Australian Fine Artist

Many of us who are training to be professional artists, or are keen amateurs attend regular workshops with professional art teachers.

Learning from established artists is a long tradition going back to prior to the Renaissance. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was common for artists to take on apprentices who over years learnt about the materials as well as methods and techniques to painting and drawing. Later in their training, they were allowed to participate in completed works with their ‘master’. Leonardo da Vinci is a prime example, whose marks are clearly seen in a couple of paintings done by his tutor.

The difference between then and now, is that copyright and intellectual property are more strictly enforced now than they were then, and because of social media and the growth of on-line sales what is done at a workshop, and touched by your tutor may not be yours to sell without their permission, or to say is your own creation.

I have a basic practice and that is that I try not to put up for sale any works that I have done at a workshop. Admittedly, I have slipped on this a couple of times in the past, by putting in a piece to a minor local exhibition, but this is something I am constantly working on improving.

A method I use so I do not cofuse my workshop paintings with others I am doing is that I photograph them for a blog and as a record of my progress, then paint over them. The canvas is then reused for another session when dry. I have kept a few of my best pieces so I can track my progress, but these are now stored spearately to my commercial works, just to make sure I never put them up for sale in the future.

Copyright Issues

It may not occur to you, but as soon as someone else touches your painting, they have copyright as well as you do. This is because the work is now not soley your own work. It is a collaboration. If you do not get a release from the other parties involved in the planning or production, or acknowledge their input, you may be infringing copyright law. This may not be enforced as strictly in Australia as elsewhere, but by putting paintings completed at a workshop, under the supervision of a professional art tutor and painter on the market to sell, you are selling their intellectual property because they have aided in the production.

If you make a direct copy of their work and sell it, you are breaking copyright. At the very least you will annoy and upset your tutor, at worst, you may be taken to court.

Moral Issues

Just think of how you would like someone making money off something that you created and took many years to develop. It wouldn’t feel fair, you would be upset. It is your creation, and rightly so, only you should profit from it.

When we attend a workshop, we are there to learn. We take away what we have learnt and apply it to our own practice and methods. We develop our own methods and styles based on what we learn. The tutor is their to inspire and educate, not to be the source of material for us to copy.

Ask First

If you are attending workshops I have a few ideas for you to consider.

  1. Ask the tutor is they are OK with you posting what you have done on social media.
  2. If they say it is OK, get them to say what conditions may apply. They might say just go ahead, or they may say that you must mention that the work was done at their workshop, and not just by you at home without their input.
  3. If your tutor says they don’t want you to post you work done at their workshop online, be considerate and comply with their wishes. You are afterall taking away their intellectual property, because they have supervised what you have done.
  4. If you want to exhibit and/or sell your artworks, use the ones done at workshops as a guide or inspiration for improving what you do in your own studio. I would suggest that even when doing this, run the idea by your tutor beforehand, just to make sure they are OK with it.
  5. Ask if you can do your own version of your tutor’s work before you make one and put it up for sale anywhere. This is not only good manners, it will help to avoid copyright issues later on. You may even want to have a written agreement with them as a type of ‘model’s release’ or ‘artist’s release’ to show that you have permission to copy a painting.

Remember that even if your tutor doesn’t touch the painting you have done at their workshop, you have painted it under their direct supervision, so their intellectual property is involved in producing it. If you want to have a long and satisfying relationship with all your tutors remember that being courteous, obeying the law, and following their guidlelines and conditions for attending their workshops needs to be followed.

For one thing you can end up ruining your own reputation long term when word gets out that you are making money off work that isn’t totally your own. A good reputation takes time to build up and it can be wrecked very quickly, so don’t risk it.

You can also risk losing that tutor entirely, and great art teachers are hard to find. So, if you love learning from someone, show it by respecting their business and them as a person by considering the points I have discussed in this article.


Artists & Copyright. January 2017. Information Sheet. Australian Copyright Council.

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