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Copyright Guidelines for Artists: How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

If you’ve been following my blog posts for a while, you’ve probably seen my Voices and Visions poetry illustration series, which I have posted on my blog. Some of these feature celebrity portraits, such as my Maya Angelou portrait, And Still I Rise, and my biographical portrait of singer/songwriter, Sting. To create these portraits, I have combined several photographic sources to make a photo collage in Adobe Photoshop as references for the drawings and paintings for my poetry series. I want to avoid copyright infringement, especially since some of the photos are photos of celebrities.  In addition, I have seen celebrity portraits often on websites such as Etsy and Pinterest and I have wondered, what constitutes copyright infringement when using photographic sources other than your own?  Is there such as thing as changing the photographic source “enough” to make it your own, or not?

Since I am new to the word of art entrepreneurship, the concept and understanding of copyright infringement with regard to the visual arts are somewhat new to me. On the other hand, I have heard about the subject in passing, such as in the celebrated case of the Obama poster campaign portrait, in Associated Press vs. Fairey, (2009), in which a photo of former President Barak Obama taken by AP freelancer, Mannie Garcia, was used by graphic artist Shepherd Fairey to create a campaign poster for Obama. ( Source: Kaitlyn Ellison, 2014, 5 Famous Copyright Infringement Cases (and what you can learn, retrieved from https://99designs.com/blog/tips/5-famous-copyright-infringement-cases/). Accessed 16 January 2018.  As a former history major in college, I am much more familiar with the issue of plagiarism with regards to the written word, as in not citing your sources in research papers and essays, etc. When I was a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, if a student was found guilty of plagiarism, with regard to a term paper or essay, they would be booted out of the University, permanently. As a result, I meticulously cited my sources as I took notes, and double and triple checked for paraphrasing and direct quotes during each draft of a research paper. I know many of the guidelines which refer to that sort of subject, such as you should always cite your sources when you give direct quotes or paraphrase another person’s ideas, both in the body of your paper as footnotes and at the end of your paper as works cited page. In fact, there are even websites devoted to the study of specific types of citation methods such as APA style, Chicago style, etc., which you can learn about on the Purdue Online Writing Lab which can be accessed on the following link,https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/, and how to implement these styles in a college essay.

On the other hand, the world of artistic copyright infringement seems murkier to me.  How do artists avoid copyright infringements when creating art and how do they protect their own works from unlawful use or theft?  To find out, I started researching some articles online about copyright infringement…I discovered that there is no magic formula for changing a source photograph enough to make it original and that it is far better to use your own photos if at all possible, according to the author, Helen South, 2017, of the article, What Artists Need to Know About Copyright. On the other hand, if this is not possible, as, in the example of using photos of celebrities, artists can make use of websites such as Wikimedia or Wikipedia to look up photos of specific celebrities. (ibid) These websites give details about the provenance of each photo, such as whether it is copy written, the photographer’s name, date of creation, and whether or not this photo is available for use, and under what terms. The photographs have a citation that states, its sources, such as the photographer that took the photo and whether it is labeled public domain or creative commons. (ibid)

Be sure to read all the notations about the artwork to be sure it is not copy written and to understand the conditions for which it may be used.  Finally, another example of copyright usage is when artists make master copies of other artists work for their own study and development. For example, well-known artists such as Mary Cassatt, considered studying the old masters and copying their work to be an integral part of an artist’s education, and she copied old master masters, by Italian artist, Correggio.  (Source: The Art Story: Modern Art Insight, Mary Cassatt, American Draftsman, Painter and Printmaker, retrieved from http://www.theartstory.org/artist-cassatt-mary.htm, Accessed on 19 January 2018. Biography.com, Mary Cassatt: Painter, (1844-1926), retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/mary-cassatt-9240820. Accessed on 19 January 2018. and Getlein, Frank.  Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints, Abbeville Press Publishers: 1980, New York, pg. 12.

It is important to label your master copies with the notation, After (Artist’s Name). You can also add additional information such as the title of the work, date of creation, medium, and the date that you executed your version of the masterwork on the back of the painting. In addition, to avoid claims of plagiarism or worse yet, art forgery, I never sell my masterworks and only use them to learn more about technique and I always give credit where credit is due. If I post them on my website or elsewhere, such as Instagram, I clearly indicate that they are master copies with all of the details about the picture’s provenance. This article is by no means comprehensive about the ins and outs of copyright law regarding visual art

portrait of Sting
Here is the updated version of my biographical portrait of Sting. It is a mixture of acrylic and watercolor paints and pencil. I am still working out the composition and the water reflections.

and is only intended as a basic introduction to the subject. Thank you for stopping by!

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Why Should Artists Study the Great Masters? What can be learned from copying master artworks and other things I didn’t learn in College.

Many years ago when I was an undergraduate Art student at McDaniel College, I asked one of my art professors, “Will it help me to be a better painter if I study the masters?” She said that it would, but declined to tell me how it would help. At the time, unfortunately, I didn’t take her advice. Perhaps it was because I didn’t truly understand why it was a good idea to study the works of Caravaggio or John Singer Sargent. Lately, I have been asking myself the question, “How can I be a better artist?” because my artwork has seemed lacking in something, but I am not sure what is is.

My employment background as a Library Assistant has shown me to the wonders of the internet and how any question can be researched and instant results to your search inquiry on Google, can answer your questions in seconds. And so, I started doing Google searches over the past few weeks on how to be a better artist. Lo and behold, several article results flashed on my  Samsung galaxy phone screen and one of them by Magic the Gathering, Artist and illustrator, Noah Bradley, caught my eye, 21 days to be a better artist (even if you’re terrible), (2015). Here is the website link, if you would like to read more: https://medium.com/@noahbradley/21-days-to-be-a-better-artist-48087576f0dd.

Ok, so back to the question, “Why should Artists study the great masters?” In the above-mentioned article, Noah Bradley, 2015,  speaks about the importance of copying the masters, which he terms, “master copies”. In these exercises, he explains that an artist chooses an artwork by a dead artist and attempts to replicate it. He includes a website link, entitled, Week 1: Master Studies-Noah’s Art Camp, with a step by step art tutorial decribing how to copy the masters and gives a bit more explanation for why we should copy dead artists’ work on this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQfF-P70V2Q. In the video, Bradley also mentions that copying the art work of “golden age illustrators” (i.e. artists who worked betweeen the 1880s and 1920s),  is a good place to start. Source: Week 1: Master Artists -Noah’s Art Camp, http://www.youtube.com, and Art Cyclopedia, Artists by Movement: The Golden Age of Illustration, 1880s to 1920s,

http://www.artcyclopedia.com/history/golden-age.html.   Today, I did some additional research on the topic of master studies and why they are important undertakings for artists.

In another article entitled, “Copying Paintings of the Masters and Other Artists” by Lisa Marder, November 24, 2015 on Thoughtco.com, she states that there are several concrete benefits to copying master artworks. Marder, 2015,  also observes that although the practice of copying master art works was once a popular teaching method in the academic artworld, this practice has fallen out of favor because today’s culture is more attuned to creating “original” artwork and avoiding the dangers of copyright violation. Source: https://www.thoughtco.com/copying-paintings-of-the-masters-2578707. She lists several benefits of copying the masters, (i.e. artists who created artwork prior the 18th century”),Marder, 2015. According to Marder, 2015, some of these benefits include: 1.) Learning to see things more accurately by drawing, and 2.) Building a foundation of artistic techniques with which to inspire your future work, such as composition or color choices. Souce: https://www.thoughtco.com/copying-paintings-of-the-masters-2578707.  For further reading on this subject, she recommends readers to peruse the article, Today’s New Old Masters Outshine the Avant Garde, Huffington Post, May 24, 2015 by Brandon Kralik.

Stay tuned for next week’s art blog when I will give you a step by step art tutorial on how to copy master art works! For now, I am attaching some photos of master copies that I have been working on by Mary Cassatt and Mead Schaeffer. The first master copy is entitled, Sara in a Green Bonnet, by Mary Cassatt, ca. 1901, and the second copy is The Count of Monte Cristo, by Mead Schaeffer, 1928. These works are painted with Gamblin 1980 oil paints on canvas.