When a painting has been designated as "original", is it ethical to paint exact copies or different versions of the same piece? I recently received the following message from a long time reader and featured artist, Shana Stern.

When I sell an original painting -- and then I get requests to do a commission of the same piece -- am I allowed to paint additional ones?  or if I've sold one can I not then paint similar ones?

I don't want to upset my clients who bought the first piece - but I would like to do a few versions on commission - and I don't know what to do!

Shana Stern www.shanasternstudio.com

I've faced this issue in the past. When asked to paint a smaller version of a larger (and more expensive) painting, I replied that I would do a similar painting, but it would be unique, and based on only a section of the composition - and have a slightly different palette.

Below is the original "Capelin Run" (48x60") followed by a commissioned piece "Capelin in a Fishtub" (16x20"):

capelin run graham matthews

capelin fishtub


I realize that my way of dealing with this issue is not the only solution, and artists have varying opinions.

What would you do in this situation?

Please reread Shana's message above and post your responses below.

Post a Comment Blogger

  1. As Artists we are not, nor should we become machines, so it stands to reason that every painting is a unique original. If someone wants identical they must buy a print or giclee. Even though on first glance two paintings may appear the same to an untrained eye, no two originals are exactly alike. If an Artist is dymanic, they are constantly learning and applying new techniques, so they couldn't duplicate a painting even if they wanted to. That is part of the beauty of original art. When you paint in series you often produce a set of similar paintings but each one always has something unique and different about it. I am a daily painter and generally paint miniatures, so I often paint a much larger painting for a show or patron. I also copy masterpieces for my clients, but I add my own unique touches. Two recent copies of Monet's garden at Giverny can be seen on my PAINT A MASTERPIECE BLOG http://paintamasterpiece.blogspot.ca/2013/11/free-gift-what-difference-frame-makes.html One in liquid acrylic and one impasto, one alla prima and one with bronze underpainting, yet they still give the essence of the original. I also paint a class called PAINT A MASTERPIECE where we copy a master work in the course of one day. I'm always amazed to see how each artists puts their own slant on things and they are all beautiful.

    1. I had a commissioned piece made as a gift for a friend and the artist posted pictures and literally begging people to buy prints of my piece! I wasn't asked and as it was a custom I was a little bit hurt that he didn't even ask if that would be ok I felt it was rude and very unprofessional! If I had of bought a piece he had made that wasn't custom then yes go for it but this had details that were not for sale

  2. I agree with Sea, entirely. No two pieces will ever be exactly the same, and working on a series is the way to go. That way, the theme is the same, and most times customers will like another after seeing all.

  3. I don't do copies of my originals. For one thing, the energy used in the original is dissipated, and the next version just lacks the punch. Second, why would someone want to buy a copy for the same price as the original? The owner of the original would likely be quite upset also. I consider each painting I do a challenge and learning experience. Once done with that, it's exciting to move on to the next. My movite isn't to sell....it's to improve with each endeavor.

  4. The energy I put into the original dissipates and a copy would never have the same vitality. I never paint copies of my originals, and as a buyer would be very upset if someone purchased a copy painted like my original. For these reasons, I don't sell giclees either. Technology makes many things possible, but we still have the option of exercising choice.

    1. I agree with Karol, I would be bored to death having to do the same thing over no matter the size, the feeling for the painting is gone, it is just drugery having to do another like it.

  5. I'll do the same subject, of course- but how could you even reproduce something the same twice? A new piece exploring the same subject/style yes, but to reproduce exactly...no. I wouldn't even try.

    That's what prints are for.

    I've had people ask me this a lot, i usually draw them out-i ask what they liked about the piece, what colors they like, what mood. Then i can go into the commission with new variables in mind, and make something for them that's unique.

  6. Over the years I have had so many requests for something "similar" -- and yes, the first painting has the excitement and the thrill of creation -- copying yourself seems to stifle my creativity, and I end up overworking and over guessing my work. The collector has seen a photo of the original and that is what they want -- and, it's truly never the same -- and thank God for that. And, since the toil and labor is all on me, and I am not having fun, I don't do them anymore. I tell the collector that I will do another painting in the same genre and that the next one is an original from where I am today.


Thank-you for your comment!