Question: I would never think of reproducing or taking credit for anyone else’s work. I do print out images which have features I want in my image. As I improve I am getting better at simply viewing them quickly without having to keep them around. My work always ends up as my own so is it right to view these images as a reference while I’m working on mine?
Your work is world class and inspires me to improve. I am a “good” artist, you are absolutely brilliant!
Best Designer Dave Graham


It really depends on too many factors to give you a clear yes or no. To start with, I’m not a lawyer so to get actual legal advice you would want to contact one who deals with copyright issues.

For the image you’re copying, let’s say it’s a bee. Are you using that image to see the texture in the bees fur or are you copying the actual outline of the bee. If it is at all recognizable from where you copied it and you do not have permission from the original photographer or artist, then you could potentially run into problems.  There are a lot out there who say if you change it by 20%, 30%, 50% etc that it is now your creation and you don’t have to worry about copyright. That is simply not true. I recently spoke with a lawyer about this for an interview on my Colored Pencil Podcast and she said she hears this all the time and has no idea where it started. It simply is not how the law works.

Remember the Obama “Hope” poster? The artist took a photograph and made a pop art style painting from it. Did it look exactly like the photograph? Not at all! But the outline was the same and that alone was enough to get him into some serious legal problems. I’ve seen this happen many times where I thought the artwork didn’t look enough like the photograph to cause issue but the artist found themselves in legal trouble. It’s just not worth the trouble.

The safest thing you can do is to make sure any reference photos that you’re using you have permission to use…or take your own photos when possible. There are SO many great royalty free websites out there. Even some of the free ones have stunning photos to use in your artwork. Check these out because there is a good chance what you need can be found there.

A few free photo sites:


A few paid photo sites: