Blog / 2021 / The Good, the Bad, and the Best: Releasing Your Art from Copyright

February 11, 2021

In the last year, my art was copied a lot in this boring way, but there were also a few more interesting imitations and uses.

Gwenn Seemel cat drawing and Wilksey’s copy
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2011 and Wilksey’s piece from 2020

Like Wilksey’s version of my drawing of a friend’s cat! It’s fascinating how the tiny changes in colors and proportions on the face make the expression on my version of Lucky so different from Wilksey’s.

Gwenn Seemel mallard drawing and LeTrazos’ copy
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2011 and LeTrazos’ piece from 2020

My mallard drawing is one of those pieces I look back at with a slight cringe. The composition is a bit awkward, with the tail just barely fitting on the page. It makes me wonder if LeTrazos’ similar composition was a conscious choice or a result of imitating my work.

Gwenn Seemel drawing of Amy Sherald and Tyra Martin’s copy
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2018 and Tyra Martin’s piece from 2020

Tyra Martin copied a number of my artworks, but I was especially drawn to her version of my portrait of Amy Sherald. Specifically, it was the way that Martin reproduced the yellow scribbles by Sherald’s neck, suggesting that they felt integral to the composition for her.

When I look at those same scribbles, it’s hard for me to see anything but the initial sketch I did to situate the face on the page—the yellow from this sketch is most obvious under the collar and at the edge of the hair. It’s a challenge to see the yellow as Martin does, but I’m glad she’s given me the opportunity to try, since it’s important to me to understand how my art is experienced.

Gwenn Seemel goat drawing and La Ferme des Bouquet’s use
Gwenn Seemel’s art from 2011 and the Ferme des Bouquet’s use from 2020

At first, this use of my work on a goat’s milk ice cream pleased me. I loved that my drawing—an image which has already appeared on goat’s milk products in the US—had made its way to France.

I did what I always do in this situation: market research! I asked the farm how it had found my art and why it had chosen my image to grace its label, while also explaining my uncopyrighting stance. The owners responded apologetically, blaming an intern who’d passed the drawing off as their own and offering me some goat’s milk ice cream. So far, so yummy! But when I asked them to deliver the gift to a friend who lives near the farm, the owners stopped answering me. They later claimed that they were tremendously busy, but they’ve also continued to avoid scheduling an ice cream drop-off.

I never asked the Ferme des Bouquets for remuneration, so their offer and subsequent failure to follow through feels like gratuitous rudeness, à la former classmate who built her artistic reputation using my style and then gaslit me. I just don’t understand why people lie to me when I’ve made it clear that I’m happy for them to use my work.

Sesame Street fan art of Cookie Monster wearing a face covering because of the pandemic
Gwenn Seemel
C Is for COVID
acrylic, colored pencil, and marker on paper
8 x 8 inches

Not to fear though, because Cookie Monster has come to the rescue with the help of one of his fans, Jeffrey Newman.

Jeffrey Newman’s use of Gwenn Seemel’s masked up Cookie Monster fan art
photo courtesy of Jeffrey Newman

A frontline worker with the homeless and the CEO of Backpacks for the Street, Newman recently sent me this photo of him in a t-shirt that he had made with C Is for COVID on it. He wanted to thank me for making my work available for him for something like this, but it’s me who should be thanking him. It’s such a joy when people take me at my uncopyrighting word and use my work as a way to connect with me!

If you’re thinking about freeing your art from copyright as well, check out this overview of how to get it done.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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