As artists, bloggers, authors, publishers, and generally creative people, we often turn to stock images — at sites like Shutterstock, DepositPhotos.com, FreeImages.com, MorgueFile.com (not what it sounds like), and a bazillion others — for art, photos, and inspiration.
But, do you know what’s okay to use in your artwork…? And what’s legal to use in artwork you sell…?
I’ve talked about copyright in the past. I’ve also debunked the “three stroke rule.” Those are old articles, but most of the information still applies. (Remember: I’ve been online, talking about art, for 20 years now. Really.)
Now, a friend has created a great article and infographic on the topic of stock images and how/when to use them:
Stage fright has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
It’s very selective.
I’m fine in front of a crowd of thousands, especially in halls where the lights are on me and I can’t see the faces of anyone past the first row or two… and even they are too dark to see clearly.
Put me in front of an audience of 20 or 30 people, where I can see every face and every micro-reaction to what I’m saying…?
I have to steel myself to even think about that kind of public speaking.
That’s why, when I teach, I have a firm rule: I need access to the classroom, in solitude, for at least 30 minutes before the students arrive. (Otherwise, I’m likely to blurt all kinds of things… usually extreme and unexpected. It can be confusing if you’re not ready for the panalopy of creative ideas that rush through my mind. The words can tumble out, sometimes a little scrambled, like high schoolers rushing to class before the “late” bell rings.)
During my personal pre-class time, I give myself a “pep talk,” and use breathing techniques that would make Dr. Lamaze proud, to relax myself enough to teach. With the right mindset – or at least mental distance from “not good enough” self-talk – I can teach a great class with lots of student involvement.
(Without exception, every class I’ve taught that fell flat… it’s because I wasn’t given that 30 minutes to prepare.)
Creating art can be a similar issue for me and many other people. We may not have that visible audience, but when the initial spark of inspiration fades, the voice of the inner critic can be worse than any heckler in the classroom.
(You know that student. She’s the one who sighs loudly and repeatedly. And, at the end of the class – when it’s too late to do anything about it -she tells you how deeply you’ve disappointed her, and how you really shouldn’t be teaching. Or making art. Or both.)
Regardless of where the message comes from, we’re often striving for impossible perfection… as artists and as teachers. The slightest shortfall or flaw seems magnified on a big screen and in HD, and every metaphorical pore and blemish is the size of the Grand Canyon.
In fact, we’re often our very worst critics. We hold ourselves up to impossible standards, and we’re usually using the wrong measuring stick.
Last night, I was disgruntled. I’ve been working on a series of small (5″ x 7″) oil paintings, based on memory and photos I’ve taken.
Unfortunately, the results are – so far – uninspired. (I’ll get back to that in a minute.)
So, I took out my pen and paper, and started doodling one of my Pandorica-inspired pieces. (The Pandorica is a Dr. Who story element.)
I was so caught up in it, I let it run to the edge of the page. And then, I felt so disappointed, because that meant the piece would require an additional, larger support, just to be matted.
This morning, my husband pointed out that it’s a perfectly good work of art, as it is, and there are worse things than needing something in back of the work so it mats well.
He also reminded me that art is about the inspiration.
That gets me back to my paintings… the ones that aren’t turning out.
I said that they aren’t inspired, and I mean exactly that: I’m working on them, production-style. By definition, that’s an industrial approach. (Yes, I am reading Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception. It’s brilliant, inspiring, and terrifying, all at the same time.)
So, I went back to my Pandorica doodles. I’m waiting for this evening’s sunset, hoping the colors will be inspiring enough to spark (and complete) some or all of the six little paintings currently on my easel.
I want to take them with me to M.I.T. next week, when we’re hearing Seth Godin speak and participating in whatever’s going on at that event. I’d like to hand out art, at random, as a random acts of kindness gesture. In other words, just for fun.
But… I feel a little stuck. And, I’ve been trying to work with a deadline more than inspiration. Bad idea.
It’s compounded by my fear of disapproval, or – worse – no reaction at all. Boredom. Kind of a “What, you think you’re an artist…?” reaction, as they drop the art in the trash. (Have I mentioned how well I can awfulize when I’m in this mode…? *chuckle and sigh*)
Okay. I’m not sure if this is more stage fright or the visual equivalent of writer’s block.
Either way, it’s putting the emphasis on the finished work and others’ opinions – even their potential opinions, if it’s work I haven’t shown anyone – instead of where it belongs, on the inspiration, and the creative expression that results.
But, what I’m describing in angst-laden terms is how we, as artists, make ourselves tiny and insignificant. And, it’s why we often stall and lose precious time in which we might be making art.
It’s a toxic, all-or-nothing approach. It’s so far from being in flow – in the creative process where we’re in touch with the sublime – we couldn’t find it with a road map, a compass, and a laser-tuned GPS.
The teaching…? I’ve become more selective. I decided not to be part of events where profits are more important than the quality of the courses offered to students. (One of my favorite events is still Dragon Con, though you may not think of that as an arts event, per se.)
The art…? That’s another matter. Recovering my willingness to be creative, out loud… that’s why I changed this website back into the blog it was in the first place, back in 1995 or 1996, when I began it.
And, it’s why I’m staring down virtual stage fright, posting last night’s Pandorica piece here, as a graphic and as an ATC you can download (and print at 300 dpi).
Click on the illustration, above and on the left, to print your own copy. Or just click on this link.
… Among Diffee’s pieces of advice for aspiring creative people is this aphorism: “Be like a mother sea turtle.” By that he means lay a hundred conceptual eggs in the sand, then swim off and don’t fret over what becomes of them. Most of them will never hatch; most of the hatchlings will get eaten by predators. That’s not your problem. Your task is just to keep laying eggs. …
As artists, I think we can be held back by fear of failure. In our heads, we’ve already become critics, even before picking up the pen, pencil, or glue stick.
It’s important to just go for it, and allow serendipity to play a part in the dance we call creativity.
a lot of people have been summarizing Matthew Diffee’s SXSW 2012 talk. (It must have been tremendous. If anything could make me think about braving the crowds – and heat – of Austin for SXSW, the comments about Diffee’s talk might be it.)
And finally, here’s one summary that I like a lot. Click on the link and scroll down to the section that starts “Best sesh.” I think the summary at the very end of the article is the important part.
SXSW Day 3: It’s all about Bob (Marley) and creativity. Matthew Diffee, a cartoonist whose work appears in the New Yorker, defined his YEP! approach to idea generation at “How to be an idea factory” session at SXSW.
… Caffeine kicks starts the “Process”, so he sits down with an empty sheet of paper and doesn’t stop the free flow of ideas until the paper is full and the pot of coffee is empty.
How he does it: He simply starts with a word or phrases and then applies the following: Add things to one of the ideas…
And, speaking of Bre Pettis, if you’ve never made an art shrine in a book, here’s his video showing one way to start the project:
About 10 years ago, I taught a class like that at Artfest. I have no idea how Pettis took only 20 minutes to cut the pages; some of my students spent the entire day cutting. (Yes, that was the last time I tried to teach that as a one-day class.) Usually, the cutting took me about an hour and a half, with breaks to keep my hand from cramping as I held the cutting blade.
During those breaks, I’d work on elements that would go inside the art shrine. I’ve always liked tooled metal, similar to the journals Tracy Moore created, so I found ways to include some sheet metal (doesn’t have to be very thick) in some of my altered books and art shrines. To stamp the words into the metal, I like a good, heavy tooling set like this one. (Some of the lightweight sets sold at arts & crafts stores… they just aren’t sturdy enough to hold up for very long.)
And then, I’d go back to cutting more pages in the book. It was tedious, but the finished altered books made it worthwhile.
Today, I’d probably do a lot of the cutting with a Dremel tool or something. Yes, it could accidentally gouge some of the back cover, but if you use Pettis’ idea of putting a felt liner there, nobody will know if the Dremel got a little out of control.
I’d also consider using a wood burning tool here & there, along the inside edges of the opening. That could look cool and antique-ish, and cover any raw or weird areas, as well.
Tea staining could work, but it won’t be as good at disguising “oops” areas where the blade may have been sloppy. And, in a single-day workshop, the tea won’t dry quickly enough to move to the next step – sealing the edges – unless you use something like an embossing tool (heater) to dry the pages.
After whatever edge treatment I chose (if any), I’d cover the edges with clear, matte finish acrylic gel medium, so the pages would hold together, but it wouldn’t look too obviously glued. (For some projects, I might mix in some small, dried leaves or glitter, depending on the effect I wanted to create.)
This next video starts with some altered book ideas, but he’s using a board book and cutting out part of each page. Then, he wanders into some interesting mixed media techniques that might work well with the first (shrine-style) altered book, above.
I hope those give you some creative ideas!
With thanks to David Locicero for telling me
about Matthew Diffee’s interview.
In an emergency, even with 30 days to come up with $2000, only 25% of Americans are sure they could beg, borrow or steal that much money.
If you’re in business, you need to know your potential audience and customers. In 2011, if your usual fans & collectors are among 75% of Americans, they can’t buy your $1500 painting, wall hanging or assemblage, no matter how gorgeous it is.
Sure, your art may be worth that much or more. Value isn’t the issue here.
The more pertinent questions are:
Do your business practices make your future customers feel better or worse about themselves?
Do they like how they feel around you and (especially) around your art?
Do you have rapport with them?
If they don’t feel that sense of mutual understanding on a personal level — even as artist-to-customer — they won’t be as open to connecting with what your art communicates.
Sure, you can focus on the minority who can afford your art. That may be a smart tactic, for now.
However, that probably shouldn’t be your exclusive focus. Even if you don’t put as much time into laying a foundation with the rest of your audience, they’re still important to your future as a successful artist.
Reaching the 75%
If you’re meeting some of that 75% at art shows, galleries, or even as you’re running errands — and hope to attract them as clients, customers and collectors in the future, when they’re back on their feet — now is the time to establish rapport. They’ll remember it later.
Think about what you can do, so they feel a connection with you right now. What can you give or sell to them that they can own, and — at the same time — help them feel better about themselves?
Even if the person can’t purchase any of your art right now, he or she should walk away thinking, “That art is so great. I’m going to own some of that, some day.”
Contrast that with the sad, “That art is beautiful, and yet another thing I can’t afford. Maybe I never will.”
See the difference?
So, make it possible for the person to connect with your art and feel good about it, right now.
The importance of gifts
Whether it’s a happy conversation, a free art postcard (like VistaPrint’s freebies, which I use), a link to a webpage where they can download something… make sure you connect with your friends and fans, and they remember it as a happy meeting.
This isn’t a reciprocity thing. It’s not, “I’ll give you this now, and you agree to give me something in return, later.”
The gift economy is a little different. It’s about bonding as individuals, and as a community, to establish a personal connection and goodwill for the sake of the group and each other, period.
What do you get out of this? You get to be part of a happier, more connected community in a happier, more connected world.
You get the satisfaction of having done something good. Too often, that’s vastly underrated.
Remain sensitive to what’s really going on, despite appearances.
It’s important to stay current about the world in general. Use other people’s surveys (such as the article linked above) to understand your audience and what’s going on with them.
Right now, the global economy is in transition. This effects artists as much as anyone else, and perhaps more than most.
This is your opportunity to do something nice and helpful… and be remembered for it.
Pave the road to your successful future.
It’s fine to focus on people with cash who also like your art. That’s common sense.
However, pave the road for your continuing success — and invest a little happy karma — by making it possible for everyone to own some of your art, right now.
It’s not difficult. It may require a little creativity, but you can do it.
(Note: If you liked my graphic at the top of this article, it’s a free download. You can click on the image or here to download it as a 5″ x 7″ poster. If you collect ATCs, click here for that free download.)
To understand more about
our economy and the importance of gifts
be sure to read Linchpin by Seth Godin
Google Images are usually copyrighted, as well. Google aggregates (or “scrapes” or collects) images from all over the Internet, the same as they post the titles of webpages, and summaries or excerpts of them.
Nobody’s webpage is automatically in the public domain because Google indexed it.
Nobody’s photos are automatically in the public domain because they’re among the visual indices at Google Images.
Highlighted in yellow on the page linked above, Google reminds people to verify the exact terms of using images that appear at Google Images, even when the images bear Creative Commons licensing.
Here’s what Google says:
Before reusing content that you’ve found, you should verify that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse stated in the license. For example, most licenses require that you give credit to the image creator when reusing an image. Google has no way of knowing whether the license is legitimate, so we aren’t making any representation that the content is actually or lawfully licensed. [Link]
I hope that helps explain what people can & can’t do with your images, and what’s okay (and not) if you’d like to use someone else’s images in your art or other products.
Personally, I’m rabidly enthusiastic about Creative Commons licensing. I’ll talk about that in a later post.
For now, I’ve ordered the following book. I want to see suggestions about apparent conflicts between unbridled creativity and the copyrights of those who’ve created works of seminal (= strongly influencing later developments) importance.
Many people — perhaps most people online today — don’t know how copyright laws work.
I know no one who deliberately breaks copyright laws.
But yes… some people believe that anything online is okay to borrow, at least for personal or one-time use.
After all, everyone else is doing that, so it must be legal… right?
Umm, no. Really. No.
I’M NOT A LAWYER
I’m not an attorney. My interpretations of the law are my own opinions, not legal advice.
Also, even judges don’t seem to agree on copyright law. How harshly you’re treated, if caught, can vary from one courtroom to the next.
WHY I CARE
I’m an artist. Since the mid-1990s, when I created my first website — gosh, was that really over 20 years ago? — my own images have been stolen.
The tragedy is, I usually give permission when someone asks, first. I was thrilled when one of my original photos was used for a record album cover. But, the band asked permission.
I go directly to the webmaster when I find someone using one of my illustrations illegally. Most people quickly (and apologetically) remove the image from their websites.
However, a few balk. They insist they bought the image from someone else, as part of a package, so they think the image is in the public domain now.
Or they found the image at Flickr. Or something.
That’s when I contact the person’s website hosting service. Usually, the hosting service shuts down every website that person has. They’re banned.
Nobody’s happy, and it didn’t have to conclude that way.
I’ve written several popular articles about copyright, the “three stroke” myth, and how copyright law affects artists. Some of that information may apply to you. My original article is at https://aisling.net/copyright-and-the-three-stroke-rule/ , along with several other copyright-related articles.
I also teach artists, including photographers, how to protect their images so they can prove they’re the original creators of the respective works.
It’s a simple technique: I remove about 1/2 inch on at least two sides of the original image, before I post it online. When the hosting service asks me to prove it’s my original graphic, I can show them the larger version that has never appeared online. So far, that’s always worked.
Maybe you shrug off copyright laws. If you don’t know anyone who’s been caught “borrowing” images, and you haven’t felt the anguish of seeing your own work stolen, maybe it’s no big deal.
However, if you’re breaking the law, it’s only a matter of time until you’re caught.
Today, software can identify images being used illegally online. Art museums use this technology to protect their images, online.
Just like Google Image Search, the specialized software recognizes distinctive elements in original graphics and scours the Internet looking for any matches.
Once you’re caught by someone who has deep pockets or an attorney with whiplash mentality… heaven help you.
You’re playing a dangerous game if you’re using photos or artwork without permission.
USE LEGAL IMAGES INSTEAD
There is no reason to use illegal images in any product, including website design.
There are many great, public domain images online. Pre-1923 images are generally (but not always) safe to use. You can find them online; Wikipedia often features gorgeous public domain images by famous artists such as John William Waterhouse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_William_Waterhouse
Those are just some of many great resources for free, completely legal, royalty-free images. (Remember: The images are still copyrighted. You’re simply given permission to use the images without paying a fee.)
Stock.xchng was one of my favorites. No matter what the name of the site is now, if the option is offered: be sure to search with “Restricted OK” set to “NO.” http://www.sxc.hu/
Morgue File (not what it sounds like), also called MFile, is another great resource. Like Stock.xchng, be sure to check the licensing terms for each image. http://www.morguefile.com/
Most free, royalty-free websites also offer higher-quality images for a fee. The fee can be as low as $1 with unlimited use rights, and that often depends on the size of the image you want (for online or print use) and whether you’ll be reproducing it on tee-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.
Or, if you found an image — like one of mine — through an image scraper or photo-sharing site, it’s easy to double-check the owner (and the rights to that image).
Browser plugins like Search by Image for Google make it right-click easy.
Then, ask the owner for permission to use the image in your project. Many of us are happy to say yes.
The best idea of all? Take your own photos. Practice makes perfect (or at least good enough), you don’t need to get a photography degree… though you could. And, once you’re comfortable with your camera, consider adding your photos to sites like iStockPhoto.com and earn money from them.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve been using images without permission. 99% of the people I teach or consult for have no idea they’ve been doing anything wrong. This includes respected artists including photographers and illustrators.
What’s important is to use legal images as much as you can, starting right away. The Internet is always changing, and copyright law is becoming a far greater issue across the online community.
Besides, there is no reason to copy others’ graphics without permission. There are many wonderful, free resources for great images. Use them instead.
I wrote the first draft of this article in 2006, when the arts community was still deciding if we were “art journaling” or creating “artists’ journals.” Then, I expanded the article in 2011, weighing in on the continuing debate. (Today, the phrase “art journaling” seems preferred, so I’ve updated the article… but only a little.)
Two phrases are often used interchangeably: ‘art journals’ and ‘artists journals.’
For me, an artist’s journal is an illustrated diary or journal representing the artist. It’s about the person’s life, or some aspect of it, such as a travel journal, a diet & fitness journal, or something like my ‘decluttering journal’.
It usually includes art and the journal is also a work of art, in itself.
Many people call that “art journaling,” and I suppose it is. I mean, are we getting tangled in semantics, when the art is what really matters?
So what else is an art journal?
By contrast, an art journal is where I keep notes about art I’m working on or might want to create later. It includes visual inspiration – photos, articles, etc. – as well as my own thumbnail sketches, etc.
It’s sort of my pre-art brainstorming, in a journal format.
At left is a page from a 2011 art journal. The photos and sketch represent ideas that I used to inspire an oil painting.
I use an art journal as my on-paper memory of inspiration and original ideas. It’s sort of like a visual thumb drive of art ideas, for later use.
If I don’t jot down my ideas in a journal, they’ll vanish from my thoughts in a matter of days, if not hours. I tend to have a steady stream of creative ideas, and one soon replaces another in my consciousness.
For me, it’s part of the creative process.
Here’s how my ideas develop, through my art journaling
People often ask me where I get my original art ideas. Well, I’m not sure that they’re entirely “original,” but they are fresh and new, if only to me.
Here’s a typical sequence: I started by surfing the Internet to see what other artists are currently working on.
Yesterday, I viewed a website called The Starving Artist’s Way, which included a project using second-hand woolen sweaters that had been washed and dried to shrink them in a “felted” style.
I didn’t think much more about that – not on a conscious level, anyway – but later in the day, after a nap, I woke up thinking about what else I could do with that kind of wool.
While the thoughts were still fresh in my mind -and evolving – I jotted them down in my art journal. These are my two pages of notes:
In a nutshell, I was thinking about the kinds of wearable art that I could make with felted-style wool.
(Geek note: It’s not actually “felted” wool when you wash & dry woven/knitted/etc. wool to shrink it. It’s called “fulled” wool. Felting is when you use the raw fibers and a tool to tangle and/or compact them.)
This merged with the Mondrian art that I was reminded of when I was playing an online game, Kingdom of Loathing, yesterday.
And, once I started jotting down these ideas, I remembered when I used to make stained glass windows. Those patterns would adapt nicely to this kind of wool treatment, too.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever actually do anything with this idea. I get a bazillion of these ideas, steadily.
So, I’m scanning the pages from my idea journal, and putting them into my next art zine. I’m doing that for two reasons.
First, it documents that it was my idea. It drives me crazy when I decide to run with an idea and it turns out that another artist has been working on a similar concept… and people think that one of us is “copying” the other, when we’re not.
Second – and more importantly – I am sharing this idea so that someone else might be inspired by it and adapt the concepts (or copy it line-for-line, for all I know/care) to his or her own art.
Sharing art journaling, and the “copying” issue
My grandfather was a successful inventor and used his ideas to create his own (large) company.
When his original ideas were copied, he used to chuckle and say, “Plenty more where that came from.”
In other words, he didn’t complain about those who copied him.
I’ve always liked that, and he was the richest man I knew, when I was growing up. He literally made millions (when that was a lot of money) from his creative ideas; he was a good role model.
So, I’m okay with the idea of sharing my art journal pages so that people see what one can look like.
However, these may be my own definitions. How you use the terms ‘art journals’ and ‘artists journals’ may be different… and that’s fine with me.
Why art? Really, why would anyone take the time to create art, unless he or she is a full-time artist?
The answers are clear to anyone who’s independently created art of any kind.
Even if it’s a scribble or a graphic note in the margin of your class notes, if you’ve ever expressed yourself visually, you’ve created art.
Note that I said independently created art. That’s important.
If it was a class assignment, or something you had to do, the art process may have been vacant.
For many artists, the art process is where the value is. If the process is drudgery, it’s only mimicking art.
Artist Harley Brown said it well. “Within a second of starting a picture, I’m on top of a mountain which has finally become my reality. So, when I tell people to do a drawing a day, it is not only to learn to observe or perfect skills, it is putting ourselves closer to what we really are and for what we live.”
What makes art important in our lives is how art makes us feel.
Whether you’re creating the art or admiring it in a gallery or on your drawing pad, art should evoke an emotional reaction. If it doesn’t, the art isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just not resonating with who you are, inside.
For most artists, particularly when you’re starting out, the focus must be on the process. Your results will improve with practice. The joy is in the creative moments and the discoveries you’ll make — good and bad — as you work on art.
Your art, whether it’s drawing or painting or singing or fine-tuning a recipe, is a process that makes you feel more authentic… more alive.
In The Book of Awakening, Howard Thurman is quoted, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Separate the technical aspects of art from the joy of creating. Sometimes, the learning process can be as exciting (or boring) as singing scales or reciting multiplication tables. However, the process of putting the pencil to the paper, or paint on the canvas, is where the magic is.
Aim for something original. That won’t come from copying others, or measuring your work against theirs. The finished product may be a disappointment, but the more important question is: How did you feel when the work came alive? Did you forget about time and tidiness? Did you feel in flow, following a joyful current?
Musician Jeff Beck said, “As long as there’s something original going on, that’s all that really matters.”
Art can be about the finished work. However, it’s more important to focus on the energy that is grounded in and emanates from the creative process.
If you feel that spark of vitality, even for a few seconds as you’re creating art, you’ve seen a glimmer of what drives us to be artists… and what keeps us fully alive in every moment.
We create art for how it feels, not necessarily for the merits of the finished work.
Art class – erdogan ergun, Turkey
Art gallery – brendan gogarty, Australia
Girl in field – Armin Hanisch, Germany
Are you a professional artist, or launching an art career?
Whether you’re a gallery veteran or simply considering selling your art, it’s vital to remain current about the art field as well as business trends in general.
So… who are you reading, to stay current?
One of the most important recent books is Seth Godin’s Linchpin. It’s changing about 70% of how I spend my online time, and almost everything about my offline art/business activities. (Godin is talking about art, but not necessarily visual or fine arts. The book applies to anyone with a job… self-employed or not.)