How to ensure that art is not AI generated

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This is a bit of an unusual post for Life to Legend. Normally I only advise artists about how to deal with specific things. This article however is just as useful for anyone looking to buy art. It's gonna be a short and straightforward one, but with no less importance, especially considering the relevance of the topic and the issues that come with it.

Hi! My name is Tessa, I’m a Dutch artist, specializing in wildlife and creature designs. I love to share my passion for nature, art and fantasy, and do that by creating this archive and community, alongside my company Tez Art & Design.

Table of Contents (Click to (un)fold)

What is AI

AI is short for Artificial Intelligence. AI-generated art is art generated by programs like Dahl-E and Midjourney. There is no skill required to generate art this way, other than smartly using the programs and knowing what prompts to use. The programs used to generate this art takes images from the internet and blends them together to create something new based on your prompt in a matter of seconds.

Why is AI such an issue

There is nothing wrong with using these programs, they serve as an amazing source of inspiration and could serve as a base to be overpainted by an artist. However, the art market is getting flooded by people that are by no means artists but are selling these AI-generated images as original artworks made by them. This can cause some major issues.

Who owns the art?

This is the first and foremost question. Who owns the art? And it looks like right now in September of 2022 the answer is not clear. As Dahl-E says: You own the art, but not the art that has generated the artwork’. In other words: Pictures or images you at some point uploaded on the internet can be used to generate a different image. In some cases, your art might even be recognizable to some degree. This is very tricky as even in traditional art it’s not entirely clear when something is ‘Substantially similar’ or not.

It’s said you need to change at least 10 to 30% to consider an artwork your own. However, this has been proven wrong in court on many occasions. What is generally accepted though is that you can be inspired by someone else’s artwork, but not copy it unless it serves as a study and is not sold. This counts for photographs as well. Overall, 80% of your own work and 20 of someone else’s, like you could see in an overpaint, should be the least to aim for. We’re not talking about putting the same strokes and colors on top of the original. We’re talking about taking the idea and molding it into something new.

Generally, I recommend using AI only as inspiration or to use for an overpaint where you overpaint everything rather than taking an AI original (or even partially AI original) and selling it as your own.

AI and artistic styles

As you may expect with services like this: They do take real art and use the style and subjects from a specific artist to form something new. Whether or not this is legally acceptable, I leave to you, and the lawsuits I’m sure will come up anytime. The big problem here is that search engines get swamped with art and art styles from artists X or Y, but their real art is no longer visible on the first page of a search engine. If anything: I’m pretty sure that very soon artists can remove their names from the AI database to avoid this problem,

Underpricing real artists

AI art is made in seconds. It costs the person who generates it close to nothing, so it can be sold for a low price with a gigantic profit. People who do this are often (but not always) the same people who will try to sell you copyrighted art from another artist or program. The same people will not tell you that they’re selling you AI-generated art and might even have a fake profile that looks real, so when copyrights are coming to knock at your door, or there is some other issue, they are long gone.

The only way AI could be used safely as it stands now (because it’s a technology in its infancy) is by 1: Buying from someone that clearly states it’s AI-generated and prices it accordingly, while also not using art generated from other art sources (actual art, photography, sculpting, etc). Anything really that could be copyrighted or be intellectual property. Note though that this is still tricky because we can’t tell what images AI is using. And 2: If you don’t use it commercially or only use it in an educational way. I’m not stating that this is the only way, I’m just saying that this is the only thing I would dare to use it for as so much is still unclear.

Non-specific AI artwork

The prompt for this image was: Broad desert scene with flying futuristic city oil paint.
As you can see there is no flying city. You can probably force one out regardless, Regenerating the images didn’t help on this one.
Image generated by: AI Dall-e.

As this art is AI-generated, a human doesn’t interfere, other than using prompts and picking one of several images to continue generating variations from. The art is based on a prompt and more often than not, it can’t meet specifics. Sure, if you need a pretty sci-fi scene: Fine. A Sci-Fi city in a desert: Why not. But if you want a character in there that has scars on her face, wears a blue dress, has golden eyes, black hair, and a red dragon with golden accents and specific anatomy by her side, you might be in for a pickle. Especially keeping in mind art fundamentals such as composition, turnarounds, lighting angle, anatomy, etc.

Even more so: If anyone can generate stuff like this and you as a non-artist are looking for art like this, go to: DALL·E 2 (openai.com) and join the waiting list. It took me 3 days to get in. Another option is to join the Discord server of Midjourney, or join another server that’s equipped with Midjourney to create your own things, This is now the best way to get budget art of good quality as long as you’re not too picky.

An example with a complex prompt

Below you can see an example with the prompt: Woman with scars on her face blue dress golden eyes black hair and a red dragon with golden accents by her side digital art.

Image generated by: AI Dall-e

Dall-e provides 4 images each time. You can then pick one that resembles what you are looking for the most to generate 4 more. However, All these images are so far away from what I’m looking for that I didn’t even bother.

  • The first image doesn’t have a blue dress, nor has golden eyes or a scar on her face, The hair and dragon are accurate though.
  • The second image missed the point. The dragon is blue instead of the dress, which seems to be red. Her scars look wonky and the dragon looks like it’s about to attack her rather than be by her side.
  • The 3rd image has a copper dragon rather than red with gold accents. It looks more like a snake and the head is kinda cut off. The scar looks like it’s ink or a tattoo, she doesn’t have golden eyes and her dress again is red, not blue.
  • As of the last mage: Again, a blue dragon. This time she does have a car and golden eyes, but also a golden dress.

It’s easy to see why AI can serve as an idea generator. Getting specific stuff out is a different story. Again: It’s not impossible, but it’s very unlikely that you will get what you’re looking for.

Easily sold as real art

Another issue is that, as mentioned before, AI art can be sold as real art. It’s not. An artist makes art. AI is AI because it learns from what people do. It takes art and pictures people made and morphs them into something else. If you don’t know what to look for to recognize this art, it’s easy to be scammed. AI art is meant to be a cheap solution if you don’t want or cannot pay for very specific art from an artist. It’s important for both the art industry and a potential buyer of art to know what the red flags are.

How to ensure art is not AI-generated

There are some VERY easy solutions to ensure that art is made by an artist and not AI-generated. If you’re an artist reading this, make sure you can provide any of the following at any time. If you’re someone looking to buy art: Get your hands on at least one of the below, preferably more. Process images would be one of the most reliable options.

  • An artist always has process images available. From previous art as well as the art he or she is working on (for you). If you mean to buy art from someone, always ask for those images. It’s never 100% foolproof, but when that artist sends you process images and sketches for your specific work, you can easily pick it out if they’re not the same.
  • Research the background of an artist. Artists with websites and/or 1 or more extensive social media channels are generally more reliable. (Think of Instagram, Facebook, Artstation, and Deviantart).
  • Most reliable artists can be easily tracked back in time. You can see a lot of development in an artist, especially at the start of a hobby/career. The first 5 years of this hobby/career usually show the most significant improvements.*
  • A reliable artist usually has a specific workflow, can clearly answer questions like those presented in this FAQ, and might even have terms and conditions available for you on a whim.
  • An artist may or may not have a Youtube or TikTok channel where he or she shows their work step by step.

Improvements of artists throughout time*

This one needs to be a bit more nuanced. An artist that draws animal portraits for example from a photo will show more skills than one that comes up with his or her own ideas and has to run mostly from imagination and some random reference images. This is because images drawn from a photo give an artist all the information he or she needs. It certainly requires skill, but it’s easier than imaginary things. To illustrate this, see the image gallery below.

As you can see, it does require some knowledge to judge an artist by their art. But it is possible if you know what to look for.

Things you may run into when dealing with AI

Just as artists can be recognized by their art, so can AI. It’s a bit harder to do, but here are some dead giveaways when you come across someone that sells AI art as their own. This is of course in the year 2022.

  • Weird hands
  • Scary eyes
  • Strange overall shapes
  • Odd light angles
  • The main subject might not be clear
  • Strange glitches that make no sense
  • Most AI art has the same style or styles, it’s not really unique and can be recognized by the trained eye
  • Changes cannot be made because the person who offers stuff like this is not an artist (note that AI can be used as a tool by an artist, they should be using it as inspiration, but still should be able to modify it into what you’re looking for)
  • A description is only generally met, but not specifically. As a buyer: Be very specific, it reduces the chance of AI being used.

Disclaimer

This article was written in October 2022, shortly after AI first became popular and accessible to everyone. There is much that is still unclear at this time legally seen, or how AI will be used in the future. All we can do is make well-educated guesses. I think that it’s important to stress though that AI is not life-threatening for artists. If you are aiming to be the best, all AI can be to you is a tool to get inspiration from and speed up your workflow. If anything: AI can be what Google is not, and be more specific with search results than any search engine can be.

Use it wisely, and it will be your friend. AI is only an enemy in the hands of someone with the wrong intentions. And as AI becomes a bigger part of our lives: It will also shape into something that won’t be as intrusive as it seems to be now. (E.g.: removing artists’ names and art from the database). Don’t blame artists for using AI. Blame the person that claims to be an artist but turns up with AI instead. Educate yourself, and you will be on the safe side.

Conclusion

AI is perceived by many artists as a threat, You could argue that it’s the same for anyone that wants to buy art from an actual artist. But as you can see: There are many flaws that come with AI. And if you do your homework as a buyer: There is little risk in buying AI art instead of true art. In case you have more questions or want to share your own thoughts and opinions, feel free to join our Discord channel or Facebook.

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