The Way Copyright Protects Creative Works in Broad Strokes

A note whistled from Posterboy becomes a convenient perch for his feathered lapwing companion.
On a Lighter Note (2022)
Masked and with his typical whistle, Posterboy brushes a wall with paste ready to hang up his printed posters.
Posterboy Brushwork (2022)

The Way Copyright Protects Creative Works in Broad Strokes

Intellectual property refers to a creation of the mind which can be protected by law. Copyright is one area of IP law, and has been legislated differently around the world. Though it is a multifaceted subject, a grasp of its core principles better enable people to safeguard and earn from creative works.

The Importance of Copyright

Wherever we encounter authorial works, there are legal protections to prevent any unauthorised use. These protections are made explicit by way of copyright law, which regulates permissible rights. For example, copyright holders can decide who can produce, reproduce, publish, create derivative works, distribute copies, display, perform, transfer ownership, and license the ‘original authorial works’ to designated parties. Licensing fees are economic rights from which financial reward can be derived. To use copyrighted works without approval is infringement, and subject to legal penalties.

How Copyright Comes Into Effect

For the relevant laws to come into effect, works must be in a ‘fixed’ manner, for which reason an idea alone can not be protected. Once an OAW has been created it immediately comes under the protection of copyright law. Additionally, moral rights ensure the author’s right to attribution. To verify the right to these legal protections, there is the option for works to be registered. Should future disputes occur, registration aims to demonstrate which party has the prior claim, a significant point were litigation to arise.

When Works Enter Into The Public Domain

Copyright is typically valid for the duration of the author’s lifetime, plus several more years. This duration can be further extended, thereby prolonging the exclusive rights of the holder. Once expired, OAWs enter into the public domain, where they can be used freely by anyone.

Work for Hire or Commission

The expression for an idea may come about when commercially tasked. If commissioned, the creator retains copyright until it is explicitly transferred. This is not so with a ‘work for hire’ contract, in which case it falls to the employer who uses the skills of others. Sadly, a commission contract can harbour rights grabs, a reality which can affect practitioners in any creative field.

Copyright Exceptions

There are instances in which use of copyright material does not require permissions, and thus need not seek approval from copyright holders. Fair Dealing (Fair Use in the U.S.) covers these contexts, which include education, scholarship, review, and reporting to name a few. Search engines are mostly exempt from liability for the time being.

The Grey Area of Remix Culture

Unlike originative works, much creative production relies on assembling pre-existing parts. The status of these remixes continues to be a point of legal debate. While derivative works clearly infringe upon standard copyright, many agree that due consideration ought to be given to avoid prohibiting amateur, non-commercial creative works.

Works Made Available to Reusers

There are cases when it is not desirable that the spread of creative works be inhibited by the need to seek permissions. In those instances there are tools provided which encourage the reuse of creative works. Under the Creative Commons licenses, the usage rights make works available to the public for limited use, which may also include adaptations. This is certainly a timely development, given the societal shift toward online participatory culture.

Outlining the Changing Role Played by Character Design

With crayons in hand, a young girl uses an upright easel and canvas to draw a large picture of herself.
Millie Crayon (2021)

Outlining the Changing Role Played by Character Design

At its core, character design is the authoring of invented characters. Due to this, anthropomorphism often features in the these creations, and a review of the contemporary field uncovers several meaningful uses.

It is helpful to note the distinction between characters which are narrative, and those which are not. For instance, we come to know the former through exposition, as with sequential art and animated cartoons. Story-telling requires characters, and our knowledge of narrative characters is aided with biographic insights.

Enter the Mascot

Mascots generally avoid the exposition that comes with storytelling. Above all, they can represent any organised group, from a sports team to a student club. Many corporations use mascots as spokespeople for their consumer products. What is crucial is that a mascot is made to be recognised and understood at a single glance, without need for a shared language or enculturation. Since they emerged, it was evident to marketers what potential lay in mascots, which could appear in various media, and in spaces where advertising was not permitted.

Post Digital Characters

The affordances of the internet have proven to be fertile ground for pictorial characters. These web-native characters have much in common with mascots, eschewing narratives in favour of embodying ideas and values. Having emerged before the mobile web, these characters would later transition into becoming collectible vinyl toys. Today’s character designers increasingly explore techniques that place them in the physical world, thereby ensuring the stability that is inherently absent from the internet.

Character Design Within Personal Worlds

Further to how a character appears, illustrators may create the space they occupy, thereby staging where events might unfold. This correlates with what the screenwriter Bob Foss has termed the plane of events; the imagined setting where characters dwell. Illustrators have been known to craft personal worlds which are revisited whenever needed, and can be realised in different media. Character design and the expansion of a personal world can certainly have far-reaching implications for independent entrepreneurship and merchandising.

Emerging Web Trends

Further to characters being visible on websites, today’s social web and cellular MMS have given rise to memojis and messaging stickers. These can be potent marketing tools, and are driving interest in character design. In addition, 2021 saw the demand for PFP NFTs reach new highs, placing digital collectibles in the limelight, and bringing the value of character design into ever-clearer focus.

Uncovering the Roots of the Illustrated Decorative Poster

Illustrated decorative poster depicting the profile of a daydreaming woodsman set amid a billowing foliage of herbal leaves.
Know Your Herbs (2021)

Uncovering the Roots of the Illustrated Decorative Poster

Originally intended for outdoor publicity, the decorative poster soon began appearing in people’s homes and offices. Dating back to the beginnings of the modern commercial poster, this deliberate repurposing for interior decor has been with us ever since.

Recognising there was a willingness to display them inside the home, commercial poster pioneer Jules Cheret (1836–1932) prepared runs of ‘avant la littre’ proofs; artwork without lettering. Cheret was a trained lithographer able to paint directly to each of the stone plates that offset colour to the paper. Astutely, he chose to keep the typographic layer separate. Without the commercial text that deterred bygone poster collectors, art proofs became collectible items. Before long they were hung alongside paintings and engravings in the study, drawing room, and dining room. Value was rightly attributed to illustrated decorative posters as artistic works in their own right. This would soon lead to exhibitions and magazines dedicated to these accessible lithographic prints.

Commercial art forked in the 1960s. In time fewer commercial posters were undertaken by illustrators, as the explicitness of graphic design would prove more apt in meeting advertising needs. Whereas the particular style offered by an illustrator was their stock-in-trade, graphic designers provided anonymous messaging for commercial effectiveness. With time studio hierarchisation saw illustrators becoming widely regarded as outside freelancers. Now, more often than not, they are hired to lend their style to project responses that have already been conceived.

Crafted by Hand

As many contemporary designers and collectors look toward works from the past, a renewed appreciation has arisen for the integrated visuals made by commercial artists. To be clear, these are works that predate desktop publishing, and needed to be crafted manually. Specific instruction was also given as to how reproduction ought to be carried out. The expansive role of the bygone poster designer often meant suggesting what written copy might accompany the image. This is exemplified by the characterful posters of the late Milton Glaser (1929–2020). Commercial posters of the past did not emerge from an agency pipeline. They were created from the direct business relationships between commercial artist and their clients.

Hear and Now: Charting the Event Poster

With an oboe held diagonally across her body, a young girl in a long red dress is poised to play. Illustrated poster artwork for World Music Day.
Hear and Now. Event Poster (2021)

Hear and Now: Charting the Event Poster

The need to publicise cultural events has long given call for the event poster. Many of the most revered posters have been created for this reason. Commercial artists were tasked with making the onlooker aware of what shall soon be taking place. Bearing on the way posters looked was not only the knowhow of the hired artists, but also the societal milieu where their work would be seen. And though posters did not command the same prestige afforded to painterly art, when advertisers realised the potential of the poster, a reliable market for artists did emerge.

Still Recognisable

Since the dawn of the modern illustrated poster there have been countless depictions of young women. Among the early entrants are those in the works of Jules Cheret, who harnessed the opportunities brought forth by colour lithography. Similar contributions were made by Alphons Mucha, and Adolfo Hohenstein. In the early 20th century poster design became less ornate, affecting both image and typography. Many norms of contemporary posters can be traced back to works belonging to this period. Today there is broad agreement that images ought to be legible at a glance, with ample ‘air’ for all the visual elements to breath. This is exemplified by the Sachplakat of Lucian Bernhard. To the same end, typography that leaves no room for ambiguity is advantageous.

Advertisers recognised the value that event posters brought to publicising performances of theatre, cabaret, opera, film screenings, exhibitions, live music, and festivals. This, along with the promotion of purchasable goods and services, formed a lucrative market for many poster illustrators. Those most successful images were not made to be studied, but rather were eye-catching and persuasive. These visual works appeared on morris columns and alongside walkways in major cities worldwide. Posters later fell under the remit of advertising agencies, where they were considered a part of larger marketing campaigns. Graphic design and photographic realism would soon usurp the position held by the illustrated poster within the printed commercial sphere, a medium which would later be dwarfed by the internet. Any illustrated festival poster is now obliged to exist in print alongside visuals optimised for mobile screens.

A Dash of Colour: The Palette Shared by Visual Art and Illustration

A floral assortment emerges from an artist's palette and paint brushes.
A Dash of Colour (2021)

A Dash of Colour: The Palette Shared by Visual Art and Illustration

Above all, the task of an illustrator is to communicate something particular. It is a practice which crafts images to be seen by specific audiences. In History of Illustration (Bloomsbury), the first peer-reviewed textbook of illustration history, Professor Susan Doyle suggests it is an illustrator’s intent that distinguishes their works. For example, many pieces considered as visual art are shown to be illustrative images, striving to influence perceptions, opinions, and consumer choices. A reasonable argument could be made that illustration’s status can benefit from this critical mapping of it’s domain-specific history.

What has certainly contributed to the ambiguity between visual art and illustration is having shared the same means of creation. Drawing and painting was undertaken to make saleable works of fine art, as well as images intended for commercial use. Today’s illustration practice has seen the wide adoption of polygenous digital methods, spurring the ubiquity of images online and IRL. These are means to an end. But the output continues to be rhetorical images that resonate with the public psyche. Similarly, the lauded illustrators of the past were painters who also served the major markets. This commercial activity saw the distribution of their images via the packaging, media, and communication industries of their day.

Finding Meaning

Within the rapid technological and social changes of this new century, illustrated visuals have remained relevant. If considered in terms of semiotics, they convey meaning with signs that the audience can already understand. As in the past, the illustrator communicates what the onlooker is able to comprehend, which oftentimes happens with little more than a glance.

“Visual communication is always coded. It seems transparent only because we know the code already, at least implicitly […]”

Kress & Leeuwin, 2005

Within today’s attention economy, the fleeting moment to consider images places importance not only on pictorial clarity, but the clarity of ideas which are made visual. In short, it is this communication of ideas that gives purpose to the crafting of illustrated visuals.

Revealing the Language of the Illustrated Travel Poster

A mallard stands poised in high heels and accessories.
Enchanté. Travel Poster (2021)

Revealing the Language of the Illustrated Travel Poster

The travel poster of the early 1900s did not only depict attractive destinations. It also persuaded prospective buyers with images of what could be their future fulfilment. Commercial artists of that period were tasked with showing people enjoying scenic locations, and the comforts of passenger travel. This can be seen in the works of Tom Purvis, Frank Sherwin, and Percy Trompf to name a few. To travel was presented as something for the sophisticated and glamorous, and as the art critic John Berger once wrote, glamour is “The happiness of being envied”.

The Lingua Franca of Marketing

Due to the commercial nature of the travel poster, the unambiguous image was typically met with the explicitness of written text. The esteemed designer/publisher, Adrian Shaugnessy, has described this as the lingua franca of marketing. Being that travel posters were made to be seen by passers-by, the destination and strapline were read at a glance. This placed added importance on concise copy and legible typography. In this market, commercial artists were commissioned by travel agencies, tourist boards, and passenger travel companies operating by land, air and sea. Though commercial posters would later become the remit of graphic designers, the travel poster reminds us of what can be accomplished when coupling design sensibilities with illustration skills.

The travel landscape has changed immensely in the last hundred years. This has contributed to an active secondary market for reprints and original travel posters of that bygone era. Prices range between a few hundred, to tens of thousands of US dollars. The irony is there may now be more glamour in owning a valued poster than visiting the destination it publicises.

The Digital Poster

Today there is less call for printed commercial posters where there are outdoor LCD screens. These make possible animated movement, aid viewing during the nighttime, and ease any corrections that may be necessary. Translation and localisation are certainly more easily addressed with digital posters, and though energy is continuously used to power the screens, this reduces the heavy environmental footprint of paper based reproduction. Overall, it is reasonable to anticipate that many physical posters will be phased out in favour of their digital counterparts.

Understanding Editorial Illustration in the Digital World

A rooster stood upon the screen of an upturned smartphone crows in the dawn light.
Morning Notifications (2021)

Understanding Editorial Illustration in the Digital World

In today’s digital-first world, illustrated images continue to accompany written editorial. Having emerged to furnish the printed articles of European and American publishing, editorial illustration took a conceptual turn in 60’s. This made them better able to communicate complex themes. Not to be mistaken for conceptual art, whose execution is often a perfunctory affair, conceptual illustration crafts images that move the mind of the onlooker. These images allude to a discoverable inner meaning, often setting visual problems and using semiotic cues. In the service of editorial, this becomes a means to better engage the reader.

With digital having practically subsumed printed publishing, editorial illustrations still offers scope for non-passive reader deliberation. What conceptual images were once presented amid columns of printed type are now seen on websites offering editorial content. These include online publications, indie mags, blogs, and online documentation. Insofar as their current role, this remains unchanged. Editorial illustrations are not page decoration, they expound the article topics so they can be better grasped by the viewer.

The Changing Landscape of Publishing

What has changed is the stability once offered by the printed page, to which illustrated images were made to fit specific sizes. Today’s online editorial is commonly delivered via website CMS. Unlike the images of the past, illustrators are obliged to make adaptable artwork that can scale, and be cropped to suit screens of varying types and sizes. In the torrent of unbound content, anything that might increase dwell time is welcome. With evermore people accessing the web by way of broadband, images with subtle animated movement have also become commonplace.

Moving forward it seems likely that editorial illustration will not only be hitched to online publishing, which is in turn bound to the technological timeline of the internet. Much of today’s editorial content is being publicised through social media. Consequently, the pairing of a headline with the illustrated image are often the prospective readers’ point of first contact. In this context, the way an image can pique the interest of a viewer is not unlike an eye-catching cover on a newsstand.