Portfolio Illos + Copyright



  • Hi friends! I want to draw some illustrations for my portfolio that show the progression of a story line and I have a couple questions around copyright.

    1. Can I draw illustrations from a modern book or movie? I was thinking it would be rad to some drawings of Marie from All the Light We Cannot See or developing a side story for Amelie as a girl.
    2. Another route I'm considering is to do illos from my fave book from my childhood (The Fat Cat), but again, not sure if that is okay.
      These would be portfolio pieces, not for sale. I just watched a YouTube video that someone shared in here from the Art Prof and it was great, but didn't cover this specific topic. I'd appreciate any insight or resources anyone has to share - thank you so much! ๐Ÿ™‚


  • @kalyquarles Hmm.... If you ask me I don't think you'd run into any issues regarding copyright, because essentially this counts as 'fanart', so I think you'd be fine with these if you made it clear these illustrations are based on preexisting properties. But then again is this for a professional portfolio online or to submit to a school? If it's the former there's no issue, but I've heard some schools don't recommend doing fanart.


  • Pro

    @kalyquarles I've done a couple of pieces of Harry Potter scenes for my portfolio ๐Ÿ™‚ I don't attempt to sell them, license them or claim the characters as my own, so I don't run in any trouble.


  • SVS OG

    @kalyquarles as long as you donโ€™t make money from your fanart and/or credit the original creator, youโ€™re safe. However, i donโ€™t think art schools want prospective students to include fanart in their application portfolios.



  • Thank you all so much! Harry Potter is exactly what crossed my mind when I was questioning this! This isn't for art school (I wish!), this would be for art directors, agencies, publishers, etc., but I can see how fan art can be misplaced in portfolios.

    What about drawing illustrations from an existing children's book? Is that skeevy without the author/publisher's permission?

    I'm super new this illustration business and haven't started working with clients yet, so I appreciate the help! ๐Ÿ’™



  • @kalyquarles So like redrawing scenes from a children's book? You can do that if you don't intend to sell them, it's just fanart ๐Ÿ˜ƒ



  • @Michael-Angelo-Go yeah, exactly. Okay, sweet - thanks!


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    Standard disclaimer that the following is not legal advice. Consult with an IP attorney before acting on any of the following recommendations.

    1.Can I draw illustrations from a modern book or movie? I was thinking it would be rad to some drawings of Marie from All the Light We Cannot See or developing a side story for Amelie as a girl.

    Yes. You can create illustrations from any text -- even a text that is currently protected by copyright. The copyright to those illustrations will reside exclusively with you. So your example of creating an illustration based on the text of "All the Light We Cannot See" would not be "fan art". This is especially true if the book has never been illustrated before as there can be no claim that you were influenced by another illustrator's creativity (i.e. intellectual property)

    This happens all the time in publishing when an illustrator is brought on to create images for a text. The writer controls the copyright to the text of a book and the illustrator controls the copyright to the images of that same book.

    Caveat to that -- Harry Potter was mentioned. Harry Potter is no longer a text that is eligible for what I describe above. That is because Harry Potter is not only protected by copyright, it is also trademarked (to Warner Bros). The protections provided by trademark differ from those provided by copyright. Happy to get into those differences in another post.

    But a good rule of thumb is to avoid characters that are trademarked -- either that, or develop a really good understanding of fan art and "permissible" vs "actionable" infringements. Remember true "fan art" is by definition a copyright infringement. It's just a question of whether the IP owner decides to enforce their copyright or not.

    Also you mention creating images based on a movie protected by copyright.
    This is technically possible (again, if you are using ONLY the script as the basis of the images) but not something that I'd personally recommend. My reasons have to do with the answer to your next question below.

    Another route I'm considering is to do illos from my fave book from my childhood (The Fat Cat), but again, not sure if that is okay.

    This might be trickier as the chances you will create a "derivative work" of the original character is much greater. (even if the derivative quality is unintentional) A Derivative Work is an aspect of copyright protection that is controlled solely by the copyright holder.

    If you create a completely new looking character(s), and if the similarities between your Fat Cat character and the Jack Kent Fat Cat character are ONLY those specifically mentioned in the text, then you are likely fine. The tricky bit with this is that you definitely have seen the original images and if legal action were taken it could become harder to convince a judge that you weren't influenced by the original character designs.

    These would be portfolio pieces, not for sale.

    I get why you might emphasize this -- but it is not necessary. As I wrote above, illustrating a previously unillustrated text you are perfectly safe. Show it, sell it. You are fine either way.

    Working from a picture book or movie or any trademarked character, you need to be more careful.

    Because it has been mentioned previously in this thread it's important to consider the idea of "fan art", and how safe or not safe it may be.
    In the case of true "fan art", a piece that only exists in your portfolio may weigh in your favor to be deemed a "permissible infringement", in that you might not have to pay monetary damages, but it is no guarantee. You may also still receive a take down notice. Or it might be that nothing happens. It really all depends on the IP owner and how diligently they are protecting their copyrights (or trademarks if applicable).

    I just watched a YouTube video that someone shared in here from the Art Prof and it was great, but didn't cover this specific topic.

    Can you reshare the video you mentioned? There is a lot of both good and bad information out there regarding copyright in general and fan art in particular. It might be worth using it as a point of discussion.



  • @davidhohn W๐Ÿ˜ W - thank you so much for this incredibly detailed and thorough response! This broke it down perfectly and I feel more confident about the direction I'd like to go! Definitely saving this for future use.

    Here is the video that I mentioned from YouTube via the Art Prof.

    Sending you a big virtual hug for all your help!


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @kalyquarles Very glad that it was helpful.
    And that is a good video! I remember that it was posted on these forums.
    I have watched other Art Prof videos that are not "wrong" so much as "not right" either. The legal info in that channel is a little hit and miss.


Log in to reply