The AI Art Conversation and How Artists can Evolve to Survive

The AI Art Conversation and How Artists can Evolve to Survive

Written by Shannon Conway of Shanconart LLC 

Products include: Custom illustrations, Logos & Branding, 3D models, and Animation 

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Let’s talk about AI art for a second…because honestly, who isn’t.

I see a lot of people hating on it because people are getting portraits of themselves for under $10 instead of supporting their artist friends by commissioning them instead. I get both sides of that argument. A lot of regular people who are using them just for ten seconds of fun don’t have the money to pay $200 each for 10 portraits just for shits and giggles for a couple minutes. And they shouldn’t. Hell, I did digital portraits for a sale for $25 in the past and regular everyday people don’t want to pay that to support their artist friends. They have no use for digital portraits. Some may get a canvas print one-off as a gift, but more often than not they don’t want that so it’s pointless.

BUT…some businesses, brands, or bands are using it for commercial purposes. For album covers, for business profiles, for selling, etc… That is where the ethical question comes into play.

How does artificial intelligence actually come up with the images you prompt?

It uses a method called Stable diffusion.

Stable diffusion is a learning model released this year in 2022. It takes a prompt that you type in and generates detailed images. Stable diffusion claims no rights on generated images and lets whoever created the prompt use the results for non-commercial or commercial use. But how does it actually come up with the imagery?

It was trained on pairs of images and captions taken from a database set derived from Common Crawl data scraped from the web. Common Crawl is a nonprofit organization that crawls the web and freely provides its archives and datasets to the public. It completes crawls generally every month.

A third party analysis of Stable Diffusion has identified 12 million images taken from the database, including images on Pinterest, WordPress, Blogspot, Flickr, DeviantArt, and more are continuing to pop up.

This means that if you are an artist and you host your website on WordPress, post on Pinterest, Blogspot, Flickr, or DeviantArt…your art is being used in the AI database with or without your consent. It’s using your art style, elements of your images, colors, linework, backgrounds, mushed together with other artists’ images to create whatever prompt is being typed in.

Then there’s the whole argument of “wELL aRtiStS dO tHaT wHeN ThEy uSe rEfErEnce…”

No. Artists are not always doing that when they use reference. Reference is used for things like learning about poses, anatomy, how light works, how shadows are cast, what types of fur different animals have, architecture, etc.

For example, I can take a photo of my mother sitting on our couch holding a broom stick in her hand for reference. The final drawing is a viking warrior sitting on a fallen tree with a spear in her hand. I used the reference for the pose, the way the muscles in the arm look when holding a long object, the lighting, the shadows…but I am not using one single pixel of that reference photo in my final piece.

However…this enters into the age old debate, are artists just using reference or are they copying exact images? Are artists stealing? How do people learn other than copying something to figure out how it works? How much does something have to change in order to be considered “new”? If you’re a photographer and an artist uses your image for reference, who holds the copyright of the image? How much of the image was changed and at what point does it go from the photographer to the illustrator or the graphic designer?

I saw the other day someone post that AI art is like taking tracing paper and copying the hair from one character, the nose of another, the eyes from another, and so on until you get something that looks like what you want it to be. If you’re tracing it from another artist that seems like straight stealing, but if you’re tracing it from open source images, that seems more like you’re putting it through a filter or using graphic design techniques.

So what are artists supposed to do? It’s hard to get work now-a-days unless you have social media platforms. Uploading your artwork to your website or platforms will always run the risk of someone stealing it. Especially in corporate America where capitalism runs all and capitalism is greed.

It’s not a black and white argument, it’s every single shade in-between and nobody will ever have an exact answer and not everyone will ever agree on the same one.

The only thing that is for certain are the terms of use and policies for the apps or companies you are going through to create these images.

Lensa, the one that just went viral, has a clause in their policy that states…

“Solely for the purposes of operating or improving Lensa, you grant us a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable, sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, distribute, create derivative works of your User Content, without any additional compensation to you.”

Which kinda just seems they are taking your likeness and images you upload to also add into the database to use, but you have to agree to these terms in order to use it so they do have your consent. It seems everybody needs an entire law team and more just to try and understand some of the terms and conditions put in place by all the apps and tech that now rule our lives.

Which opens the doors to the debate…well, if you’re on any platform on the internet your information is already stolen and your face and images are being used in this manner anyway.

We’re all just living in a digital data nightmare episode of Black Mirror. The digital life is a hard one to navigate through and always know exactly what is going on.

I wish AI was just used as another tool rather than a means to replace illustrators, but to be honest, it kinda seems like nobody has any exact idea which direction the future is going to go in.

Telling people not to use the AI apps because it is unethical is useless because you’re then assuming that everybody who uses them has a good set of morals or ethics.

Some people just. don’t. care.

People steal, people lie, people cheat. That’s reality. There will always be people using non-ethical things and not caring. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t have ruined the environment like we have.

My advice to artists who are scared by AI, which is a lot of us…is to evolve.

If you’re only an illustrator….. learn something else. We can’t change the apps from being used or being created, but we can change ourselves.

The internet is a wide open space where you can learn just about anything. Putting all your eggs in one basket is a scary way to live. Especially because at the turn of a corner, something new can pop up and throw everything out of balance. Robots will replace humans, artificial intelligence will replace humans, machines will replace hands…

Be an illustrator but also a photographer, a graphic designer, a web designer…learn coding, learn 3D modeling, learn how to do hands on creating like 3D printing, wood working, book binding, hell, app building! Evolve! Bring more value to the table than just illustration or digital painting so that there is no way in hell AI could replace the whole of what you do. AI can’t design practical physical products, print t-shirts, or photograph an on-site event. 

AI can’t create logos based on target markets and specific ideas. AI can’t create a feeling. AI can’t replicate human emotions. (yet). So, do the things that it can’t and evolve your skills because the digital world isn’t going to go in reverse and it isn’t going to wait for you to catch up.

Sites I recommend for learning new skills: 

  1. YouTube! Everything you ever need to know is just a YouTube search away. There are a lot of YouTube channels dedicated to teaching creatives new skills. Want to learn 3D? Head on over to Blender Guru. Want to learn how to design characters and make concept art for video games? Head on over to Marc Brunuet’s Youtube School. Want to learn how to create your own graphic design business? Head on over to Chris Do’s The Futur. And the best part? It’s free!
  2. Cubebrush. Cubebrush is a great resource for learning art for movies, prop design, character design, and more in the entertainment industry. Most 3D modeling skills are currently nowhere close to being able to be done by artificial intelligence. It is a highly valuable skill and the market is always in need of 3D artists. 
  3. Skillshare. Skillshare is specifically made for creative types and is a great place to learn any creative skill from people working in the real world. 
  4. TikTok! Surprisingly, there are a LOT of tutorials on TikTok. These are perfect for leveling up your work in Photoshop, ProCreate, Blender, ClipStudio Paint, and more. There’s a channel for almost every program you can imagine and the tutorials are in tiny, bite sized portions, so it isn’t too overwhelming. 
  5. Twitch. Most artists on twitch are more than willing to let you know how they are doing something. That’s honestly the point of streaming art on Twitch, to show everyone the process! If you’re interested in learning a new creative skill, search for it on Twitch and see who’s creating in that category. 


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