The best way to go about using a reference is to stay on the safe side as much as you can, as sometimes even pictures that don’t violate copyrights can get a lawsuit (more on that later), so staying on the safe side can save you a lot of trouble if this ever happened to you.
Using references the right way cannot just save you the trouble, but also pushes you toward becoming better, which is the goal for many of us.
Bear in mind I am not a lawyer, so this post comes from the point of view of an artist, and doesn’t constitute a legal advice. Just a bunch of guidelines I hope you find useful. I hope they help you avoid a lot of trouble in your journey to become a great artist.
Quickly go to:-
- Everything Is Copyrighted
- Blindly Copying Other Drawing & Artworks Can Hamper Your Growth As An Artist
- A Better Way To Go About Using A Reference, The One That Helps You Improve
- Doing It The Safe Way Can Help You Grow As An Artist
- The Perfect Crime
- What Are Some Of The Safe Ways To Get Images To Use As Reference?
- Drawing From Life Is The First Good Option
- Safe Sources To Copy Art From:- Drawings & Artworks With Expired Copyrights (The Public Domain)
- Creative Commons Pictures Is One More Place To Go
- Asking For Permissions From The Original Can Open All Sorts Of Artworks For You To Learn From
- And Finally
- See Also:-
It’s important to know that the images & artworks you can freely use however you want are the exception. Some of them will be mentioned later in this post.copied artworks tend to be stiff, and any possible mistakes the original artist made will be transferred to the one you copied, where the final goal should be the ability to fix these mistakes, and even makes all sorts of changes to make the final artwork completely yours (More on that later).
Picasso himself said that “Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal”. Based on that, copying can make you a good artist for a starter, making the artwork yours by artistfully changing it can make you a great artists.
One way to go about it is to get many pictures of cats, study the anatomy of these cats, the pattern in their fur & other things. Then draw a cat based on what you know from your observations. Granted, it’s unlikely going to work out the first time you do that, but being able to do that will open all sorts of doors to express yourself. The final artwork that came from that will likely be original, and you won’t have to worry about someone comparing it to any other picture. This is called sampling, and it’s a very legal thing to do. :>American actress Lindsay Lohan accused Rockstar games of using her picture in their famous game, GTA V. It turned out Rockstar used the picture of another actress. Eventually, the lawsuit was thrown out of the court. This case tells you how even by being on the safe side can still get you a lawsuit. Though doing your homework can save you the trouble of it.
One way you could go about it is to look at the reference(s), then draw your own later, without looking at the reference. You could use the reference to fix any possible mistakes at a later stage of creating the artwork or photo.
Since you may not be able to carry your drawing tools everywhere you go (especially if you draw using an easel, or you have a heavy pen display like Wacom Cintiq Pro). Shooting picture to use for your drawing can give you a huge amount of resources to use to your heart contents, all without worrying about copyright violation. Something you could face if by getting pictures from the Internet.
While writing this post, I was about to suggest that you shoot pictures of famous landmarks to use in your artworks. But according to this article, it turned out you can’t photograph certain landmarks for commercial use, like the Eiffel tower at night (I told you copyright is an blurry subject).
There are many places online where you could get pictures to use, modify, print without having to ask for permission. One of the sources I like to use is Pixelbay, which has a lot of public domain images, just make sure to check out the license on the side of the screen to know what’s allowed & what’s not. The picture of the book above was taken from there, and the Pixelbay license clearly stated I could use it commercially without attribution.
Any other trusted site with public domain pictures can be a great source for pictures to use to your heart contents. Public domain, after all, is for everyone to useAccording to Wikipedia, “creative commons is an American non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally”. In short, it’s a way for authors & artists to offer their work for others to adapt legally.
Just like the case with Public Domain, there are multiple types of Creative Common licenses you need to take note of, some allow to be used for non-commercial use, while some others allows for all sorts of use. Each common creative artwork license describes what you can & can’t do with it, sometimes in an easy to read language. Like the following terms taken from Wikipedia (a site I take many pictures I use in this blog from).
Many artworks in Deviant Art are available to be used by others. These artworks range from digital art & photographs. The key here is to find the ones that allows you to use it the way you want. Again, there’s a license section on the sidebar of many artworks & photos that tells you what you can or can’t do.
Note:- Some of the things I just mentioned about checking the license also applies for when you look for music to use. It benefited me a lot to find soundtracks to use for my Lolita Caramel visual novel. Specially since a can barely compose any musique myself. ^^
Some artists will refuse to let you use their pictures. In that case, you avoided a possible trouble had you used their work without a permission.
The main downside about asking for permission is that it can be time-consuming to do so. So it’s okay to stick to the other fast ways of getting references.
As I kept saying in this post, when it comes to using reference for your artwork, it’s better safe than sorry. So make sure you get permission, use public domain sources. If you’re to use picture from any source, make sure you do enough modification to make it yours. As that will help you become a much better artist.
I hope I answered your question whether is it bad to use a reference when making & drawing art. See in another article~