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10 Essential Tips for Obtaining Great Artwork with Permission


Jun 13, 2008
I've had some success so I thought I would share my experience. To lighten the tone for this potentially delicate topic, I'll illustrate my points by analogy to online dating with match.com or similar services (as a 10 Essential Tips List).

Find a good online site that's right for you. You can browse literally thousands of images and artists' profiles at sites like deviantart.com, cghub.com or cgsociety.org. These sites have contact info and/or links to the artists' homepages (in most cases). My own preference has been for cgsociety.org. But they can be a little hoity-toity so find the one that's right for you. Avoid sleazy sites that offer "Free Wallpaper Free Screensavers". These are just using artists' work without credit and making money from it via ads. The images at these sites are generally poor quality from re-sizing, stretching or cropping.

Read their profile. First off, they may indicate quite clearly in their profile (or blog or legal terms) that they want nothing to do with you and your silly free mod (see example). You’re not going to change anyone so don't try. On the other hand, they might indicate that you can use their art for non profit activities without even asking (with acknowledgement, of course, and they may indicate other conditions). Save everyone time and read this info if provided.

Is this a monetary transaction? Tell them in the subject line of your initial contact that this is not-for-profit. Tell them again in the body of the text that you aren't going to make any money from it. You should realize that some art has already been sold. Some artists will be very cautious about this issue; others not so much. I just follow the artist's direction because that is the person I don’t want to offend. Unfortunately, many or even most artists will not be interested in your not-for-profit mod and won’t even write back. This brings me to my next tip...

Move on. The reason you are using an online service like deviantart.com or cgsociety.org is, first and foremost, the large selection. Don’t get hung up on one particular image or gallery. It’s really a numbers game. If you ask enough different people, someone will say yes. In fact, you will learn a lot about your own tastes and find better matches by not getting fixated on the first thing that catches your eye. If it helps, you can think insulting things about those that don't write back or reject you like, "that art was way too WoW for me." Nevertheless, you should always be gracious and thank those that take the time to respond.

It’s best if you will accept them for what they are (and can communicate that). If you can use the images uncropped without any alteration (removal of signature marks and so forth), you should definitely communicate that in your initial contact. This is really important to many artists. In fact, based on responses to my requests, I'd say that this is right up there in importance with knowing that they will be acknowledged.

Be upfront about your specific needs. I've had success in a few cases with a general request to use an artist's work without specifying particular images. More often, they will want to know which specific images you want to use. If you do want to crop or manipulate or...well...things I can't say in polite company..., be honest and straightforward about your needs. You should realize that many artists will react badly to this kind of activity. Some view it as degrading and may even insult you for asking. Have a thick skin and move on. It's better to get this out of the way early rather than telling them later after you have already established a relationship.

Let them know they will not be ignored or taken for granted. You can do more than just tell them you will acknowledge their work. Show them. Make a Credits section for your mod and link to it. They want this to be prominent and they like links back to their homepages or galleries. I’ve been complimented on mine so take a look here.

Don’t tell them they need you. They don’t. The benefit they will receive from your use of their work is somewhere between zero and nothing. Suggesting this is just insulting.

Personalize your message and be complementary. You may be sending out a form letter, but don’t make it look like that. If the artwork has inspired you in some way (maybe it made you think of a new civilization) then tell them so. Complements and specific references to their work are your ticket to success.

Have fun. Most artists are flattered by your request. A few may be genuinely interested in your project. You can strike up some really interesting conversations. Don’t look at this as a chore or a painful thing. It's really a rewarding experience.

I hope some here find this useful and encouraging...


I'd like to add some other useful info here that doesn't fit my online-dating theme above (I hope I didn't make anyone uncomfortable with that). Where else can you find great art? To be honest, I don't know much more than I said above, but if folks post info below I'll compile it all together here.

Useful sites showing artists' work:

Where you don't have to ask (but should still acknowledge):
Wikipedia:public domain image resources
NASA and related sites --great for science fiction mods
I've found some pretty decent photos and clipart on royalty-free stock sites (like Graphic Leftovers.com and 123RF.com). Those sites do charge for their pictures; but the fees are low ($1-3 US) for a single download of a small photo. You should still probably give the artists credit as the original post says; but the cost is worth the trouble of finding a high-quality picture. Of course, you're unlikely to find pictures of any buildings that existed before the Renaissance; but they're a great place to get icon material for most resources and late-era buildings/locations.
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