Think of a place you want to travel to. You may see beautiful white sandy beaches and blue sky. Or ancient architecture that still exists in a modern city. Even though these places are incredible and exciting, there are always some things to be weary of anywhere you go. Every beautiful city has areas that's are unsafe or are homes to tricksters sneaking into your pocket. The trick to avoiding all of that, is to familiarize yourself with both the good and bad before you head off on your trip.
This is true for travel. It's also true for art! While you may love the art people are sharing, you must always be careful you're not in unfamiliar territory where tricksters are at work. So many great artists are the victims of infringement and the sad part is you'd probably never know it. Sometimes THEY won't know it either.
So here are a few tips to avoid putting money towards fraudulent art and to better ensure the money goes direct to the artist.
Get Familiar with the Artist & their Work
Being online, you can never guarantee that what you're seeing is someone's actual work. So how do you know if what you're seeing IS someone's actual work? Look at more than one of their postings. Are they showing process shots? Is there a backstory about the inspiration of the work? Is there a consistency in style & theme or does it jump around a lot?
Most artists will have process shots, sometimes even video, a backstory to their work and follow-up of what's happening with that piece they painted or tshirt they designed. They'll also be somewhat consistent in their theming or style. If you don't see any of this or each post is jumping around from paintings to logos, cartoon characters to realistic still life, be warned.
Take Liam Ashurst, as an example. His style is consistent throughout his feed and very unique to him. Since this style has grown in popularity, people start mimicking it or blatantly stealing it and claiming it as their own.
I was in a shop near my home in British Columbia and saw something that looked like his work and I was going to buy it because I love his stuff. But I first asked the shop owner who the artist was, to confirm one way or another. They referred me to someone on Vancouver Island so I waited to purchase until I knew for sure. After following that trail I noticed his name wasn't anywhere to be found on the website so I contacted him directly, to ask. Turns out it was authentically his art and the company had licensed the artwork from him to make wood pendants. Phewf! I then felt safe to purchase knowing I was supporting the artist, a small wood pendant maker on Vancouver Island, AND a small boutique in my home town. A trifecta of support!
One way to ensure that 100% of your hard earned money is going to support the original artist is to buy direct from their website. By doing a quick Google search, you should be able to find their "home" on the web, whether it's their .com name, Behance portfolio, or Instagram feed. Through that portal, you can then figure out where they are selling their art or purchase direct from their site.
Artists tend to list stores that stock their product (stockists) somewhere on their website so before you go shopping, you can always check this out. These shops find the artists online through programs like Etsy Wholesale, or personal connections they may have with the artist. They then purchase their product in bulk to help stock their stores. Buying local is one great way to support both artist and the smaller shops.
When shopping, ensure that tags, branding, or some kind of credit to the artist is visible in some way. If it's not, the shop owner should be able to tell you who the artist is. If not, you can conduct further research before you purchase or find another store to purchase at.
Avoid Big Box Stores
Big box stores tend to require very quick turn-around on product in the cheapest way possible so instead of researching an artist they'd like to support, writing up a license agreement, and paying the artist fairly (which would be a reasonable sum of money given their size and distribution), they look to warehouses overseas that can replicate it much cheaper. I wouldn't say they ALL work this way but some have actually been accused of having "design scouts" who go to tradeshows to steal ideas and artwork.This makes me cringe.
Shopping online is tricky since everyone is online these days. Even the copycats. If you follow the previous steps, you should land on the original artist and be able to find out where their work is being sold. Don't be fooled by the cheap offerings on Amazon or eBay as they may be knock offs. But again, it all comes back to a little leg work.
So what if you were accidentally "had" by one of these sellers? Or what if you see something that you know is not someone's original work? Contact the original artist right away so they can take legal measures to have the item / design taken down and avoid that website at all costs next time. If they do it for one design, there are likely more designs that weren't properly licensed.
Hopefully these few tidbits of advice will put money into more artists hands and out of the tricksters of the world. And if you have any tips, please include them in the comments below.