Reference vs. Theft


I got started on a personal illustration project on Sunday morning. Said illustration includes a mountie hat.

The problem: I don’t actually know what a mountie hat looks like.

I mean, I had a good idea off the top of my head — brown with a flat wide brim, some kind of strip around the bottom of a lumpy bowl. However, to keep things accurate, I went and found some reference.

Josh brought up the question of whether this was stealing someone else’s work or not.

It’s a good question. Here’s my take on it, and I’d love to hear other ideas on the subject.

To me, using visual reference — especially from the bottomless pit that is the internet — is a fact-finding mission only. In the case of this mountie hat, I used the above link to see what the hats generally look like: to see what kind of brown they are, how proportionally wide the brim is, what kind of trim they have, and what kind of shape the upper bowl is.

I did not copy any of these hats. I did not copy parts of these hats and assemble them into a whole hat. In the end, I wound up with a hat that looks like a mountie hat, based on the information I garnered from those other hats.

I would never straight out copy someone else’s work, whatever the medium. But what about general info — size, color, where a buckle appears, etc. — is that stepping over the line? What do you think?

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