Copyright for Artists made Easy

What is Copyright?

If something has copyright, it means that whoever made it has intellectual ownership. So, just the same as someone who owns a car, you can’t simply take their keys and drive off! Nor can you take someone’s photo, or republish ‘Harry Potter’ as your own work.

In short, if you didn’t create it, you need to be checking who did as it is their property, not yours.

How Copyright Affects Artists

Alright, so we get that the photographer ‘owns’ his photos, just like a car. Hence, you’ll need to get permission and usually pay for the right to use an image, too. If we want to draw from a photo, we must first find out who took it and if it has copyright on it. Therefore, if you can’t find out who created it, don’t use it.

You cannot take someone’s photo and draw straight from it, especially if it has copyright. That is seen as intellectual theft and the creator can sue you for it! But panic not, there are some simple solutions to this problem.

owl drawing from copyright image with paid for permision
Don’t get into a copyright fight! Know your rules and stick to them.

Royalty-Free License

So you want to get drawing, you don’t want to annoy a photographer and you certainly don’t want to get sued. What can you do?

Luckily for us, there are places where we can buy the rights to use a photo for creative purposes. Better still, we can also get some photos for free to use references.

To get permission to use an image, we need to (usually), buy a license for that image. Buying a royalty-free licensed image, means we can use it as a reference and not pay additional fees. However, you must always check before you buy a photo that you are purchasing the correct license for you. Usually, for artists, our licensing fee isn’t too high as we want to use it to draw from, not print out the image and use it on billboards.

Where to buy images from

So, we have an idea of what we can and can’t do. We know that if we buy an image, we need to check the licensing covers us, (royalty-free is what you’re looking for), also, if licensing is unclear we should track down the creator. Lastly, using a copyrighted image without permission is stealing someone’s itellectual property so let’s not do that!

Top of the Pile: iStock

If you’re planning to splash the cash a little and get some high-quality photos, a good place to look is iStock. It can be a little confusing to see which license you need so just look for the ‘standard license’.

drawing from reference photo
  • Access to high-quality photos
  • Large library if you need something specific
  • Mix of ‘essential’ and ‘premium’ photos
  • Can get expensive
  • Many photos are not intended for references and are heavily edited
  • Large choice can mean time wasted!

The cow was drawn from an iStock photo.

As Runner Up: Wildlife Reference Photos

If iStock is a bit too pricey and you want less choice, (I have wasted hours trawling through their site!), then follow me. I have been using this website for years and what’s more, every photo is only $5.

  • Affordable photos
  • Photos intended as references and not heavily edited
  • Good selection for wildlife artists
  • Limited library compared to iStock
  • Image quality can be a little low, (some are also very high)

The horse was drawn from a Wildlife Reference photo

Free All the Way! Unsplash and Pixabay

Alright, let’s get on to the free stuff. There is quite a selection which you can help yourself to. As you’ll see next week, you do need to be cautious about the type of photos you use. If a photo is too heavily edited, it’s not very useful to us as artists. Many of the free photos are very heavily edited which reduces what you should use.

white feathers in pastel pencils
  • They’re all free!
  • A relatively large library for popular subjects
  • A lot of poor quality images
  • Search engines are not as well designed
  • Be cautious downloading free images

The egret was drawn from a free photo!

The Exclusive Option: Photographers

This is possibly the best option! I have a few friends who take incredible wildlife photos, most of them do it as a hobby. Once again, you must get permission, don’t go off through someone’s Flickr page taking whatever you please.

I come to agreements with my photographers, be it prints or drawings for a certain amount of photos. If you don’t know anyone, why not try asking Facebook groups? Always ask permission!

original pastel pencil drawing of red fox running
  • Totally unique references!
  • You can request subjects and get access to loads of images
  • It can be more affordable for good photos
  • You need to find people who are willing
  • Always make sure you have written permission

This fox was drawn from a photo taken by Ian Saggers

Jack of all…certainly not master of some…

Last of all, have you taken any? For flowers in particular, this can actually be the best way. I often want a specific angle so if I can take it myself, all the better. As for the animals, I struggle. I have only ever worked from two of my own mammal photos as photography is neither a skill I possess or a passion I have – sush!

lamb drawing in pastel pencils - white fur drawing
  • It’s free!
  • You have all the rights you need, draw away
  • You can get specific angles on still life subjects
  • It can take a long time
  • You might not have access to the subjects you need

This drawing is from a photo I took on the farm where we live.

I hope this has helped you to understand copyright for artists as well as where to get photos. If you want help choosing a good reference, then come back next week. In the next post, we will be looking at what makes a good photo to work from.

Until next time, happy drawing!

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