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Monday, December 12, 2005





A very large part of being an artist, is getting your own reference material. I spend a lot of time searching out animals for my paintings. We had the extreme good fortune to find ourselves in the middle of a herd of maybe 100 elk this weekend.

We were so excited. We were near Clearwater Junction, between Great Falls and Missoula. It's a nice wintering range for elk and deer. We like to roam around the side roads, hoping we'll see animals for photos.

When we spotted these elk, I got in the back of the truck and leaned over the cab, taking photos as Robert drove. It was awesome to be in the middle of this herd and hear them talking to each other. I heard their whistles, grunts and squeaks and saw them interacting with each other. Hunting season is over, so they're much calmer than they were a couple weeks ago.

This could have been the elk herd from the wildlife refuge near Seeley Lake. If it was, they're out roaming from their range, or maybe they don't know where it is?

On the subject of reference material and copyrights:

There are ways an artist can get reference material without taking their own photos. You can purchase the rights to someone else's copyrighted work. If you see a photo you like and you'd like to use it to create a painting, find out who the work belongs to, and ask their permission. Pay them what they ask for their photo, it belongs to them. Don't use their work, thinking you can "change it 15%" and that's legal. It isn't. It isn't legal if you take the image and turn it black, making it a silouette. Any photographer who took a picture, can recognize their work when they see it. If they can recognize it, you haven't changed it enough to be legal. Use your own photos, it's the correct way to gather reference material.

If you absolutely can't get your own reference photos, find a gallery of photos that's shared or free. The artist site wetcanvas.com has a reference library for it's users to share. The members there, upload reference work constantly. I'm sure there are other sites on the web that are similar. Copyright law is extremely clear, you must use your own reference material, or you must find the owner of the photo you like, and either get their permission or pay them the price they ask of you for using it.

If you look in photo and artist magazines, many times you'll see advertisements for someone who's selling reference photos by subject. The photos aren't terribly expensive and you then have legal right to use them.

Sometimes when artists are starting out, they use anything they can find to create a painting from. They see a photo they like and they copy it. After an artist has worked a while, they begin to learn about copyright laws and more about what's legal and what isn't.

So if you're someone who wants to become an artist, get your camera out and start shooting! I hope someday, you'll find yourself in the middle of a herd of elk, or where ever else you might desire to be. I took over 200 photos of these elk in a half hour. The light was fading, and most of the photos are blurry or dark, but I can use something from each of them. My mind will remember the feeling of being there, and the camera will give me the facts I need when I begin to paint my elk paintings.

Another thing will happen when you use your own reference photos. Your work becomes uniquely your own. You're not seeing and recording through another person's eyes, you're using your own vision. Your artwork will reflect this and become better and better. I think this is because you have total creative flow, from beginning to end of your project. It's like being in the middle of the elk herd, even though I can't put the grunts and whistles of the elk communications on the canvas, the feeling I got from being there, will become part of my paintings.
Donna