Sunday, February 28, 2016

Reference Photos – How to Use Them, Where to Find Them

British Museum 1 Million Copyright Free Images

When starting a project, most artists work from some form of reference photo or thumb nail sketch done from a photo to inspire them or give them a basis for where they want to go.  Beginning artists frequently pick photos from magazines or newspapers or from the Internet.  Rarely do they consider that taking any of these is more than likely a copyright violation.  This is especially true for realistic works where the image is faithfully copied.  Eventually we learn that it is imperative to take our own photos and work from these.  But is that always necessary? 
There are a number of websites available that allow artists to use the photographs they post without concern for copyright violation.  They are actually posted expressly to allow artists to reference them.  At the end of this article is a list of four such wonderful resources.  Be aware that if you intend to enter your works in juried shows, many will not allow works done with reference photos other than your own.  Be sure to read each prospectus for the shows you enter.
The next question arises as to how to make the best use of what you find.  For recent photos, crop them, rearrange the elements in them, collage the images on top of one another and paint from the result.  Use these photos to give you ideas of shots you might take yourself with similar compositions.  For images from antiquity (see example above) use them as background for mixed media, cut and paste them into other images for inspiration.  Cut up parts of unrelated images and mix them together for whimsical ideas.  Use them for drawing exercises since many are black and white or sepia only.  Once you check out what’s available copyright free, the possibilities are endless.

Websites for Copyright Free Images 
Paint My Photo offers a huge library of images posted by photographers specifically for artists to use as references
Issuu -- online site for quarterly zines by Paint My Photo contributors
Wet Canvas is a huge consortium of artists offering a library of images as well as forums, contests, blogs, etc. for artists -- register for free
In partnership with Flickr, the British Museum offers 1 million copyright free images from the 1700's through the 1900's -- WARNING -- when you start browsing, it's hard to stop.  Maps, borders, portraits, signatures, you never know what you will find to inspire you.


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