Where to Find 100s of Free Images to Use in Your Paintings

Uncategorized Dec 01, 2020

Photo courtesy of the Milan Art Institute.

Successful artists are often only as good as their last painting. As such, most of the students in our Mastery Program take Elli Milan’s advice: Always have something to paint. 

Although we do recommend that artists draw and photograph their own sources when they can, we are also not against encouraging them to create sources from existing photos. For the artists who’d like to do that, we’ve created this list of 100s public domain and royalty-free sources to use in their next masterpiece.

Royalty-Free, Creative Commons and Public Domain Images

Wikipedia: Wikipedia is kind of the granddaddy of them all in terms of public domain, creative commons and royalty-free images, so it makes sense to start our search for free images there. Not only does this page contain a list of over 100 sites that offer public domain works, it also gives users some useful guidelines for determining if an image can be used for commercial purposes.

Pixabay: Pixabay licenses its images under the Creative Commons license. Some images will require you to provide a link back or attribution. However, this isn’t always the case. Most Pixabay photos can be used without this, though, the creators of these works often create free images to build their reputations as photographers and illustrators, so attribution and a link back is always a plus!

Pexels: You’ll find thousands of royalty-free and public domain images on Pexels to use in your art. This site has its own licensing.

Canva: For many people, Canva is the go-to site for creating book covers, social media headers and more. It also happens to have a healthy number of free-to-use images just waiting to be a part of your masterpiece. 

Public Domain Archive: This site carries both modern and vintage photos to use in your next painting or drawing

Project Gutenberg: Although this site is most famous for providing the public with public domain books and documents, it does have its share of public domain photos and illustrations. If you’re looking for something more vintage as a source of inspiration, it’s hard to beat Project Gutenberg. The site has a search function to help you find books and images.

Old Book Illustrations: Recently, our own Jake Dunn held a cool contest in Art Club. He asked Milan Art Institute students to create new works based on masterworks from the past. If that assignment inspired you, here are more vintage illustrations to spark your creativity for future paintings.

Travel Coffee Book: If you’re inspired to paint something of the travel persuasion, you might like this site!

Foodie’s Feed: If painting food is your thing, then you’ll definitely want to bookmark this site. It’s filled with so many scrumptious-looking photos, you’ll get hungry before you’re done looking at the first page!

Flickr: Flickr is a place where many people store their images. You can find the ones that are available in the public domain/ royalty-free universe by selecting: 

  1. Commercial use & modifications allowed
  2. then go to Any license 

to find the ones that you can use. You’ll have to manually check for the license for any image you use.

Final Words on Finding Free Images for Your Artwork

This list of creative commons, public domain and royalty-free images should keep your busy for months, possibly years to come. 

That said, there is one more thing to keep in mind before you use any image you find on the Internet…

Many people do not know that there is automatic copyright protection assigned to any work, like a photo, a drawing, a video or audio recording, etc., the minute that that piece is put into fixed form. 

In other words, once it is created, it is copyrighted, whether the original creator applies for a copyright from the copyright office or not. There are some exceptions, but generally speaking if it is a creative work, it is under copyright, even if it’s on the Internet and even if it doesn’t have the copyright symbol.

HOWEVER…Many creators release their works into the Creative Commons or make them royalty free to use. They relinquish their copyright to that work. It’s always best to check. 

Public domain works are works of art whose copyright protections have expired. Those are the types of images you’ll find on sites, like Project Gutenberg.

To make your search for suitable images a bit easier in light of all of this, we compiled this list of photos and illustrations. They have been designated public domain, royalty-free or Creative Commons and are a great start when you’re looking for the subject of your next painting.

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