Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Copy vs. Original

Last year around this time, I was preparing to enter my first two paintings in the art show held annually (semi-annually, now) at the local studio, and hoping it would all go smoothly...I would finish the poppy, get it framed, get it to the studio on the right day, at the right time, etc. (Big deal for me.)  Done. When I handed over the paintings, I was asked: "Original, or copy?" Well, since I hadn't had the painting copied, and I didn't COPY anybody's painting, I said, "original".  Eyebrows were raised. "Really?", they asked.  "Oh, ummm... " Then the two sweet ladies clarified the difference for me... This is what I learned:  If you paint from a photograph, and YOU didn't actually TAKE the photograph yourself, it is called a COPY....a picture out of a calendar, or a magazine, for instance.  For your paintings to be considered ORIGINAL, when you use a photograph as your reference, YOU must be the one to TAKE the photograph. Simple. But a bit disappointing. I actually did change a couple of things from the photographs...I left out leaf... and a tiny little flower that was in the way...I guess that doesn't count. Perhaps if you tried to sell a 'copy', you would be infringing on the photographer's copyright to that image, unless you had specific permission to paint it, as you would for a commissioned portrait, for instance. (If I'm wrong about this, somebody help me clear it up...) So that's when I decided from that point on, I would paint originals - take my own pictures and use them, crop them, etc. Except this one last little (2.5x2.5) one, which I copied from a print of a painting that hangs in my living room, which technically makes this a copy of a copy...


  1. well I didn't know that about copies and originals and I'm not sure whether this is correct. I try to paint from my own photos which isn't always possible. My interpretation of a copy would be if you copied somebody elses painting not photo. Thanks for all your kind comments on my blog, much appreciated.

  2. Leann!

    Those "two sweet ladies" are wrong!

    Anyone who works as an illustrator will tell you artists use other people's images on a frequent basis.

    Yes, technically using another person's photograph is a form of copyright infringement but it's done ALL the time.

    Two ways around this:

    1. Take your own pictures as you mentioned.

    2. When using someone else's photo, change it around and make it your own. Crop the image significantly. Use elements from several photos instead of just one picture. Alter the coloring and lighting.

    Creating art is about copying what you see. That's true in life drawing class when drawing a live model, oil painting class when painting a still life, etc..

    So go on and keep painting, Leann!

    Hope this helps!


  3. Dean, thanks for stopping by! And thank you for clearing up some confusion I've had about this. I saw an article a while back about copyright infringement; one artist had won an award for a painting - a southwest landscape with and old building in it - and on the opposite page, the photograph, taken by an award winning photographer. The likeness was unmistakable, and the photographer was claiming copyright infringement. I don't remember how it was resolved, but it seems that if you change the picture enough, like you suggested, or sell prints, etc. who would ever really know, or care? This artist was found out, apparently, because he won an award, and was published...what are the odds?

  4. "copied" or not...your work is wonderful LeAnn!

  5. Thank you, David! What I need to 'copy' more than anything is the organizational skills, and work habits so many artists have!!! Your work is fantastic, by the way. Those glass sculptures are amazing.