up.”

From: Faith Puleston — Apr 15, 2008

a) Joe: If you were referring to my comment, then you were miles off the mark. For evidence of my writing style, look at my other comments here, some of which are satirical, or go to my other website www.faithpuleston.de where a few examples of my other ORIGINAL work can be read, or go to www.redbubble.com and type “faithart”. I assure you that I copy no one and have no need to, being adequately eloquent myself, and I am sure that I speak for many others. Of course, you should have realized that the letters here are truncated and you may have noticed that Mr Genn chooses the authors and contents to suit the ongoing topic. Just because you are unable to understand what is going on does not mean that people are “sucking up” – itself a rather childish expression – if or especially some of the entries are deliberately provocative or even agreeable – the writers do not have any influence over what is printed and it is highly unlikely that Mr Genn would print only comments made in his own image! For my part, I do not need to copy anyone’s syntax, and I am pretty sure that my colleagues writing here don’t either. They want to make a point rather than demonstrate that they can write whole sentences à la Genn.

From: Faith Puleston — Apr 15, 2008

b) Michael: I had to smile when I read your comment. I once did a workshop where several artists gave courses. Fortunately (in retrospect) I didn’t attend the Bob Ross one, but not because of the name – it was not announced as such. The teacher had taken the largest room and about 20 easels were spread out. About 20 identical canvases were propped up and about 20 participants got going, all mixing their greens, all tapping their brushes against their brush cleaning pot, all dabbing away at greenery and wielding genuine Bob Ross riggers to make branches. Gradually the room filled with trees. The subject was – need I mention it? – landscape. 20 ponds took shape, 20 miniature waterfalls and a host of other items usually visible in a Bob Ross landscape. Except for the skill in executing the paintings, they were all the same – from a distance it was really hard to tell the difference. I am sure that now 20 sitting-rooms in 20 abodes are decorated with these “original” paintings. For me, it’s interesting to know that Bob Ross was also copying his own teacher. The method was handed down. It didn’t bother the painters there that they were painting look-alikes. All that mattered was that they were doing it. The uplifting quality of achievement and success was what they were looking for (and finding).

From: Consuelo — Apr 15, 2008

Re the Tyranny of Reality and ‘Hyperealism’ as an art form, I’m reminded of the lyrics from Hotel California – They stab it with their steely knives, But they just can’t kill the beast!

From: Brad Greek — Apr 15, 2008

I’ve seen many examples of classes where everyone painted the same subjects. Once I seen a show where the class all set up booths and all of them had the same paintings in them. They were proud. And it’s all part of learning anything, we’ve all done it in one form or other. I must admit that I find Robert’s writing skills very inspiring, I wish I could put a sentence together as well. I’m finding that by reading these letters and responding to them has helped my writing skills a little bit. Shucks…I be a riter LOL Let’s all get along.

From: Sarah Atkins — Apr 15, 2008

The question that began this discussion referred to the definition of original art as required by art competitions. It was not a question concerning the benefits or history of copying.

The purpose of art competitions is to choose the best work from among the entries. Considerations such as composition, drawing skills, perspective, use of color, technique, and creative content come into play. Although copying work is valuable as a learning tool, the end product does not represent an artist’s overall skill because the composition, colors, and even the basic idea for the painting did not come from the copier’s own concept. It’s no different from copying a book and calling it your own. The same copyright laws apply to art.

Art organizations to which I belong specify that art must be original, not done in a class, and not copied from published work. Some definitions of original: Preceding all others in time, first, not derived from something else, a work composed firsthand, not a copy. If one understands the English language, one should understand the meaning of original with no further explanation or debate required.

From: Anonymous — Apr 15, 2008

I think of original as being unique, fresh, not freshly copied, style or otherwise. I am constantly coming across works that are so like two favorite renown artists that I have to look and see who did them. That is not fresh, unique or original. Why be anything if not unique?

From: Lanita Reitsma — Apr 15, 2008

Could originality be how you interpret and fill in the lines no matter where the idea comes from ?

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Apr 15, 2008

The Originality Gene: I guess it must just be me- but never have I ever copied anybody else’s art. And as an abstract artist- I’ve never copied nature either. At a very early age I discovered the how-to section in my local library and taught myself the skills I needed to work in the medium I was interested in- fiber. And yes- I own a few reference books. A few years later I discovered Alexander Calder and- fascinated with his mobiles- taught myself how to build them. But knowing they’d always be Calder-associated only occasionally do I create one. And I never tried to focus on making them my main art form. In 1977 I had a work-related situation push me to create my first Best-In-Show award-winning art quilt in the very first juried exhibit I entered. Juried exhibits are one way many artists can gain recognition and create a reputation. But I’d immediately and intentionally abused the perceived tradition by altering the scale- (the medium allowed me to create larger work than I had before) and by using different materials and tools- and starting with a complex offset interlocking pattern of my own invention/design. 30+ years and several hundred pieces later my work is unique and unlike anyone else’s. And since I continue to evolve- I intend on keeping it that way. If I were a teacher I’d be teaching only 2 things- and the first would be how to think for yourself no matter what the cost. Go to school and/or take classes/workshops in how to use your medium if necessary. But if you can’t then use your varied techniques to create original work- why are you even bothering? Endless social sharing and its result- derivative work- are nothing to write home about. But if your originality gene was suppressed / repressed or destroyed by our fear-of-the-unknown-spark-of-creativity in our homogenized world- oh well- too bad for you. As a metaphysician and shaman- the only other thing I would be teaching is how to get fully connected up to the Energetic God Presence. That connection allows your art work to become a meditation and a spiritual practice. And once your work becomes your religion- no other God is necessary.

From: Susan — Apr 15, 2008

I was reading through the posts and wondering if anyone would comment on artists that project their photo references onto canvas or paper and then proceed to paint. It reminds me of the coloring books we used as children: filling in the color inside the lines. I feel it is skill and not really art. Would love to hear some comments on this practice.

From: Consuelo — Apr 15, 2008

Susan, I’m afraid you are treading in shark infested waters by suggesting that projecting isn’t really art. There are many so-called artistes out there that will strongly protest that projecting is just peachy keen and to those I say “you are fooling yourself because the trained eye can tell when a painting or drawing has been projected”.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Apr 15, 2008

To R. Joe Hutchison: Many thanks for your comment!!! To Faith Puleston: Gosh Faith- but you’re awfully and instantly defensive! Me thinks maybe Joe got it right!

From: Eleanor Blair — Apr 15, 2008

My drawing instructor at Cooper Union, Stefano Cusumano, frequently asked us to copy the drawings of the old masters. That was only half the assignment, though. After creating the best copy we could using the same materials, the same line quality, etc., we would then draw a similar subject from life, using the same materials and style. This was an amazingly effective way to internalize the drawing techniques of the masters, and develop our own eye as well.

From: Karen R. Phinney — Apr 15, 2008

What is original art? We are influenced subtly and not so subtly by everything we see. I recall having a teacher once, whom I asked a question of about how to deal with a certain issue in painting. She told me what she thought, then I noticed she painted a painting using the set-up I had asked about. The idea must have appealed to her. And as to style, well, you see it when there is a group of artists together. There is “cross-pollination” sometimes, of some little style or technique, and to me that is valid! I am sure that happened with the Impressionists, certainly. The pointillist thing kind of caught on in variations, with some, but they each made it their own.

From: Kathy Weber — Apr 15, 2008

Several years ago I was in a large art show with probably more than 30 artists. The organizers printed a catalog featuring one painting per artist. I worked as a greeting card illustrator for 10 years, and have seen many cards from many different companies used on the spec sheets I received, as reference material. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the show catalog and saw that someone had entered, apparently as an original, a copy of a Hallmark card featuring cute mice in Victorian costumes having tea. I can only imagine what Cennini would say to that.

From: Larry Moore — Apr 15, 2008

I think in this case “original art only” may have a different or at least additional meaning, especially if Mr. Asselin means art festival when he says art show. No prints. And art made only by the artist who submitted it, there are a few unscrupulous types out there who pass buy/sell work as there own or have a lot of help from workers or family and pass that off as their own. And no copying. There’s only one original but there are many definitions.

From: K. Henderson — Apr 15, 2008

How can you avoid “copying” other people’s subject matter? There is only so much subject matter in the world. If I paint a vase of roses I certainly am not the first and won’t be the last.

From: Cathy Harville — Apr 15, 2008

One issue that your questioner may have been thinking about are giclees and prints. A co-op gallery in Maryland will not hang giclees on the wall – they are reserved to bins. Many juried shows in this area will not accept giclees, or even prints. Often, prints are welcome if hand-pulled, and of a limited nature. Even then, very few are actually seen gracing the walls of art venues. Only in commercial galleries, do giclees and prints hold enough esteem to be hung; or perhaps, it is just profit motivated, as commercial galleries need to be. Juried shows are not out to make money. Juried shows are meant to showcase recent, and “original” work by artists.

From: Brian Seed — Apr 15, 2008

Living next door to our nation’s capital, I find myself dreading the fact that I could be accused of copying others’ paintings. Ottawa is a beautiful city, in winter and summer, yet I stay away from it because so many fine artists have “done” wonderful paintings.

From: Verna Marie Campbell — Apr 15, 2008

Having been in several art clubs for many years we were told ‘original art’ meant, if it is a still life you did it on your own – not in a work shop, or a copy of any artist. If it is a landscape it was done from your own photos or from being there but not from copying a photographer’s published work. Some artists don’t have much respect for a photographer’s work and feel copying is OK. It is if you keep the painting in your house.

From: Joan Polishook — Apr 15, 2008

We all learn from copying..the great masters did….but are we really copying??? I like to think that certain things, a photo, a picture in a magazine may be inspirational to some and though the example may be used as a guide, the art work is still defined by the artisis’s own treatment of the subject matter. Skill, ability, feeling and emotion are all elements of originality that make each artist’s work his very own.

From: June Ladysmith — Apr 15, 2008

Many beginners think nothing of using other people’s images, photographs or art as a basis for their own. Yes, it is a time honoured tradition to learn by copying…we just aren’t supposed to frame and sell it!

From: Joanne Clark — Apr 15, 2008

I think when you learn to paint in a new medium from an artist with a particular way of painting, or try to master the medium by copying from painters you admire, you can’t help but pick up a bit of their style as you struggle along with your work. Once you have a little control over the “tools” of your trade you can paint off in all directions and hope to find your own style where you can settle for a while.

From: Gaye Adams — Apr 15, 2008

Jurors all too often are put in the awkward position of trying to judge whether elements of a piece, or perhaps the entire piece fall into the category of being plagiaristic. And sometimes, probably most times, it is impossible for them to know for sure. Definitions of plagiarism vary from juror to juror, also. For jurors that are full time painters (which they often are), we sometimes see pieces that we really have to wonder about the source material, and it shouldn’t be our job to try to determine that. The idea of an “ombudsman” is brilliant. I like it.

From: Bobbo Goldberg — Apr 15, 2008

The “Original Art Only” admonition refers to prints and reproductions, not to copies of other people’s art. This has been the bane of digital artists on many listservs, since the “original” exists only within the computer, and any print on paper or other substrate is, by definition, a duplicate of that image. This is true even for works that are hand-painted stroke by stroke, using traditional techniques and a graphics tablet cum stylus. Programs like Corel Painter make this possible. One response is to try to find new names for such output, including “digital original print,” “inkjet original,” or “pigment print” for those using the newer, archival forms of ink.

From: Patricia Ehman — Apr 15, 2008

On the subject of original art: I once painted from a photo out of a 1960’s book with the intent never to sell it. Imagine my surprise when a painting from the same photo showed up on the front of a magazine last year! I would bet that that artist did not pay the photographer a red cent! Ah well, we live and learn. I believe in integrity.

From: Tatjana M-P — Apr 15, 2008

Copies have a market share that originals can only dream of. If copies would stick to their market and not try to butt into the market of originals, we would all get along just fine.

From: Hugo — Apr 15, 2008

Jack Atkinson, I feel your pain! From the many comments here on this page even, it is clear that we who produce digital art – from our own source material – and output (print) it with the best technology available, the giclee printer, get lumped in with reproductions. I have removed all reference to “giclee” from my site because as a friend of mine (a photographer) said ‘a giclee is a cliche’. It’s just gotten too much bad press. For the time being ‘digital original fine art print’ is the best I have come up with, but I’m still searching for a better label.

From: Rick Rotante — Apr 16, 2008

A general reply – 1) It has always been my understanding that when you copy a “master” painter, firstly, you never enter that piece into any show, secondly, if you show it, it was customary to inscribe the words “after Picasso” after your name. “After” being the operative word here. This tells those who are informed that A- you did it and B- it’s a deliberate copy. This way no one is accused of obfuscation of the issue.

Also I have to confess to using a copier these days on my original pieces but with a difference. I draw my own images on paper first from my imagination (of single figures) and use the copier to place multiple people and animals proportionally into the scene on canvas again from my imagination. This prevents hours of erasure and trying to get the figures correct. It’s a time saver only. Never in my career have I copied an image from someone to create a painting. There will always be those with limited talent and ability who will utilize the scurrilous technique, but in the end they will fall by the wayside when they have to show what they are really made of. Copying in and of itself is a learning tool. If you identify the original painter, on the canvas and only use it as a learning tool, I don’t see a problem. Integrity should be written at the top of all our easels.

From: J Bennett — Apr 17, 2008

It is not a painting we are doing. What we are actually trying to do is to enter a higher state of conciousness and translate that into something that others can understand through our work. If that is the purpose of copying, fine, but if it is to improve technique, that is certainly a long road to take to find the essence of things, unless one is very deeply immersed in the copying process. Improving technique for the purpose of improving technique is the real sterility. It is the nature of being we are working to remember, not the thing itself.

From: Jennifer Mason — Apr 17, 2008

Copying is a valuable way to learn, because it forces me to slow down and really SEE what I’m looking at. One of my favourite places is The Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where one may view up-close a superb collection of master drawings (and copy them). Many museums allow this kind of access to artists and art students if you arrange it in advance. The Ashmolean drawings are matted and kept in archival boxes, and you wear white gloves to handle them. It’s an amazing experience to hold an exquisite Raphael or Durer drawing in your hands and realize this piece of paper is 500 years old. In order to copy a drawing, I must truly look, and look again.

From: Sharon Hobart — Apr 17, 2008

My advise to artists is — take classes — humble yourselves and go back to the basics — look for teachers who understand the basics — composition — the principles of design, color theory — and learn what it takes to make a piece of art “good”…..and if a person wants to paint representational things, buy a digital camera…it doesn’t have to be expensive — after all, that’s where composition takes over! A drawing lesson is also very beneficial!

From: Terry Albert — Apr 17, 2008

As for copying, it is a great way to learn. As a student I copied Constable- his glorious clouds, landscapes and English countryside. As an adult, I visited Salisbury Cathedral to see it for myself, after copying his painting of it, and visited his originals– real originals– in London. I did an independent study semester in school, copying the old masters’ paintings of animals. But no, those shouldn’t be entered in shows, or sold even, without full disclosure.

From: Linda Walker — Apr 17, 2008

This goes directly to the ethics of the professional, or at least the desiring professional, artist. Almost all artists spend some time copying fine artwork as a learning tool. I’ve observed that often the practice of teaching ‘from the inner self’ seems to perpetuate the sneaky copyist (they get good at disguising their plagiarizing); whereas the artists that have been encouraged to first develop their technical skills seem to be open to saying “this is a copy of …”, “this is ‘after…” and “this is from my own resources”. In fact the pride and confidence that comes from displaying the originality of the artwork is as important as the execution of the work. I do believe that as you learn the techniques you become more comfortable in developing and speaking with your own unique voice. Art is hard and learning to gather and use reference, whether in the field or from within is part of that difficult process and should be respected.

From: Laurel Cormack — Apr 17, 2008

As a former art teacher, I did encourage copying from a favourite master for ONE session only, just to teach the student to observe.

From: Ulrike O’Flaherty — Apr 17, 2008

Interesting subject about what’s original art… Having paid my rent many a times copying master paintings while living in Italy… I know that even a copy of a Van Gogh done through me is a painting “dragged through my inner man” as it were. It left traces in me and I left traces of me within it.

From: Monique Cantin — Apr 17, 2008

This is a subject on which I have tried to get information through the years. I like painting portraits and faces. I very much enjoy taking a black and white photo in a magazine, well lit and cropped, (my backgroud as a film student and sister of two professional photographers) and make an oil painting of it, changing the background, etc. Some people go by the rule of not using more than 30% of previous work…I have read the Québec Copy Rights Law, which adds that it all depends on the use that one will make of the «reworked» art piece. Recently, I entered a juried show and called them to see if I could produce such a piece and there was no problem.

From: Charlotte — Apr 29, 2008

Copying masters is a good thing, a learning tool; you just don’t put the work out there for others to see. Novice artists find it too tempting when others ooh and aah over the work that was copied!

From: Deborah Droog — Jul 19, 2009

Please people, back down and remember the joy and passion for the arts. We paint for the emotional experience. Whether it is a copy or an original makes no differance. Yes even copies sell well if that is what the buyer wants because he or she has a connection with a particular image. Many years ago a teacher of mine was approached and asked to make a copy of Van Gogh’s Irises. My teacher told the gentleman to commission me to do the painting for him because I had an emotional passion for Van Gogh’s work and would be able to do a much better job. He wasn’t referring to skill he was referring to one’s ability to become one with an image and color. The reason we paint has nothing to do with financial gain or fame, it is the internal drive and passion we experience. I had to copy master’s when I was in school and although I sucessfully mimiced the Masters, it never occured to me that I would sell them. One was a Corot and it to this day one of my favorite works. I loved it before I copied it and I love it now. It hangs in my bedroom and it gives me peace just looking at it. I suppose the purest would have the artist go into a silent blank world with an easel and paints, instructed to tap into the immagination to produce an original. But would the flaw be that immagination holds memories of images already invented. I was born an artist and will die an artist, what I leave behind will be my work that is copied from my imagination and life.

From: Katherine Bolman, PhD — Sep 10, 2009

I wonder if you learned art history in school? I wonder if as artists you would be interested in studying art history now? Why? Why not?






Can You Keep A Secret?

oil painting, 22 x 28 inches
by Lesley White, Prince George, BC, Canada


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Sharri LaPierre of Vancouver, WA, USA who wrote, “Original Art Only can refer to no giclee prints, too. Most art competitions do not consider them “original art,” but reproductions of paintings, which in most cases is true.”

And also Katherine Bolman of Honolulu, HI, USA who wrote, “Life can be so heavy and misty. We paint because we paint. What matters if someone has painted, written it, or thought it before? If I have said something someone else has said and someone else needs it, what be the problem?”

And also Charles Harris of Columbus, OH, USA who wrote, “I belong to the Ohio Plein Air group and they go as far to say that you can’t use anything that you have done for a class. The easy way that we do it is to say that it must be done outside and no camera or computer may be used. This takes a lot of problems out of the copy problem.”

And also Katherine Tyrrell of the UK who wrote, “In the world of coloured pencil art societies, there has been much debate of late about the nature of original art in relation to their juried exhibitions and recent changes in the rules. By way of response I wrote this post on my blog about their notions of what original art is all about. It seemed to resonate with an awful lot of people.”

And also Rene Wojcik of Midland, TX, USA who wrote, “If a person ignores copyright infringement laws and enjoys suffering from a law suit, then go for it. Art is not what you can get away with but what you create.”

And also Laudine Borges of Ventura, CA, USA who wrote, “I was in a juried show and was there when the judges came in. They were both young people who had no art background but worked for the local historical society. I gained a perspective on judges and jurying and on accepted and rejected works, which makes it easier to put work out there for judgment. Years ago I avoided juried shows. Later I met an artist who had a piece rejected in a show only to have it win a prize in the next show she entered.”

And also Barbara Nehman who wrote, “A very interesting discussion about the “fine lines” in life. Doing it too much or too little and striving for the “golden mean” is challenging, risky and compelling.”




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