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Where's the credit?
posted: March 26, 2007
Willie Nelson after a Annie Leibovitz photo. Okay, I added the American flag....
Everyone was so complimentary about the Sinead sketch I posted yesterday that for a minute, I thought I was getting pretty good at this. But then I remembered Laura Levine’s photo that I used as reference, and I remembered where a good deal of the credit should go to.

I’m as dependent on good reference material as anyone. What I usually do is gather up as much as I can and sort of mash it all together to form a likeness. After that, I’ll shoot reference photos of myself just for lighting and pose. Sometimes though, you come across the perfect photo, and it says “PAINT ME”!

I avoid lifting directly from photos when I can, but when I can’t, I’d like to acknowledge the source material. But if it’s a choice between my name or the name of a photographer in the tiny, hard to find fold where the AD has crammed my name, get out of my way.

I know there are at least a couple of art directors here as well as those of us who create likenesses. I’ve never been sure just what the ethics are in this area. I'm not one of you fancy pants art school types, so I was never told "Thou shalt not ..."

The New York Times once asked whose photos I used, but that was the only time.

So when is credit due?

By the way, this Willie Nelson is from a photo by the great Annie Leibovitz.
22 comments
Edel Rodriguez March 26, 2007
Dale, When you come across the perfect photo, you just have to be careful. Maybe change it drastically. Or get the rights through a photo editor at the place you're working for. You can get in legal trouble for some of this. Every case is different, but I would be careful. Someone else here may have more info on these issues.
laura l. March 26, 2007
Hey Dale, I know we discussed this a bit and I'm of the school that if a painting or illustration is significantly "inspired by" (or, let's face it, "lifted") from a pre-existing creative work, i.e. another artist's vision/composition/creation, not only should that original source be credited, but permission should be granted (as you did so kindly with Sinead). My guess is that there could be legal ramifications if the image is identifiable, and could possibly be a copyright infringement. Lord knows what the ramifications are in more direct usages, i.e. collage, photo silkscreen, etc. I'm obviously very sensitive to this, coming to it as a photographer as well, and I've often seen my work copied and uncredited (and yes, unpaid) and it's pretty frustrating. Especially if the original image was something I put a lot of thought into (i.e. a particular pose, or costume, or expression or gesture). 99% of the time the viewer will assume that the illustrator or designer "came up" with the concept, when in fact it was cribbed from an already-existing piece. That being said, I think it's great that you're so attentive to this, and I wish more people would be. Steve Brodner was also very careful recently to properly credit the photographer who took the images he based his drawings on.
Bob Staake March 26, 2007
every time i give a character a nose that looks like an ice cream cone i ALWAYS credit the source: ben & jerry
Steve Brodner March 27, 2007
Very beautiful Dale. I can recall several cases where photographers went after illustrators who lifted work directly from their imagery. I truly understand their case. In the case of a take-off, I think it's different. David Levine's most famous drawing was of LBJ lifting up his shirt to reveal the map of Vietnam. Nobody remembers the name of the photographer who got the shot of him showing the appendectomy scar. Maybe that's wrong, but David changed so much as to make the image completely his. It's that "changing" business that's our refuge . . and a good thing. Changing the image, using it only as a jumping off place is healthy for the art. That said, when I did the art based on the wounded vets in the Newsweek spread that Laura mentioned I wanted to credit the photographer because I was doing a straight drawing. My post tomorrow will be of Pat Tillman, where I am using the famous photo of him, not changing much . . but can't find who in the hell took it. Maybe some anonymous army guy. I can't kill myself over this either. Bottom line: be considerate, but don't ever stop drawing. Or dreaming. Keep up the great stuff. Steve
A.Richard Allen March 27, 2007
When you feel even the slightest twinge of guilt that someone else's effort is going unacknowledged, you know that you should be making the effort to give some sort of credit or at least seek approval (though given editorial schedules this may not always be practical). It's a little disingenuous to say that the on page credit wouldn't allow you space to pay tribute to the original source- it's perhaps truer to say that you mightn't want to put someone else's name there incase it led the photographer to come looking for financial reparations! I also take issue with the idea that not attending art school excuses an artist from being up to speed on ethical issues. Going to art school had very little do do with shaping my own ethical outlook. You've raised a very interesting question here, Dale and you're brave enough to acknowledge your inspirations and your qualms.
laura l. March 27, 2007
Steve raises a good point that I neglected to mention - if you're talking about a "take-off," a satire or a nod to a well-known and iconic image (i.e. "American Gothic," which has been satirized countless times) then that's a different issue and probably falls under fair use or parody.
Tim O'Brien March 27, 2007
I am hired to do what I do. Clients provide me cleared reference. They pa for this reference and the right for me to use it. The photo was not going to be published as is was and photographers pay for usage. I interpret the image and make the illustration fit the article. There hare a few times that the photographer requested mention, but only a handful. If any photographer wished that their images not be used as the publishers see fit, they should not offer them for sale as stock. In my personal work, I don't do celebrity illustration.
anonymous March 27, 2007
If you want to draw a celebrity portrait or are assigned to do so you'll have to work from a photo. Otherwise how are you suppose to get a likeness? From life? When is the last time anyone has been hired to draw a celebrity from life?
laura l. March 27, 2007
Tim, that's an interesting point. So do the AD's pay the stock agencies for reference usage? In my experience syndicating stock images, the agency is paid a minor research fee for gathering the images, in the hopes that one or more of the images might be published. That research fee goes directly into the pocket of the agency, not the photographer. Only if the photo is published does the photographer get paid. Is there a separate arrrangement that is made when the images are to be used as a direct reference? (i.e. "cleared reference.") Anon, most people do what Dale himself said he does, which is to look at a lot of photos and create a "mash-up" that does not owe too much to any one image. Go for the likeness, but add one's own pose, clothing, attitude, etc. so it's not obviously based on one specific image.
A.Richard Allen March 27, 2007
Anonymous: that's not what's at issue here. Of course celebrity portraits have to be based on reference but the best caricaturists and portrait artists will (if not using cleared photos) create an amalgam using several different sources. For me, it's simply not on when an illustrator takes credit for a picture whose composition, lighting, mood and color is almost entirely based on someone else's creative endeavor.
Dale Stephanos March 27, 2007
Thanks for the thoughts everyone. A.Richard, I tend to mix in smart ass-y remarks with my points because if I take myself too seriously, then I might actually have to back up what I say. Oops, there I go again. So, yeah, I know not going to art school doesn't absolve me from ethical tar pits. Tim, that's pretty cool that your clients take care of all this for you. It reminds me of how rock stars have that roadie who holds the flashlight for them so they won't trip over the cables on the way to the stage. I'm still lost under the stage like the guys in Spinal Tap. Anonymous, I have plenty of celebs here in the studio. The bastards just won't sit still. Always drinking and orgying. Jesus, there's David Flaherty with Angelina Jolie! I think she wants to adopt him! Hold still guys! I want to draw you! Staake, my lawyer will be in touch regarding the unauthorized use of my ice cream nose.
Tim O'Brien March 27, 2007
Dale, I am careful to ask for cleared reference. Often a client will say, "is that reference not good enough?" I will say "it's a little low res, but the issue is the RIGHT to use it as reference." They then get the reference and clearance. Any realist should do this every time. I never met Gandhi, FDR or Sting.
randy March 27, 2007
WHEW!!! I'm glad I'm a cartoonist.
Jim Paillot March 27, 2007
... all of this discussion about photography has cemented my belief that when your picture is captured on film then so is your soul. You are damned to wander the afterlife as a soul-less ghoul. Like a politician or Hollywood film producer.
Joe Ciardiello March 27, 2007
Beautiful painting Dale. I'm coming to this a bit late, but some good points have been raised. Whenever possible, when working on a portrait, I try to work from several reference sources. Sometimes that's just not possible, or there is that one shot that has the feeling you're after. In my case I feel that my "style" and interpretation of the photo lets me off the hook. Or as Steve says, a starting point. Maybe I'm foolishly rationalizing, but I've never run into a problem... yet. Dale if you don't mind, I'd like to take this opportunity to appologize to every photographer whose work I may have used over the years.
Dale Stephanos March 27, 2007
Joe, I'm with you. I'll take it a step further and offer a blanket apolgy to everyone I've ever come into contact with or will in the future. Except for that guy in Jr. High. He knows who he is, and when I catch up to him...
anonymous March 27, 2007
I agree that a good artist takes a photo and turns it inot something new. His own take, completely unique from the original source. Marshall Arisman once talked about Philip Burke and how he drew from photos. Apparently his first drawing was fairly accurate and then he'd continue cranking out drawing after drawing. Eventually it changed so much that it became what we know as a Philip Burke piece, unique from the photo. Having said that I do wish illustrators were able to draw celebs from life. And/or had model fees and longer deadlines to work with. Then again I'm probably stuck in the 60's(or earlier) when I say that.
Stephen Kroninger March 28, 2007
Back in '81 when I first met Philip he would do to upwards of eighty drawings for a single job. A name photographer would often lend him his outtakes for source material. He'd often show up at The Voice with his pile of drawings and the Art Director would select one for publication. The first time I went to Philip's studio his walls were covered floor to ceiling with drawings he'd done of The Clash.
Dale Stephanos March 28, 2007
Stephen, that's a great story, thanks. Phillip Burke is one of my all time favorites.
Stephen Kroninger March 28, 2007
I have a lot of Philip stories. We were great pals back in the early eighties before he hightailed it out of Manhattan for upstate New York. We lived around the corner from each other in the Village and spent a lot of time together. I still consider him a pal but we just don't see or hear from each other anymore. I share your admiration for his work. I believe he has no equal in the field of contemporary caricature.
Dale Stephanos March 28, 2007
Stephen, again, I agree about Burke. He's the best. As you know, back in the late 80's he had a caricature on the contents page of Rolling Stone every month. And at the back of the magazine CF Payne and Anita Kunz would trade "great moments in rock n' roll history" every month. Man, those were all such amazing examples what illustration can do.
Stephen Kroninger March 28, 2007
I have a stack of his pen and ink drawings in a closet. His paintings are great but I've always had a soft spot for his line drawings.
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