When in Rome??

May 12th, 2008 | Posted in General

Caricaturist Jan Ibelings, a fellow member of the National Caricaturists Network, posted a few pictures on the NCN forum of some live caricaturists he saw working on Piazza Navona on a recent visit to Rome. He snapped the following pictures to show how several of the street artists had samples on their display boards that were copies or rip offs of many NCN members or well known caricaturists (click the pics for a closer look):

Roman Caricaturist
In the photo above there are two Sebastian Kr?¬?ger‘s that I recognize.
The others are of varying styles as well.

More copycat samples Kr?¬?ger’s Stallone, as well as Joe Bluhms Tom Cruise. On the display
in the background I can see my Julia Roberts.

Still more rip-offs

Joe’s Tom Cruise again and an old Tom Cruise of mine
in the lower right with someone else’s Nicole Kidman.

I wish I could say this is an odd occurrence. Here are some pictures I’ve displayed here before with some more examples of street artist’s using examples of mine and others on their displays:

From two different artist’s display boards in Time’s Square, New York City.
My Marilyn Monroe and an old Will Smith.

I saw the above display board at the Place de Tertre, Montmartre in Paris. That’s my Busta Rhymes, Julia and Marylin again. I’ve had reports from friends who’ve seen my work in a similar fashion in London, Greece, San Diego, San Fransisco, etc. etc. These were all taken from my website, many from the old version as I don’t even have most of these caricatures anymore.

Why do these street artist’s do this? If they can draw well enough to do it for money in a place like Times Square, Rome or Paris, why not do their own samples?

I can’t answer that for certain. For some, it’s a matter of simply not being a very good caricaturist. Some of those Times Square artists are awful, and can barely draw at all. They sell their wares the same way the people next to them sell watches that look like Rolexes but stop running within a week. They show one thing (like other people’s samples) and then sell another and rely on tourists getting confused or not wanting to create a scene to get their money. Those people have no choice but to show other people’s work as their display art, as they are incapable of doing their own. They, incidentally, give real street caricaturist a bad name.

Others, though, have the art skills to do their own samples. So why the rip-offs? I think it’s just plain laziness. They don’t want to spend the time needed to work up good looking samples… they’d rather steal another artist’s work as opposed to doing it themselves. Maybe it’s because they know they aren’t as good as Kr?¬?ger (who is???) so they show his work rather than display their own honest skill.

A few years ago I was visiting the local Renaissance Festival here in Minnesota and happened on the cart of a caricaturist there who i had met only briefly but knew by reputation as a fairly good local artist. I was shocked to see many of my samples on his board, redrawn to some extent but very clearly copies of my work. I did not confront him about it on the spot, but wrote him a letter asking that he remove my samples. I received a very apologetic response from him and his only excuse was that he was having personal difficulties and did not have the time to do all his own samples. To his credit he removed the copied samples and I never heard of him using my work that way again. He was extremely embarrassed.

I have a feeling that is a rare exception… someone who is actually embarrassed by doing something like that when caught. Most of these artists could care less, as evidenced by the fact that some have the hubris to have the same ripped off samples on their board as the artist drawing only feet from them also has displayed! They must really think tourists are stupid.

There are some caricaturists who respond to this by saying “you should be flattered. They must think a lot of your work to do that!”. Sorry, but those artists are not showing any respect or admiration to the artists they are ripping off. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I don’t begrudge anyone the chance to make a living, and despite this post I don’t get worked up over seeing my stuff being used in this manner. No, I don’t like it and don’t condone in, but I am a big believer in Karma and the old adage “what goes around, comes around”. If these folks want to still be doing caricatures on a soggy street corner 20 years from now for a few euros a pop, then they are going about it the right way. It’s very sad, actually. I feel sorry for them… but I still wish they wouldn’t steal my work nor that of my colleagues.


  1. HarleyRacer says:

    I hate when I see this kind of unethical business practices. I have personally seen dealers selling reprints of popular, but not famous photos, drawings, and caricatures. Many don’t even bother to pretend they were the creators.

    It’s too bad there isn’t a technology that would micro imprint the true creator’s names right into the art itself without harming or distracting from the art. Maybe along a neckline or collarbone.

  2. Philbert says:

    I notice in the background of the Wil Smith sample there’s another, partially obscured piece where all you can make out is the ?√á©watermark!!!
    Must be an orphaned piece. Sheesh.

  3. craig says:

    Joe Bluhm wrote a great piece about calling out an artist who was ripping him off. I guess it doesn’t happen nearly often enough, so the rip offs continue.

  4. yondaime_kazekage says:

    how can we stop something like this?
    the answer is, u can’t. But i do recognize drawings by tom richmond,kruger, bluhm, seiller and many more. and if i found out someone out there has been using their artwork, i’m sure going to give them a hard time.. . stealing someone else artwork is cheap, and they should be ashamed..

  5. BENNY JACKSON says:

    Bueno Tom te mando un saludo desde Lima-PER?É?° soy un gran admirador tuyo, y soy un aficionado a la caricatura espero seguir aprendiendo de los maestros como tu para ser uno mismo y tener un propio estilo, con lo referente a la nota yo tambien reconoci las caricaturas tuve q traducir la pagina para entender mejor y tienes toda la razon ,eso se llama piratear y promocionarse con trabajos de otros como si fuesen de uno mismo eso esta mal y no es ?ɬ©tico, muy mal por ellos ,un saludo y espero mas consejos de tu parte para seguir aprendiendo sobre la caricatura gracias tu amigo Benny


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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