I use both.
If I place my original designs front and center and accompany it with stock image "filler", can I still call it my own?
The design? Absolutely! Simply not the artwork. You don't honestly think the guy building that "climbing" web site can go out and take photos of Mt Everest because the client wants a photo, not a drawing do you? There are some factors which preclude original artwork creation. Using stock imagery is standard in the industry for many designers for numerous reasons. Of course usage plays a large role here. If a stock illustration is 90% of a cover design and the primary driving factor. Then, well, I think I'd be uneasy taking credit without first explaining it's stock image.
Overall, it depends upon what is called for. I do not feel using stock images devalues a design overall. If a piece of stock imagery fits a piece then the choice is fine. I don't inherently think less of any design if I'm aware it's using stock imagery.
My question is, am I being short-sighted by using stock images?
Maybe. But that's your call. Stock artwork sales are their own animal. It's a "business model" more than anything. You can choose to use it or not and the return may or may not make it worthwhile.
Where I find most benefit to original creation is the in the fact that over the years I have built up a collection of my original artwork and will default to that collection first. I can charge clients based on that image I created 5 years ago with a minor edit while not needing to spend the time to create the artwork from scratch today. There's also a strong continuity factor if I use all my own artwork. I detest finding a "perfect" stock illustration for something and then needing 3 more similar images... but there's nothing which matches the same style as the first image.
When to use original artwork / when to use stock
If I know I don't have anything to fit a given usage, then it becomes a choice -- often dictated by deadlines and what a client has been quoted or is willing to pay for. It comes down to some questions I ask myself when quoting/bidding a project then I move forward based upon my own answers.....
If the answer to #1 , 2, or 3 is "yes", then I'd prefer to create the artwork. To that end, I try and create deadlines and price quotes to encompass such creation.
If the client is unwilling to cover the expense, or through price negotiations the overall return for a project has dropped below acceptable limits, I am not going to spend several hours formulating original artwork. In these cases, I stick to (modified) stock imagery even if I'd rather create something.
If I do use stock images, I provide the client a choice of replacing them with original artwork where feasible. I explain to the client that given a bit more time (and cost) I could improve/change imageX, Y, or Z with original art that may be better suited to the piece. It's then their choice. I offer....
- Clients pay more and I will not reuse the image for any other client. The total cost of the artwork creation is added to any project fees.
- I explain to the client art will be reused for other clients should the need arise, but this lowers the overall cost to them initially. I then put the final artwork in my own personal "stock" directory for reuse.
I also have some clients were the only deciding factor is my workload and the deadline of a given piece. They are happy to pay for whatever I create, within reason. So there's never and real discussion either way as long as pricing remains in a the same relative range for similar projects they've given me. When I create art for these clients, it's always under the "usage" terms outlined above and they are made aware of that factor. So, if they want an exclusive image, they simply tell me.
In the end.. I'd spend all day, every day, creating original artwork if I could. But this is business. I can't expect every client to pay for that service and I can't feasibly turn away clients if they don't want original artwork. I have clients with projects falling across the entire range, from stock-only, to usage, to exclusivity. So I tend to get my "fix" for original artwork satiated most of the time.
I also spend down time between projects on original stock images I think would be useful for my ongoing clients. Then, if the need for that art arises, I charge them for it. For example, if a client uses a great deal of [object] images... I spend my down time creating random [object] images. I may have no direct need for any of those images at the time. However, I may accidentally create something very useful for the client in the future and will charge the client for it at that time.