View Full Version : caught up in debate x posted

10-03-2005, 09:30 PM
Since I post here sometimes, I thought I would share with you my recent drama- if interested please read in the art debate and society section under "can you use reference photo to compose an original image?"
I am not going to post any more about it (I am stressed out fully) but would love to hear others thoughts from other forums.

10-03-2005, 10:08 PM

Well let me start by saying that I've entered the Pastel 100 competetion ( just for fun of course) with my Shoe's painting.
After asking for some advice, I was told that it would be better to use a reference of my own than other's. Mainly because someone else might use the same reference.
I suppose that the main problem in your case is that independently (spell ? ) of the quality of your work and altough you may have done some changes, it's based on another person's idea; but how do we know that the photo was not also based upon another person's idea and so on and on ?
I also think that the juri might have had in account the fact of the concept/idea belonging totaly or not to the painter, thus giving more or less credit. I guess that's what happened.
You know, sometimes original stuff is more appealing. Let me give you an example.
Tomorow I'm starting oil lessons and I've showned my portfolio so that the teacher may have an idea of the stage I'm in.
I've showned some pretty trivial works and then when I showed him a water tap or spigot (dunno how you call it there), he got really interested on it.
It was not the fact of being well depicted or not, but only because he had never seen a water spigot.
That's also the kind of feeling I'm trying to get with my shoe's painting. I know that I cannot compete in terms of technicall quality, but maybe they find funny the painting I sent since it's not a portrait, a landscape or a still life with a table, a pitch and some flowers. Maybe a miracle happens and I get the 100th place :-)
Don't forget that altough you lost the 2nd place, your work had the quality to achieve it. Conclusion : you know that YOU ARE GOOD !



10-03-2005, 11:04 PM
Leslie- hugs to you! What they do to you? Debate forum makes me sweaty LOL. Gotta go see though.


10-04-2005, 12:04 AM
I was in a tiff with someone here at wc about this once, I agree with you Leslie. I am really sorry to hear about the contest, it makes no sense to me as it was not stated in thier rules specifically. I do often use photos, and I also paint from real life. Nuff said from me, people will debate this forever.


10-04-2005, 07:38 AM
Artists through time have used photographs - Degas did, and if it was good enough for him, I need say no more. No-one knocks Degas!! So there is nothing wrong, as such, with using a photo. ( That said, copying mindlessly does not deserve any awards.) Shirley Trevenna, a brilliant UK watercolour painter, freely admits in her book that one of the first awards she won was for a painting done from an old newspaper cutting photograph of an actress- (no permissions given there, I'll bet). However, she changed the photo DRAMATICALLY, which is different from cropping and changing the colour a bit. Here it is:


So - what got your competition organisers so riled up? Did you ask them for their reasons? It may well be that they got the wrong end of the stick. I would have fought it through, in your shoes, to find out exactly what rule you had broken. If their answer was that they are not happy for the artist to use photographs as reference material, I would quote Degas, and as many other Masters as I could find.

OF COURSE your painting is an "original" and not a copy. Whether one "copies" from life, or "copies" from a photo, it's all still "copying"! the only time the artist doesn't "copy" something is when they paint out of their head. If it is OK to use some kind of reference material for your source of inspiration - be it real, or photographed, then you broke no rules.

BUT - and this is important -YOU NEED TO BE REALISTIC. You must recognise that judges are human, and they have their own agendas. There are plenty who will have an aversion to the use of photographic material, particularly photographic material which is "second hand" - ie. photos not taken by the artist. In their minds, this removes an element of personal creativity. So this is a lesson learned for the future...if only to remember to use your own photos! (However, I reckon that the reason they asked you about your sources, was to eliminate people who work from photos. I have never entered a competition where the judges have asked about my sources...it would have made me immediately suspicious.)

given that you used a photo of marbles - which are freely available to everyone - I think you should have kept very quiet about the fact that it was someone else's photo - that would have been common sense. Too much information given out! I think it would have been enough to say "I worked from photographic reference".

There are some times when it is less ok to work from someone else's reference. If, for example, you had used a photo of Buckingham Palace, or an iceberg in Alaskawithout ever having been there - then that would be different, in my opinion. You would have no personal experience of either of those places. But you know what a marble is, and what it looks like, from personal experience, and you could easily have photographed those marbles yourself, and your photo would not have looked terribly different to the photo you used.

I have won a national competition with work produced from a photo. Yes, I changed the photo, altering colours, adjusting composition - all the things you did. Nobody asked me whether it was done from a photo - but if they had asked, I would have said that the reference for the painting was a combination of photographs (plural, notice - subtle distinction here) and sketches. That would have been perfectly acceptable, I am sure, even tho I would not have said that the sketches were done AFTER the photo, rather than before!

Judges want to have the comfort of knowing that you are an artist who has integrity. They feel worried about the use of someone else's photos, they feel it lacks integrity and creativity. So, you make them feel more comfortable, not by telling lies, but by telling the part of the story that you know they want to hear.

Having said all of the above - I would seriously suggest that when entering work for competition, you work from your own photos, just in case someone else uses the same reference from the same open source. They might not crop in the same place, or use the same colours, but nevertheless, if someone enters a pic which is very similar, it suddenly dramatically weakens your entry.

In one of my books,a well-known British female artist used EXACTLY the same basket of flowers, all leaning out of the basket to the left and all the same type of flowers, as that used by a male artist of greater stature, who had painted his picture quite some time before. In my eyes, this has diminished the female artist - even tho there is nothing really wrong with what she did. But as soon as I saw the female artist's picture, I was stunned; I could not believe she would have been so foolish as to have copied another's work. Now....it may well be a simple co-incidence that she put the same colour and type of flowers into exactly the same type of basket at exactly the same angle...but if so, then it was most unfortunate!

When you enter competitions, you cannot take the risk that someone else might have used the same reference material, even if their painting looks different to yours. The judges' reaction will be the same as mine was, when I saw that painting in the book. Why take this risk? It isn't necessary. Always enter paintings which you have painted from your own sources, be it photographic, or real life. It is SAFER, that's all. And when judges start asking you about your painting methods, I recommend tell them what they want to hear, because there has to be a reason why they asked in the first place!

I bet they would not have asked Degas about his source material.....

10-04-2005, 09:11 AM
Don't let the Debates Forum stress you out, Leslie. While most of the participants over there are reflective, well-spoken people who pose interesting ideas and turns of thought, some of the more vocal ones are in there simply because they like to argue. They're going to play devil's advocate simply because they can. It can be kind of entertaining sometimes, but it gets old pretty fast, lol.

Jackie summed it up pretty well, IMO. This is one of those issues with no right or wrong answer. I'm sorry you got burned in the competition--but you do know that they liked your work!

Jackie--I figured you'd be saying, "Work from life! Work from life!" :). This was an interesting perspective...I'm glad you shared it.

There's a difference between honesty and too much information...and again, I think Jackie pegged it there. That's a lesson I've struggled with in other contexts. I've been happy to acquire enough self-confidence to say exactly as much as I feel is necessary to say and no more!

So don't stress about this anymore. The outcome cannot be changed--and you never had control over any more than your own actions anyhow. You are satisfied with your own behavior in this one--you told the truth. Next time you might not tell the truth in such detail, but that's what these experiences are all about. Now, shelve this issue in the back of your mind and get back to painting!

10-04-2005, 10:22 AM
"Debate forum makes me sweaty LOL"
Oh I just had to laugh when I read this. You are so right! I don't think I want to visit there too often :>)
Thanks everyone for your comments! Jackie, I especially thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully discuss your thoughts- all of which are so well written and thought out. You make such good points from both sides. I certainly will approach thinkgs differently from now on and I hope the judges will as well. I hope the expectatons will be much more clear on exactly what is and what is not acceptable in their eyes. I will certainly choose my words more carefully from now on and hopefully grow as an artist from this experience. You guys are just the best- Thansk you all for your comments and you are right Kim- Back to Painting!

10-04-2005, 10:46 AM
Rating this thread, hope I'm doing this right.


Kathryn Wilson
10-04-2005, 10:53 AM
Hey, Leslie - glad you are feeling somewhat better about things. I did read all the way through the debate/discussion and feel there were some good points made on both sides. It is an interesting discussion here too - if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to move this thread to the Pastel Talk forum and see if we can get more opinions on using photographs as a "reference."

Would you mind telling us exactly what the show committee required of entrants? It would be helpful in this discussion. I think many of us could learn from your experience.

So sorry this happened to you -

10-04-2005, 01:34 PM
Jackie wrote "because there has to be a reason why they asked in the first place!"

You are soooo intuitive Jackie. Yes, I found out that there was evidently an entry last year that was going to place and someone realized that they had seen the picture or painting before and upon further investigation realized that someone had painted their version of some magazine cover. And they are viewing this as the same type of violation. This of course in my opinion is completely different as I had the photographers permission, blah blah blah - I have already repeated that a million times haha. I think as long is credit is given to the photographer and permission has been asked then the painting itself is original. I drew, I painted. However, believe me I will just take my onw blasted photos from now on. however, I still stand firmly that I did not break any rules.

The contest simply stated: Only original artwork and No renditions of OTHER PAINTINGS.

From now on I hope they state: No reference photos from any other source than the artist completing the artwork if photo references are used --- comments like that that clearly state their deifnitiion of ORIGINAL ARTWORK.

It is an interesting debate and I also see valid points from both sides. The CONCEPT and original PAINTING debate is very interesting.

Thansk again everyone!

10-04-2005, 01:44 PM
I think I also just hate being the "guinea pig" so to speak or the being made an example out of as I know there ate pleeeenty of people who have probably doen the same without thinkning about it. I think it is as Jackie said sometimes you have to "tell the part of the story that you know they want to hear" and I obvioulsy did not do that. I touched upon an already sore issue at least one that they viewed one in the same. Oh well- live and learn.

10-04-2005, 03:29 PM
Hmmm - I am not surprised at your discovery, Leslie. They had to have "an agenda", and sounds like you found out exactly what it was. It is arguably short-sighted of them; Jim Dine used to use cuttings from magazines; Andy Warhol used unusual source material (think of soup cans....), Hockney too, I could name MANY, many artists who use source material which is far from original. What makes the subsequent painting into a piece of worthwhile "art" is HOW that source material is used. There is one caveat to this:
I believe that using magazine material is suspect; I have read that all photos and art that appears in mags, books, postcards etc are copyrighted in the name of the publication and/or the photographer or artist. This may have fired their cocern. ( Material printed before 1900 however is in the public domain and may be used.)

On another subject all together...

Someone above was surprised that I appear to advocate the use of photographs. Well, to set the record straight...I have no problem with the use of any kind of source material, used creatively, but I DO have a problem with beginners using photographs, when they haven't properly learned to work from life, and then expecting their paintings to look acceptable. I can spot this a mile off in a crit session. I comment about a strange passage or shape in a painting, and I get a defensive retort from the painter that "it was there". "In the photo?" I ask, and the answer is inevitably an even more defensive "yes".
I get irritated when I see beginners' paintings here on WC, paintings of fruits and vegetables - done from photos. Why didn't they work from life? And landscapes - done from photos, with the tones or perspectives all wrong because of camera distortion and incorrect exposures. The mistakes that are made are so often the kinds of mistakes that people would simply NOT make, if they were working from life - from a tree the size of a tree, not 3 cm tall on a piece of paper for instance. How can anyone get aerial perspective under their belt,when the camera reads the light in the scene, and turns the distant forms black, and the shadows black? Working from life, the painter would see clearly that the forms in the distance are not black, and shadows are transparent, they are not black and solid either. With quite a lot of experience of painting from life under their belt, they can then interpret photos properly.

So folks, I haven't changed my tune at all. Work from photos, by all means, when you know what you are doing (or if you simply have no choice, for some reason). If you lack experience as a painter, I feel you will learn your craft properly, by working a lot from life. Only then can you interpret the photo correctly.

Harley Brown says, in his book:
"working from photos is an indispensable part of the artist's routing (I dispute the word "indispensable", mind you) so it's important to know how to do so. Paradoxically, that's precisely why you should make it a point to work from life as frequently as possible, not merely because it's a major source of the fun of being an artist, but because it will immeasurably enhance your understanding and use of photographic reference".

10-04-2005, 04:38 PM
I totally agree Jackie with all you said. I definitely paint from life as well. I just happened to fall in love with the marble picture and since it was up for use I used it instead of taking the time to go and buy my own and set it up. Shame on me but I still do not feel that I broke any rules of painting an original painting. Don't take credit for the concept but I do take credit for the hard work that went in to creating that detailed original painting.
Take care everyone and thanks for all your comments.
Great points about Warho and Dine. I think that I am respecting both sides of the issue - I just wish that the magazine from which I entered the contest would be opened minded to view both sides as well. I am wure we BOTH learned a lots from this lesson.
Best Wishes

10-05-2005, 09:56 AM
Well, a bunch of folks now are using projectors and slavishly copying every single detail from photographs- for example, ever single shading nuance is drawn in so it can be colored differently- looks a bit like paint by numbers to me but they do achieve photo-realism which so many of them are after. Not that you can't do it without a projector- my work you can tell was not traced from anything LOL but I do use a picture if I want anything halfway decent- I cannot create purelly from my imagination and have anything worth doing. I tried one of Jackie's exercises in her workshop book awhile back- turned out so horrible was ashamed to post it- of course I did not follow her instructions either- I wonder why my kids are sometimes bad students LOL

10-05-2005, 12:26 PM
Leslie, fascinating thread. I'm so sorry you had this experience. I have only recently started using some images from the RIL. I had avoided it for months as it felt like "cheating" to me, but there are so many gorgeous images out there, and I was getting bored.

I take lessons as often as they are offered (three 10-week sessions a year - autumn, spring and summer) at the local art museum, and all are "from life", mostly live human models. I've also set up still lifes in my home to work from them, and done some plein air painting. I mean I'm really *trying* to improve my drawing skills.

But I was also getting bored. I have to confess I don't really *enjoy* painting human beings. I don't really have a good way to set up any decent lighting or background for still lifes. I only have a limited number of "things" in my house. Do I want to keep painting the same vase or cup or bottle over and over? What do I do about background when the real background is just the passthru into my messy kitchen? I found I really don't like plein air all that much. So I was getting discouraged and depressed. Even most of my own photographs don't impress me to work from - and I have thousands of them in boxes all over the house, and on my PC since I went digital. :)

So just recently I began using some images from the RIL, and I have to say how energized it has made me feel. I am using an image from the RIL for a local art "show" coming up in two weeks, but it's not a competition. It's just the local women's club having local artists show their work, nad having a little reception for townfolk to come see it, with the hopes of raising some money by having a cash bar! I did try to create a work of my own, but all my attempts were so utterly dismal and lifeless looking, and time was short. I only have 10 days from the time I agreed to be in the show until I had to tell them what my work would be. I was too stressed, and out of free time to keep coming up with my own set-ups for a painting. So I went to the RIL, and it saved me. I have a couple other pictures I did from the RIL that I'm thinking of donating to a charity auction at my church as well.

But if I was going to enter a competition I guess I would feel more comfortable if the painting was from my own reference, either real-life or photographic. Maybe that is why I have not even thought of entering any competitions, as I don't have anything good enough that falls in that category, LOL. But I do agree that you did nothing wrong, and am sorry the judges felt otherwise.

Like Purples I have also heard of plenty of people using projectors to trace things exactly, and copying every single detail from the photo for a 'photorealism' look, and who is to say that is not art also? It certainly is to the artists even though I figure if I wanted true photorealism I would just take a photograph. :D

10-05-2005, 01:19 PM
I don't really have a good way to set up any decent lighting or background for still lifes. I only have a limited number of "things" in my house. Do I want to keep painting the same vase or cup or bottle over and over? What do I do about background when the real background is just the passthru into my messy kitchen? I found I really don't like plein air all that much. So I was getting discouraged and depressed. :D

If an artist likes the IDEA of working on still life, then it is important to "feed" that idea. When I worked on a still life series, I made a point of ensuring that I always had plenty of inspiration. Yes,using the same ol things one has around the house can be boring, so you have to do things to energize yourself, from collecting props to viewing other people's still life pics for ideas..

Here are some ideas:

1. Cheap backgrounds can easily be created by using coloured wrapping paper. Pinned up behind a still life, this can be marvellous. A mirror is a useful prop too.

2. Another way to create a "background" is to look DOWN on your still life. Put it onto a table which a) has a nice tablecloth on it and b) is well below your eye level, or onto a footstool, or even onto the floor. Then, you have an automatic "background".

3. You can visit friends, and borrow their bits and bobs for your still life. Decide upon a colour scheme - a blue still life, for instance. Then go begging blue objects.

4. Make a regular trip to the junk store, if you have one. Cheap old chipped vases; lights; baskets; jugs, plates, etc, will be great for your still life.

5. Have a look in the garden. Broken flowerpots are good props; put them with other garden implements, and some veg or leaves and hey presto, another type of still life

6. Toys are great in a still life. Books. Boxes of different shapes and sizes. Marbles. Cakes and biscuits. Wool. Hats. The telephone. Think laterally -it doesn't have to be obvious.

7. Lighting - you do not need fancy lighting and light boxes and all that stuff. Set up your table by a window. That is fine. Light from one side is terrific,the best, imho. Otherwise, a single table lamp is good too. Candlelight can sometimes work too.

Be inventive. The world is your oyster! (Oysters are good too......and fish with lemons......and breads.....oh boy, I think I will do a food one....)