Thursday, October 24, 2013


 I took this photo this morning on my walk. It was very foggy this morning and this was taken at the end of the walk, just as the fog was beginning to  burn off. The scene looked like a pastel or a dreamy oil painting. I used to carry my camera. Now I use the camera on my phone, which is really quite good.

I often use my photos as reference for my artwork. The digital camera and computer and photo editing software have made this a snap. And because it is so easy to do I think some artists rely on a photograph to the detriment of their creativity. What I mean is that the work ends up looking so much like a photo that none of the artist's personality or voice shines through. I have  done this myself and the results are not very satisfying. Lately I tend more toward using the photo to make a simplified sketch, then I work from the sketch and put the photo away. This seems to free me to make the kind of artistic choices with the colors and composition more easily than I did when the photo was in front of me.

The proliferation of photos on the Internet is also a huge boon to making representational art. If I decide I need to add a chicken to a scene I can easily Google "chickens" and know what a chicken looks like, as I did a while back. Nice not to have to go track down a chicken and take its picture!  The danger of working with photos from the Internet, however, is that those photos are someone else's intellectual property. My chicken was an amalgam of a number of different photos, using what I could ascertain from those photos about a chicken's form and posture and coloring. And why would I not simply just find a photo of  the chicken I liked and copy it outright? First, I would likely be violating the photographer's copyright, and second, it is just part of how I like to know that my work is wholly my own. It is perfectly legal and acceptable to use photos for which one has gotten or paid for permission to use, and I certainly don't judge artists that do that, it just isn't anything I want to do. The important point, though, is that permission has been obtained. There have been some important and interesting cases of artists being sued  by photographers for the unauthorized use of their photos. One very interesting case involved the photographer Alberto Korda who never made a penny off his iconic photo of Che Guevara until he successfully sued a vodka company who used it in an ad. In a more recent case, the artist, Shepard Fairey, designer of the emblematic Obama "Hope" poster was successfully sued by the photographer of the image Fairey used without permission.

When I decided to create a portrait of Frida Kahlo for one of my Twelve by Twelve quilts I collected.a variety of images. 

The resulting work uses elements of many of these images, but is not a copy of any one of them.


  1. I love googling pictures to use for crafty stuff, and collecting images on Pinterest is totally addicting. Almost too much inspiration. I will happily admit that my work is probably very derivative of whatever I've seen lately, and I have used online photos (even of other people's art!) at the start of a piece intending to make mine "just like that" because I think it's so wonderful and beautiful. Except, I get going, and I think, wouldn't it be cool if ... the photo gets pushed out of the way, and then starts the substitutions, change-ups, etc. At the end it's kindof fun to go get the photo again to see where it all started. I've never actually managed to copy anything, so I guess I don't need to worry about getting sued.

    My cooking is like that too. I use google to get 4 or 5 recipes, pick the good parts from each one and make up my own. Makes duplication kindof difficult, but it works nearly every time.

  2. I sketched out an idea for a quilt the other day, it had a bird in it, with it's head turned at a certain angle. About fifteen minutes later I was flicking through some art books (that focused on painting) to get colour ideas. And there was my bird, in the same part of the canvas, with the same general body shape and the same distinctive angle to it's head. I can't remember seeing this painting before (they were my MIL's books) but maybe I had? Maybe I had subconsciously absorbed that image and it had worked it's way to the surface again? He was a fairly famous New Zealand painter, so I could well have seen the image somewhere else. The rest of the picture I had sketched was different from the rest of the painting I was looking at, but the birds were SO similar, they were even the same breed of bird. I was immediately worried about plagiarism, but I DIDN'T copy it. So now what do I do? Do I continue on with my quilt knowing that it looks like I copied the bird? And I can't plead ignorance to not knowing about the painting, because now I do know about it, even if it was after I started my original sketch! Arrrrghhh!

  3. Well, I really like your photographs all by themselves but I also love the way you use them to inspire something totally new and different in another medium.

  4. Back in art school a teacher told us to start an 'image file' so if we needed to know how many legs a lobster has we would have a source. So I started one, filed magazine clippings alphabetically until the file folders practically burst. Then I carried the darn file drawers around for forty years. Thanksgod for Google images, now I can see lobster legs from 20 angles, different breeds, cooked, raw, and wild! I work the same way, call it my 'drawing by averages'! And. like your friend above, also do it with recipes.

    1. My grandfather also had 'image files', and I kept paper ones until Pinterest and large storage PCs. I like your term "drawing by averages". :)

  5. This is a thoughtful, interesting and informative list. I like to work from my own photos or sketches or both when I can. I do often use the internet to look up details that I may not be able to see in my own photo. Your idea of doing a composite from several photos is good.