A little bit ago I shared some images of paintings that I thought were just great on my Facebook page. By sharing, I thought I was helping a fellow artist looking to get a children’s book going. I received a message from someone at Disney warning me about copyright infringement and advising me to remove the images I had shared.
Other than Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck I am not familiar with any other Disney characters. I immediately passed the warning back to my friend. The warning did not seem to register with him.
In a conversation with some fellow artists, I heard some stories about others using references that were not their own, references taken from such magazines as National Geographic and Arizona Magazine. I’ve heard stories about lawsuits and I’ve read the advice page in Art of the West, which I think every artist should read. My own lawyer, having my will written this month, told me 99% of the time artists will get away with using images from magazines and the internet but with Disney, it’s a different story. They win 100% of the time and they go after those infringing on their property. I did my duty by passing on this warning and thought I was done with the matter.
Then I went out painting. I wanted something challenging and different from what others were out there painting. Everything has been put to canvas, but I went hunting anyways and found some horses in a field. Draft horses. I know there have been hundreds of artists who have done great paintings of Draft horses, I was just going to be another. I got permission from the farmer who was proud to have his horses painted by a real artist. That put a bit of pressure on me. It’s been a while since I last went out painting, my back has kept me from going out these last few years. Back when I regularly went out it did not bother me a bit to haul the kitchen sink out to where I needed to be but the other day I was asking myself “am I crazy?” I’d forgotten about those huge flies that thrive of blood, “Deep Woods Off” repellent, and those tiny bugs that get between your glasses and eyes and land on the best detail you ever got out on the spot. I am still scratching and my liver spots seem just a bit darker. Out there my painting looked like the best thing I’ve ever done. I need to get better lighting in the studio, maybe less lighting…
Sitting there looking at what was suppose to be a horse I thought about all the other artist that lug their paints and equipment out through the weeds, stepping around holes, over logs, and spitting out bugs to get to that perfect place. I know there are those who cannot go out painting on the spot and need to use references from magazines, but how far is too far when it comes to using other artist’s work as inspiration? I look at some photos and wonder how and the hell did that person get that photo, or how long did that lady sit in that wet grass to get that photo of that owl swooping down on that mouse? I also think about the imagination it takes to create a Disney character.
Sitting there looking at my failed horse painting, I couldn’t help thinking about why artists mimic the work of others when creativity fails them.