Saturday, February 13, 2016

How Adult Coloring Became Dirty Words

   If you're reading this, thinking that I'll be talking about or posting images of pornographic line art from coloring books meant for adults, stop right here.  This post won't be about that.  You'll see what I mean by the title pretty quickly if you decide to continue.

Gardens & Goddesses, my first book from 2012 from Ellen Million Graphics.
It was a long time dream of mine that finally came true.
   I have been selling coloring books of my detailed fantasy art since 2012, way before this adult coloring craze became so big in the past year or two.  But adult coloring books are nothing new.  They have been around for a long time, despite being a quiet, small niche in the publishing industry, and have been somewhat limited to mandalas, Art Nouveau and Celtic designs.  These days, the market is full of beautiful books (lots of Zentangle and other doodly designs as well as fantasy artists' work) as more and more people - both professional artists who make their living with their art AND those who just see an opportunity to make quick bucks with coloring books of varying quality - are jumping in and publishing books.

A page from Gardens & Goddesses book that I colored with Prismacolor pencils.
   When you're in the field of visual art, much like fields in design and technology, you run into thieves.  Many of us (not all, but many) do our part by registering our images and designs with US Copyright Office, but that doesn't mean thieves will stop, fearing legal action.  All too often, they'll rip your designs off and make money and be gone just as quickly as they appeared.  Art thievery is not limited to actual theft of a physical, original painting from someone's collection for the purpose of selling on the black market to the highest bidder.  All too often, artists like me experience a theft of a different kind: theft by hand-copying nearly line by line to the point the image is easily recognizable as one of yours (or blatant mechanical copying) appearing in a book being sold on for profit; theft by someone using the image without permission on products that are sold on print-on-demand places like Zazzle or CafePress; and theft even by small businesses or companies that go into licensing agreement to legally use your art on their products, but fail to pay royalties as spelled out in the contracts.  I have also seen theft of another kind where an individual would digitally manipulate the original artist's watermark and slap on theirs and claim authorship.  Ridiculous, but it has happened to me, and I have seen this happen to many of my artist friends.  There seems to be no limit to how low they stoop.

Gardens and Goddsses vol. 2, published in 2014, also from Ellen Million Graphics.
   Back to the topic of why "adult coloring" became dirty words for me.  It has everything to do with the various types of theft I mentioned above.  With the explosive growth of the popularity of adult coloring, came a huge crop of Facebook groups and Pinterest boards that cater to this topic and the enthusiasts. And they are hell bent on the idea of making line art available for FREE.  There are a lot of images available for free with consent of the original artists, especially on places like deviantART.   But the problem is, all too often, the individuals involved in administering these groups or boards have total disregard for copyright laws, or for that matter, the rights of the artists who created the images.  We've all heard of people saying, "If it's on the Internet, it's free, isn't it?  I think what they imply by this statement is "If it's not free already, it should be."

   I've encountered Pinterest boards that were collections of artists' line art with no watermark, meaning, whoever purchased the files posted them on their boards (or bought coloring books and scanned the pages and posted them).  "I bought them.  It's mine now, so I can post them on my board.  What's wrong with that?" They'd say.  These people fail to understand that images they obtain - via download from their legitimate purchase, freely distributed as promo by the original artist/copyright owner, or something they find on the Internet that they happen to like - are not free for them to do whatever they choose.  The least of which is to make it available for downloading, illegally distributing without consent or knowledge of the copyright holder/original artist, who stand to lose because of this seemingly 'harmless' action, often called 'sharing' by the offenders.

   Most artists like me cannot afford a legal team dedicated solely to the patrolling of the Internet for copyright violations and infringements like Disney and other big shots have at their disposal.  We largely depend on our knowledgeable and more informed fans who recognize a rip-off or a theft situation when they see it.  Thank goodness for these people for reporting cases to the artists.

Midnight Gardens, published in 2014 from Ellen Million Graphics, featuring darker and macabre themes.
   No matter how many cases I encounter, my response is the same.  I get the heavy, heart-sinking feeling that makes me feel sad and angry.  It also depletes my mojo.  Having to deal with it also takes away a lot of my time that could be better spent doing what I love most - making art.   Although there is nothing we can do to prevent from these thefts from occurring, there is at least, the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).  This law releases companies like Facebook and Pinterest from any wrongdoing if a individual user violates someone's copyright by posting content without permission or otherwise breaking laws (freely distributing, or making profit off of, etc.) on their sites.  What the law does is that it advises these big companies to take appropriate action in a timely manner when a formal complaint is filed.  I would say that I have filed the largest number of cases with Pinterest, and fewer with Facebook, DeviantART, and Etsy (Etsy in particular doesn't make it as easy for the rights holder to file as many other places, though...).  A few with Google (for Blogger).  What we do is file a claim of violation by filling out a form they have ready.  They usually ask if you are the copyright owner or a representative, ask to put where legitimately presented image can be found, along with the offending link(s), and your contact info, plus your digital 'signature'.  In most cases in my own experience, action has been within hours.  I have not had a case that did not go in my favor.  So these organizations take this seriously enough to respect the rights of the artists or the right holder of the intellectual property, as they say.

   What makes me sad is that there are artists who have totally given up on their rights and sit and do nothing when their art is stolen or illegally distributed for free by unscrupulous public.  Whenever I come across a violation (= seeing someone's art being used without permission or inappropriately), I contact the artist as soon as I can and make them aware of the situation.  There are artists who feel the same way as I do and take immediate action and file complaint cases, but there are artists who feel so helpless and decide to do nothing and tell me so in their reply.  It breaks my heart when I see the latter reaction.  It is YOUR art.  It is YOUR intellectual property.  It is YOUR livelihood.  It pays for YOUR family's food, mortgage, car payment, health care, children's education ...  How could you just sit there and do nothing to protect all that?

A page from the Gardens & Goddesses book that I colored with Prismacolor pencils.
This book was subsequently given away to the winner of a giveaway on my Facebook page.
   It is true that dealing with theft cases is a never ending chore, much like plucking weeds out of your garden week after week, month after month, year after year.  You solve one case, and another one pops up.  But to say that it's no use because there will always be people who will steal from you is bogus.  I don't want a fellow artist to ever feel that helpless.  "Silence is acquiescence" to those thieves and ignorant public.  In cases of illegal free distribution of images via blog posts and Pinterest boards, it not only violates the rights of the artists, but it also makes a complete mockery of the paying customers, who see and appreciate the value of your time, talent, and creativity that went into the work, and are willing to pay for it.

   Another thing that is hindering the artists who make living by making art, dare I say it, is the hobby artists who make their drawings available for free.  I don't know if they are offering their art because they think they're not professional artists, they are just in it for popularity, or they fail to see the value of their work.  I don't think there are no other field where more work is offered for free than in the field of visual art.  And I think it probably has a lot to do with the society's attitude as a whole.  Think about it.  When politicians (including your state and local representatives or members of the school board) have to cut funding in our public school systems, where do they cut it first?  Arts.  Music programs, dance programs, theater programs, and visual art programs are the ones that get cut.  Why?  Because these are leisurely pursuits not worthy of our serious attention or government funding (taxpayers' money).  It's all frivolous and does not contribute to the growth and development of the might of a country.  Being an artist is not a REAL job.  Because it's not a real job, you shouldn't have to pay for art.  I think that's the message that our society is sending to our adults and children.  And I think this is the reason why people continue to feel it's perfectly OK to freely distribute images they find on the web and they can continue on with their new-found hobby of adult coloring.  It's beyond me why they would bark at paying a few dollars for a quality image when they won't even think twice to get a $5 cup of coffee every day at Starbucks.  Or why they would think illegally downloading images is OK when they wouldn't dare walking out of a craft store with a set of colored pencils or markers with a "five-finger discount".

Another page from Gardens & Goddesses colored with Prismacolor pencils.
   All this and the cold winter have contributed to my less-than-average motivation in recent months, starting right after the 2015 holiday season.  With the warmer temperature returning and new projects on the horizon, I am focused less on the unpleasant aspects of art business and more on the positive.  It does require what feels like a constant, conscious effort to shift my attention and keep it there, but I continue to receive lovely letters from colorists out there who are really enjoying my books and line images.  Some even say they help them keep their minds off the difficulty life constantly throws at us.    It always warms my heart and gives me encouragement to continue what I do whenever I receive a message or an email where someone shares with me that they found a precious gift in the images they color - be it a sheer joy of coloring, a moment of tranquility, or a discovery of the forgotten inner child.  I am forever grateful for the kind and generous people that I come into contact in my daily dealings.  It is them who make dealing with the calous and uncaring attitude of many less depressing, and lift my spirit, so I can continue to draw something beautiful, whimsical, and joyful.