I'm a portrait artist. I do paintings in Photoshop. What I do is I trace a photo and then when it's done , I get rid of the photo. The remaining layers are all my brushstrokes. Therefore, when its done, its all from scratch. It's a technique I use.

enter image description here

I attached one of my recent portraits. My question is, is my artwork too realistic? And if it is , what advice should I take. I like my realistic portraits but its getting to the point where I feel like people question my work. Is this technique illegal? Whenever people criticize my work, they say things like I use a filter, which is false. They never criticize me for tracing or saying anything about that.

  • 3
    In "Art Rogers vs Jeff Koons" is a situation involving a three-dimensional wood carving of a family with their dogs — inspired from a photograph. The wood-carver was accused of plagiarizing the photo. Probably, this is a question better suited to a legal-based forum for discussion as to what constitutes "legal." I thought that a change of form excluded plagiarization, infringement, and such. I was wrong. The story is here: designobserver.com/feature/art-rogers-vs-jeff-koons/6467
    – Stan
    Aug 18, 2018 at 0:42
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    Hi Jen, Welcome to Graphic Design Stack Exchange. We hope you enjoy your stay and sharing with your colleagues.
    – Stan
    Aug 18, 2018 at 0:45
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    It really looks like a filtered image no matter what you say. I think it´s time to try new technics and brushes.
    – LeoNas
    Aug 18, 2018 at 14:19
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a legal question, probably best suited for law.stackexchange.com
    – Luciano
    Aug 20, 2018 at 9:34
  • 1
    Relevant: waxy.org/2011/06/kind_of_screwed
    – curious
    Aug 20, 2018 at 13:36

2 Answers 2


The original photographer determined all aspects of that image including , but not limited to - lighting, composition, angle, depth, contrast, etc. That is derivative work, not "original"

See Associated Press v Shepard Fairey to understand just how not original your artwork is.

"Paint overs", which is what you have described, are pretty much always derivative works. If you start with the copyrighted work of another (i.e. a photograph) and trace it essentially, then you are really never creating original artwork.


It's not from scratch, you duplicated a layer by hand. Technically the result is respectable, if it's painted (GDSE's image server imgur cannot keep the high resolution version, which flattens the appearance). To get something as perfect with a brush, my brush should be the cloning brush and I should apply posterizing or indexing or some simplifying filter to reduce the number of colors.

What's missing: You haven't build a model of the object person between your ears, you copied his image. You should get to next level, add something that you think to present his essence, the spirit, strongerly than the photo.

Of course all that is easy to write (especially easy, if it was red from the writings of someone else). But that's also my opinion.

I do not recommend you should detoriate your technique to somehow coarser, for example to simulated pen or brush strokes. Try instead of it to express more, something that wasn't in the photo. After it you probably see, that also coarser textures can present, what is your own input.

If you didn't get a slightest idea what I mean, then watch this:

enter image description here

The legal thing:

This is complex. There are some photos which are unconditionally free to distribute as is or after making variations. For ex. photos in public domain are free. The photographer and the model can also have declared the photo freely usable.

If there's no documents which prove the photo freely usable, you must have a written permission which shows that the copyright owner allow you to make the variations and distribute them. If you haven't it, be sure that you do not show, sell nor give the result to anyone. It's your duty to prevent others to get or see it.

If it happens that the owner of that face (=Walter Kamau Bell or his agency) and the original photographer (=J.Nowak or his agency) still haven't written the permission, you surely take some risk by keeping this image in marketplaces. It's not at all sure if showing it here is fair use.

Warning: I'm not a proper lawyer, do not keep this writing as a legal advice.

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