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  • Writer's picturemarti mcginnis

Create Your Own Artistic License

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Thoughts on artistic license:

One way to consider this is: Artistic license means an artis tallows leeway in his or her interpretation of something and doesn't hold strict accountable for accuracy.

For example, you may be a part of a sketching club that meets various places (like how they do it in Urban Sketchers) and as you consider the view before you, rather than drawing an exact replica, or even something particularly close to what you see, you maybe decide to take elements from the reality you see and infuse your own creativity into filling out the scene. This can be subtle use of your "Artistic License" or quite blatant! I'm know for the latter. Here's a sample:

The people kept moving around and the plant material was abundant, so I simplified the gardens and froze a couple people in place.

Deliberate Use of Artistic License

Artists are notorious for insisting on creating what they see in their own heads, and not necessarily what anyone else sees. Occasionally, as with Dadaism, artistic license is applied with a heavy hand, and the viewer is expected to keep up.

The Abstract Expressionist movement, Cubism, and Surrealism are also good examples of this. While we are aware that humans don't have both eyes on the same side of their heads, realism isn't the point in this context.

Here's a drawing I did as a sample for the kids in my Art Club:

Inspired by a ditty from Pablo Picasso

There's another way to use your Artistic License....The painter John Trumbull created a famous scene entitled The Declaration of Independence, in which all the authors—and all but 15 of its signers—are shown present in the same room at the same time. Such an occasion never actually occurred. However, by combining a series of meetings, Trumbull painted a composition full of historic likenesses, engaged in an important historic act, that was meant to evoke emotion and patriotism in U.S. citizens.


I suggest you take a moment to create for yourself your own Artistic License and keep in a place where you can see it as a daily reminder. Maybe even keep a copy in your wallet, too.

Here's one I did as a sample in our Creativity Club.

To see a painter use her A.L. in action, take a look at this video Jean Lurssen created that demonstrates how she used a photo for reference but ended up with a water color that riffed off the pic.

If you liked this post, consider joining my Creativity Club. We meet once a week to discuss elements of being an artist, highlighting the concept of "Strengthening Your Artist's Voice". More info here.



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