top of page

Publicly Being Called an Art Fraud and What it Taught Me

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

You know you’ve officially made it when you have a hater! Back in September 2020, a stranger took a VERY vested interest in my work (it’s funny what people get up to in the wee hours of the night during a pandemic). Anyhow, it was very eye opening for me on various levels.

I woke up to multiple notifications where an anonymous person was publicly calling me a thief and a fraud for copying images on the internet that I didn’t have permission to use. They also said my ‘entire gallery was stolen’, that I was going to be sued, they contacted the owners of the original images, as well as Society6 and Etsy, and were sending messages to people that had previously complimented my work. Needless to say, I was panicked.

Although there were many strangers who took time to look past the headline and stand up for me, overall, people believe what they read on the internet. One comment said I am pretending to be more talented than I am. Ouch. I was already experiencing ‘impostor syndrome’ as a new artist so it didn't help that now I was starting to doubt my own talent.

This art journey was suppose to be fun, an escape, an exciting adventure where I was exploring my creativity for the first time in what felt like, well, ever! Then here I was feeling like I just wanted to quit and disappear.

I, like most artists, reference many sources from my day to day life including my kids, nature, funny jokes, other artists, etc. The way I create my art is to brainstorm an idea, then find photos to reference, combine and transform into my own style. Based on the research I had done, I felt comfortable with my art because more often than not I:

  1. Completely change the context of the photo (e.g. pretty hard to find a photo of an orangutan already in a pie)

  2. Create it in my own unique style

  3. Most often I’m turning a photograph into a cartoon

  4. I am not hurting sales of the original photographer/artist

  5. The images I’ve used are all widely accessible.

My friends and family, various online articles, and even a lawyer had told me that I had done nothing wrong, but if I had done nothing wrong, why did I still feel the way I did?

Upon further reflection and research the conclusion that I came to was I can do better. Here’s the commitment I made:

  • Use sites like and for millions of free images.

  • Ask permission to illustrate photos when applicable.

  • Cite references when I can.

  • Take my own photos whenever possible (sadly I don’t just have access to an orangutan).

  • Change up my drawings even more if I use a photo reference.

  • Go back through my work and update any designs I made that make me feel uncomfortable.

A side by side of a watermelon photograph and a watermelon illustration

I am not perfect and want to fully own up to being too lazy to get up to take a photo of my own toothbrush and instead opting to find a photo on the internet for efficiency sake! I am also a work in progress but am excited to share that all of my art from that moment forward came from a better version of myself.

So mysterious stranger... thank you.

- Michelle I'd love for you to follow me on Instagram @MishiMoooDesigns and/or on

Ladyfinger photo reference: @piesandtacos

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page