View Full Version : Etiquette of copying works to study?

05-13-2017, 11:11 AM
I know that is one way people learn how to art, by copying the masters.

Once you've done that, what can you do with the painting? Must you just keep it in a dark closet, or can you show or sell it? If the artist is still living, must you ask permission first?

What other considerations are there?



05-13-2017, 11:45 AM
You will probably get varying opinions on this. There are legal questions regarding copyright - which differ by country, are very complicated, and probably need a lawyer or two to sort out - and then their are ethical considerations which are often purely personal.

If you copy works by old masters (done before 1923 in the USA) they are considered in the public domain and can be freely copied. If an artist copies such a work, they normally sign it and then add "After Monet" or whatever artist you are copying along with your signature. Whether you show it or sell it may be up to each artist's personal opinion, and/or the rules of the show that you may be entering. Most art shows or contests require work to be totally original - which means the reference must be yours as well. Personally, I would not sell any such copy, but I might give it away for free to a friend or relative.

Copying the work of any living artist should be done just for learning or personal use, in my opinion. It should also be signed "After XXXX". The original work would be copyrighted. I would not under any circumstance show or try and sell such a work. You could, of course, ask for permission if you want to show or sell. If you use a photo for reference that is not in the public domain or freely given by the photographer for use by artists (such as the photos in our Reference Library on WC) then you should always ask the photographer for permission.

I understand that beginning artists especially like to use reference photos they find in magazines or the internet - I certainly did so for many years! In my early days there was no internet, but magazines such as National Geographic were frequently used for reference. As a learning tool, I still occasionally copy an old master painting - or even a current master. But as one gains experience I think it is important to use your own reference. As I mentioned, if you want to enter organized shows, then the reference needs to be yours. When the reference photo is yours then all the decisions regarding subject and composition are yours, and you end up feeling a much greater sense of accomplishment.

That's my 2 cents.


Donna T
05-13-2017, 01:00 PM
Thanks Don. You explained that so well and I agree completely.

05-13-2017, 02:54 PM
Yes, thank you.

I've been careful to​ use reference material that was free of copyright or use my own.

Recently, however, I've seen some work that really appeals to me, and wondered about copying it for study.

Thank you so much for the helpful summary, Don!


05-15-2017, 05:01 PM
Don your "2 cents worth" is worth at least a dollar.

05-16-2017, 03:07 PM
Like Don said. But make note that copying a living artist's work and selling it, is in breach of copyright. You would be earning money on his/her picture. So copying living artists' work is ONLY for study and practice and nothing else. You can show it, but you cannot sell it or gain any money from it. In most western countries copyright goes after 70 years after the artists' death. Then the work is copyright free - unless it has been passed to others. So you can copy and sell a Michelangelo copy.
Same applies to photographs to work from. Pretty much all photographs are copyrighted, so if you want to sell: use your own photos. If you just want to practice: the world is your oyster. (it might just be nice to ask first if you're going to paint your boss' portrait he he)

05-17-2017, 02:05 AM
There are some online/you tube tutorials, that the artist will mention copies of those are fine, but not their separate non lesson/tutorials/ fine art works.
Always best to double check ...