When you create a work of art, be it a painting, sculpture or other medium, it becomes your property, and
part of that ownership is a copyright. No one can legally copy, sell or otherwise use that work without your
written permission. This copyright is automatic and implied, and no paperwork or fees are now necessary to
make it legal. You may add the (c) symbol below your signature as an emphasis, but it's no longer
necessary. This copyright also covers art on the Web. Many sites artists use (including this one) present
images that do not reproduce well when enlarged, which prevents a direct copy. It may be good practice to
copy a painting, but once you offer it for sale, it's a violation of the copyright laws. One exception to this is
workshop classes, where as a student, you copy the work of an instructor, or use a “How To” book for a
With the above information in mind, all that information that applies to you also applies to other artists and
their creations. Most people think of plagiarism only in literary terms, but it's applicable to art as well. If you
copy another painting or even a print from a magazine without permission, that is plagiarism, and you can
be charged with the same. You cannot pass off someone else's work as your own. The same goes for
copying cards, signs or anything else that is someone's personal work. You can look at other works and get
ideas and interpret them in your own way, but if they too closely resemble someone else's work, you may
have to answer for it. If you copy a long dead artist, you must give credit to that artist, such as “copied
from…” or the more convenient “naar... (Michelangelo, etc.)” (meaning “after…”)
Photographs or paintings of registered trademarks without permission of the registrar is not permitted.
This can be tricky, in that many times artists do not think of their subject as a “registered trademark“.
One of the most closely guarded trademarks is the Walt Disney Company, so before you paint the
Cinderella Castle or something from Disney World, see if you have permission to sell that item if you so
desire, and get the permission in writing. Sometimes a fee or percentage of the sale is required. A classic
“sneaky” example of a trademark is the Lone Cyprus near Monterrey in California. That tree is a
registered trademark of the Pebble Beach Company, you must have their permission to reproduce and
use the image in any form. Closer to home, the same applies to the Chapel at Callaway Gardens, GA. They
usually give permission to artists to use their landmarks (it's good advertising), but there may be a
request for a percentage of any sales. Save some grief by calling and asking.
And how about that cute little bulldog? The NCAA is very protective of it’s recognized symbols, and has
a whole bank of lawyers to help out. They don’t mess around! You need a license to sell copies of
mascots, landmarks or anything else from colleges and universities, even if it’s the stadium. And if you
get that license, keep in mind that these things are regional, so Florida gators don’t sell well in Yankee-
If you paint a recognizable image of a person (or a famous animal), get a model release (available on this
site). And in order to sell images of famous people, you must get permission from the person or the estate
of that person if deceased. Sometimes that is not easy to get. You can paint all you want, just don't try to
sell your painting! Exceptions are crowds and public events, but that applies mostly to photographers. A
person on the dock who just happens to look like Frank Sinatra does not require any paperwork, unless
you try to tell people it really is Ole’ Blue Eyes!
DID YOU KNOW.....??
Many artists have been approached at one time ore another about hanging their works in local
restaurants or other businesses. There are several things You should know before entering into kind of
agreement. Is the business going to take a commission if the piece sells? Will they do any kind of
marketing for your art? Will the art be protected from heat, moisture or other damaging substances
(including cigarette smoke)? Will you have your name and business cards prominently displayed? Will
they handle any sales or will they have the patron contact you? If they will handle it, do they have
knowledgeable personnel who can do it correctly, including collecting the sales tax? Look at the
establishment’s reputation, as well as that of the owners. Get a receipt for your art in writing from a
responsible person . Unfortunately, many places want free wall decoration and not much else. If they
handle sales at all, they may or may not collect the sales tax. On one or two occasions locally,
restaurants have done out of business or changed hands, and artists were unable to retrieve their
paintings without a great degree of difficulty. On another occasion, paintings were placed so close to
lighted candles that soot from the flame accumulated, as did melted wax from the candle. Not all places
are that irresponsible, but it’s good to know what your are getting into before you release your valuable
Have you ever noticed that old print that’s been hanging in Grandma’s parlor since before you were
born? It’s a fixture, and it’s just “there”. If you took it down the wallpaper underneath would probably
not match the rest of the wall. Did that picture always have that bluish cast? Was it ever sharp, clear,
and much darker than it is today? And how about all those frames in your doctor’s office that look
practically empty because their contents have faded so badly? Were they once crisp, clean and clear?
The answer is a resounding YES!
Light, unfortunately, is the nemesis of prints, photographs and paintings. But if they’re not out in the
light, how can they be seen and enjoyed? The secret is in the amount and type of light in the area
where the art is to be displayed.
There are some relatively easy ways to minimize damage to displayed art, the best being “avoid
sunlight”. Don’t hang your art where it will get direct sun. Fluorescent lights are not particularly good
either (think of the doctor’s office). Standard incandescent bulbs may be best, as long as they are not
too close to the art. There are bulbs available that are intended to enhance paintings without causing
as much damage as older types of bulbs.
And what about those neat little art lights that attach to the frame? Uh-uh. Many of those, as nice as
they look, will dry out a canvas over time, making it vulnerable to tears and cracks. If a painting is
varnished, it may cause the varnish to turn yellow. Cigarette smoke deposits a load of soot and grime.
Don’t think glass will prevent all of this -- it will help, but not completely stop the damage.
So what’s an art lover to do? First, select the location for the art carefully. Avoid sunlight, cooking
“grease” and fumes, smoke, both from cigarettes and fireplaces as well as candles, and excess heat or
cold. Temperature extremes and fluctuations are bad for any art. Watercolors can be covered with a
UV resistant glass, and photos and prints can be sprayed with a UV blocking spray, but still keep them
out of the sun. Don’t use a constant spotlight, but it’s OK to bring one out for that big party your having.
If you loan your paintings or photographs to businesses for display, as many do, ask the proprietor where
the art will be hung. Ask also if there will be regular cleaning and dusting of the piece. Many
businesses hang the art on a wall, and never touch it until the artist comes to remove the work. Get
something in writing about the maintenance of the exhibit. It’s not unreasonable to request simple
steps to keep the art looking nice, and it also speaks well of the business. Be sure they will display your
business card, and a price so that the customers know the piece is for sale, if that is the case. Make
sure someone at the establishment knows how to handle sales and collect the necessary taxes.
If artists give some simple hints to their clients for the maximum life of their art, it will save the
customer returning with complaints. Home computer-printers generally have ink that will only last a
couple years, so if you are copying your original art at home, you shouldn’t sell it with the promise that it
will last. Standard printers will print a picture that will last sometimes as little as 2 years, depending on
the light exposure the print receives. The new printers and archival inks reportedly have a life
expectancy of 200 years, but the cost may be prohibitive for many. If you do a lot of prints, or are setting
up a “digital darkroom” it may be well worth the investment. Keep in mind you need a scanner too. If
you’re just printing note cards, the regular printer and ink may suffice.
With the advent of photo-editing computer programs, many old photographs and prints can be re-
created, but if you care for your art properly, it will have a long and happy life. As for that fabulous oil
that you just found out is worth a small fortune, consider the museum up on the hill or a room in your
house that is heated and cooled for archival preservation.