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Question about silohuettes / rasterized images

I've seen ALOT alot of prints with all sorts of animals (foxes, cats, elephants, etc) and silhouettes like buildings, forests, children, etc.

So what's up - I'd like to think most submitted or printed designs that include a forest silhouette or one of an elephant or something, the artist did not take the picture.

If I google and find a nice image of a forest I like, and turn it into a 1 color, modified vector - can I use this? Or must it be royalty free?

I feel like this is a really unspoken territory, I do my best to only use my pictures to modify, but i have also made vectors or traces of images I like, and implement my own style...

Do the really good guys (Dina / Budi / Dandin / etc) draw up every silohuette of forests or child from scratch, or is tracing or aking a silohuette from elsewhere allowed?

Any and all input, criticism and whatever welcome.


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Evan_Luza profile pic Alumni
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Musarter profile pic Alumni

This is an interesting question. I know that if the trace is obvious artists are usually called out and roasted alive. I don't think anyone will admit to doing it out right even though it seems fairly obvious that some do it frequently. If you are going to do it, be sneaky, cover your tracks, and don't make it obvious.

melmike profile pic Alumni

No need to be sneaky about it. Referencing... tracing... if you end up with the same shape, it's kind of the same thing isn't it? The answer to your question is, it depends. If you read up on copyright law, including applicable precedents, you'll find there's a lot of gray area in there, so it's really left to the artist to decide what they can live with, then if a complaint is made, it's up to a judge.

Personally, I have no problem with this practise, given a few caveats. The silhouette should be an element of the design, not the focus, and it should incorporate as much artist's skill as possible in the creating. To truly be safe (and honest as an artist) your work should be transformative to the point that the original image is no longer recognisable. By that I mean this... Let's say you want some big city skyscrapers in the background, but you don't have anything like that in your town to go off. You want them stretched and looming, dynamically creating tension and drama. Now, you COULD trawl google images for a cool, wide angle awesome pic of some buildings and just trace that, but I think that's too much like ripping. What I'd suggest is finding some very generic building facades, stretching their perspectives and distorting them in photoshop, then using that as your reference.

And yes, I know for a fact that some of the big guns do use silhouettes of existing images, but as far as I've seen, only ever as background elements.


I love using silhouettes in my work, what I generally do is look up reference images and then sketch them out how i need them posed. It's time consuming but it's worth it.

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