This is something I had occasion to think about last week in getting ready for the Leighton Centre Clothesline sale. The first image below is one I use in my introductory watercolour class. I really like it and feel that it has a lot of appeal. Doorways are very popular with people because, I think, they invite the viewer into the story of the painting.
For these reasons I wanted to include this image in the sale. The original reference was from an old ‘how to paint’ book (Walter Foster circa 1950 – $1.25). I wondered if the fact that the images from the book were not copyright and were for people to paint was enough to allow me to include it in the show. I didn’t really think so, so I did another version in which I made some more changes to it (the bottom image). I was putting more of my personal stamp on it and I then wondered if I could enter it in the show.
After debating this for a bit I came to the conclusion that I just couldn’t use any version of a reference that wasn’t mine, even if I changed it. As a teaching/learning tool it’s fine, copying the masters has a long and valued history in art but it can’t be passed off as original which is the criteria for all art shows. I’m not exactly sure where the line is between ‘being influenced by and copying’ but this is way to close for me.
My guiding principle is that I don’t want any painting I do to ever be questioned in terms of originality. Which is why I only work from my own photos or sketches or my imagination.
As artists move along in their journey and start to exhibit and sell their art this issue takes on more importance.