Dear Artist,

We paint to learn and to give joy to our hands. We stand on one another’s shoulders. I think both amateurs and professionals ought to act like professionals.

If you copy a camel from the National Geographic don’t enter it into a show, competition, or sell it without written acknowledgement on the work itself. If you copy a camel from a photo you took yourself or legitimately own then you can do anything you want with it. Jurors, experts and dealers who can be fooled are no excuse — it’s always been possible. In competitions, suspicious jurors should phone questionable entrants to obtain verbal provenance.

Definitions: A forgery is a work with an intent to deceive. A copy is a reproduction of another work. A clone is an imitation of someone else’s style.

If you clone or appropriate technique or even subject matter you might consider writing an acknowledgement on the back. These days many artists paint the same things in more or less the same way because a particular image or look is currently fashionable. Someone originated all the trends — try to give credit.

You can sing somebody else’s song but you can’t paint somebody else’s picture. If you do, and by mistake you enter it into a competition, or sell it — send the originator a small royalty and a word of thanks and acknowledgement. It’s the thought that counts.


oil painting
by John Constable

Best regards,


PS: “Those who follow are always behind.” (A. Y. Jackson) “To the generality of collectors, and even more so to dealers, the temptation to see the geese as swans is almost irresistible.” (Peter Murray)

Esoterica: Doppelganger: An artist by the name of George Constable befriended John Constable. George Constable started painting just like John Constable. Collectors became confused and George Constable did nothing to prevent the confusion. Call the constable.

The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities and knowledge. Thank you for writing.


Twenty percent solution
by Robin Urton, San Antonio, Texas, USA

I feel that appropriation of subject matter is perfectly valid as long as you are not doing a complete copy (that is, that the photo is used for reference for part of a painting, and not the whole schpumato). I have been told that copyright laws state that as long as you change an image at least 20% that appropriated imagery is perfectly legal (not sure how one determines this percentage, however). I’m wondering if you will have many replies to this subject. I think it creates an interesting dialogue.


Cash flow
by Jack Spears

If I had fifty centavos for each work from everybody who everyday clones my style I would have a pretty decent little cash flow on the side. Thoughtful idea Robert, but impossible to implement.


Boggles the mail
by Blake

The mail system couldn’t handle the increase of little checks flying everywhere.


Not fair
Frustrated in San Francisco, CA, USA

Photographs are artistic property. Photographers are abused. Photos that are worth hundreds of dollars are purloined for free and made into paintings that sell for thousands.


Eagle eye
by Andrew Kiss

The copying of work or images from magazines and other publications is also a copyright infringement and can lead to lawsuits. I knew a photographer, now passed on, who had fabulous wildlife shots, especially eagles. Part of his income was from suing wildlife artists who used his images from magazines, etc. His photos were published all over North America. He would collect all kinds of art, wildlife, hunting magazines and keep his eye open for copies of his images. He would do an overlay of his image versus the copy by the artist and then his lawyer would send this to the artist. He generally had the artist settle out of court for a substantial amount. There was a case of an artist who won a national competition and was sued by him because his image was used right down to the last detail. There are photographers who sell their images but then one doesn’t know how many times they had sold the same image. I have been to shows where 4 artists had used the same image, so there were 4 paintings that had exactly the same animal. If an artist buys an image as many do, they should get the negative or the original slide so you have the only image.


Not okay to copy
by Janice Robertson, President, Federation of Canadian Artists

At the Federation of Canadian Artists this problem comes up frequently. We see paintings of polar bears on ice, etc., and have to wonder where the artist got the image. Several times alert members have noticed a copy from National Geographic or a similar source and have reported it to the FCA office. This has resulted in much embarrassment for the offending artist, and sometimes awards have been revoked. Some artists simply don’t know that it’s not okay to copy. I think that it would be great if all workshop instructors would mention the rules of copyright while teaching.


I’ve got it
by IdeaPerson

Whoever’s copying me will forever be dependent on my creativity to make art. Too bad for them — they’re missing the fun part.


Bad business
Name withheld by request

As the director of a commercial art gallery I make it a policy to never take on anyone whose work is remotely similar to one of our gallery artists. It’s just bad business. Why would I sell the clones of someone I’ve worked hard to establish, build collectors for and over several years have made valuable?


by Meghan

A precocious child-artist has her Picassoesque work hyped into the stratosphere. When asked about Picasso, she says she has never heard of the guy. She must be cloning her Picasso motifs from a go-ahead glitch in the great cosmic consciousness.


Joys of capturing my own
by Judy Lalingo, Ontario, Canada

I’m sure we have all copied published photos at one time or another, particularly when we were just beginning to learn how to draw and paint. It wasn’t long before I purchased my first SLR Canon and discovered the joys of capturing my own images for myself. I, for one, do not understand how an artist can paint something that was not experienced first hand — whether it is an inner image or one that was witnessed.


by Rick Lee, Charleston, WV, USA

I’m a pastel artist but I make the bulk of my living as a commercial photographer. I do pastels based on reference photos that I shoot myself. I consider the process of shooting the reference photos as half the work of producing a good painting. After shooting 2 or 3 rolls of film of one subject, and perhaps going back once or twice to re-shoot the scene at different times of day, I might have a reference photo that I consider good enough to use. I’m often confronted with artists who use published photos from magazines and other sources as reference for their paintings and they have no idea that they doing something wrong. I’m embarrassed to point this out to them.


You may be interested to know that artists from 67 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.

That includes 15 artists who live in Saudi Arabia. Hi!



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