When is copying another artist legitimate?

Age-old techniques

Raphael Lacoste also empathises with Craig and says the techniques he employed are nothing new. "Staring at a blank page is stressful. It's naïve to imagine that even traditional masters didn't use any references to start. Masters from the 17th and 18th centuries used the camera obscura to copy lines of composition in landscapes.

"Some artists, with maybe less experience, imagine that using references is cheating – I often hear that with my students," he continues. "But it's not the case. It's no different to the classical master using engravings from anonymous artists – or even known masters – as inspiration.”

Some artists imagine that using references is cheating. But it's not the case

The art director and illustrator, who's worked extensively for video game giants Ubisoft and Electronic Arts, has rough guidelines when using other artists' imagery: "We can't use a landscape or cityscape composed and designed by a concept artist without crediting them. This is stealing art. If you use the exact composition, atmosphere, colour and contrast of a photo, and it makes up more than 50 per cent of your final artwork, you must credit the photographer."

asgards journey raphael lacoste

Raphael Lacoste's Asgard's Journey. The illustrator says artists must credit their references.

Add something to the stew

However, John Picacio doesn't agree. "That postmodern thing of, 'I'm just sampling other people's stuff – I’m just gonna put these together…' Sorry. Maybe I'm old fashioned. But that doesn't work for me."

John has won virtually every art award going, but David McKean heavily influenced his work as a young artist – so much so that he finds it difficult to look back over some of his earlier stuff. It gives him "the ick"”. Yet he maintains there's a difference between that – essentially homage – and lifting wholesale from other artists' creations.

Luna by Picacio

La Luna by John Picacio, taken from his Loteria game set project.

"Even Giger or Moebius – visionary artists who changed the way people look at certain modes of art and opened a doorway to things not previously seen – you can still see roots in their work. Those who came before them. It's there. It can't be helped and all great artists know you just have to acknowledge these things."

John refers to a quote by one of his collaborators, sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock. He imagines a huge stew to which the best creative people throughout history add. 
"Michael says that it's fine to take away from the stew as long as you're also adding something new to it.

"Giger and Moebius and all great artists," John concludes, "they're always giving so much more than they're taking out of the great creative pot of stew."

Words: Gary Evans

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 114.

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