Wednesday, 9 October 2013

If I sketch your face, is that stealing?

I talked with the man who does those pencil portraits of famous people and sells them at the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market every Saturday. Because I figured that if anyone had studied up on this, it would probably be he. Turns out my hunch was right; he'd consulted a lawyer about the whole copyright conundrum.

He explained that if you are creating art out of a famous person's portrait, there are two considerations:
1. the subject
2. the photographer
And basically, if the person is famous enough, they are never going to bother tracking down every little artist who copies them, so go ahead and sketch away.

But what if people aren't famous? How about the pictures of Everybody-- what are the proper ethics of painting people we meet on the street? I've been told that general "humanity" portraits are fine to do without the subject's permission. So it's okay to just sneak out your iPhone in a café and take a picture of two strangers because she was in a green sweater and he leaned forward when he talked. But for me, pushing toward accuracy in portraiture, when does this become unethical?

How recognizable is too recognizable?

As yet, my portraits are garbled enough that I am unabashedly using faces that I find on the Internet. I'm typing genius combos like "side lit, wrinkles, woman, portrait, three-quarter angle" into Google images and using the results for further study.

I should just make a pin for my jacket that says "Am trying to improve my drawing. May steal your face. Results guaranteed to make you look fatter and more haggard than real life. I do not actually find you that ugly."

Or maybe this current generation is so busy trying to get noticed and go viral doing seven second ostrich dances that my concerns are as archaic as the notion of a National Geographic photographer on assignment stealing a person's soul.

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