Fantasy Art and Image Permission with John Howe

Being an artist, you enjoy creating and sharing with the world. It’s a great experience to go to a museum and see a piece of art up close. You can see each brushstroke and the careful transition of colors. Today, of course, new art can be posted online and spread across Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Behance and more. Sometimes this means the image source can disappear. Maybe it gets reblogged but the artist credit is removed. Maybe someone screencaps the image and reposts it on their social media. It’s definitely a struggle for many artists these days.

Fantasy artist John Howe has faced some of these issues and he describes his trying saga on his blog in a rather humorous letter addressed to Gandalf, the star of the missing and now well-traveled piece of art. From Slovenia to Turkey and Bulgaria, to Germany and on to even more countries, Gandalf has been making a good run away from John.

An excerpt from John’s blog (click here for the link to the full post):
“Now, we’ve had a long history together, and I like you very much, another reason which prompts me to write. I do know you love appearing in print – who doesn’t? – but you really MUST pay more attention where you do so. You simply can’t clamber up on just any book cover offered by some publisher; you are supposed to ask first.

You see, this is the problem, you can’t just think of yourself in these matters. I drew you to make a living and I’m counting on your assistance to continue to do so. You need to explain to publishers that while you can’t necessarily judge a book by it, the cover is nevertheless an important element of the whole and deserves a minimum of attention. You can remind them that they pay the printers and the distributors; why I bet they even pay the caterers when they order in lunch for editorial meetings! Mention that sub-right fees are not very expensive, especially if they publish in a small territory. Mention that nowadays, if you do a Google search by image, chances are that if it’s indeed one of mine, the first hit that comes up will be my web site. So you can stop them right there when they tell you they tried to find me and couldn’t. You are a VERY well known Gandalf and you should not undersell yourself.

In turn I will send them to the picture rights people at HarperCollinsPublishers, and they can work out a fair fee for your appearance. (Please remember to ask them to send copies once you’re printed, I always forget and I hate having to go back and scrounge up contact details and beg copies for my archives.) You have ended up occupying quite a section of shelf space, in a number of languages, it’s an accomplishment you can be proud of, so don’t ruin it by appearing on some unrelated cover with some publisher who thinks you do all this for free. Tell them it’s a livelihood, like any other.”

I hope that Gandalf will stop his travels and return home soon to John Howe. But a wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to. So maybe Gandalf is just biding his time and waiting for the perfect moment.

It’s great that John can have a sense of humor in the face of a trying situation. We hope that none of you, artists, out there have to face the issue of image permissions and having your art stolen. Remember to do your research and keep track of what you create. Exposure can be good but don’t let anyone take advantage of you.

For more on John Howe and his beautiful fantasy art, including his work on The Hobbit films, head over to the Artist’s Market blog to read an interview with him. Make sure to go to John’s website to keep up with all the art and escapades.

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