When I posted my "Ask the Artist" interview over at spnroundtable, I decided to address the issue of using photoreference, because this has always been a hot-button topic for artists. Is it cheating? Is it wrong? Is it legal?
Well, the answer is "yes and no." I have received so many questions about whether or not I use it. And I do! I would be foolish not to. And it's not a sin! The sin does, however, frequently exist in two areas of art: 1.) denying that you use reference (when it's fairly clear you must,) making other artists feel inept and defeated and, frankly, lied to, and 2.) following the reference so closely as to be indistinguishable from the photo, or painting over the photo, proper.
Point 1 is self-explanatory. No one likes to be deceived, especially if they're trying to learn. But the second bit is less direct and quite dependent upon your style and product. If your goal is matte painting or photo-realism, then sure! Duplicate the photo as closely as possible. But consider this: if the picture already exists...why duplicate it? What creative translation/interpretation is occurring here? The photograph itself IS a work of art. It feels, in my mind, quite derivative to copy it, hook line and sinker. And it feels even more ill-decided to paint directly over the photo. The reference has become a crutch, and possibly, serious copyright infringement (depending upon the source.)
Now, we here in fandom, we don't take copyright very seriously, do we? Because, hell, we're traipsing all over someone else's intellectual property with grand abandon! And we're allowed to do so because it's marketing for the brand, and allows us to become all the more passionate about our
But as fan artists and authors, what we have to be concerned about is plagiarism. Are we not attempting originality? (To whatever degree we can, being that there is nothing new under the sun?) Are we aping someone else's style? Are we being evasive or defensive, instead of instructive, when someone asks about our inspirations and practices? Do we feel no one has the right to raise a question or constructive criticism, just because this isn't "real life"; it's virtual fandom?
I call shenanigans. You are never too wise or too brilliant or too fragile to grow. If anything I've said here has made you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable, instead of getting your feathers ruffled, how about turning a thoughtful eye inward? Clearly a nerve has been struck. None of this is being said to be hurtful...simply honest. I'm no spring chicken but I have been in the art biz a long time. I've made the very same mistakes and seen more than a few flame wars erupt over All Of The Above. I just ask we all take pause and think about it. Thanks muchly.
Now go have some cake!