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Free and Easy Sources of Images for Training and Inspiration - Part 1: the Public Domain

May 26, 2023
resource guide
Free and Easy Sources of Images for Training and Inspiration - Part 1: the Public Domain

This article series will highlight sources of images for inspiration, img2img work, and model training. Not only are these sources free to access and easy to work with, they are also free from restrictions on copyright or intellectual property.

Preeminent Domain

The first category of these sources is the public domain - "creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws". An even pithier summary is "no rights reserved". Materials in the public domain can freely be used, reproduced, altered, remixed, and commercialised by anyone.

Some works are in the public domain from the moment of their publication, their creators deciding to waive their intellectual property rights. Other works fall into the public domain due to their age - limitations vary by jurisdiction but most types of media are not protected by intellectual property laws once a certain number of years have elapsed since their creation. Still other works become public domain because their creators fail to register or renew copyright protections.

Domain Knowledge

There are millions of public-domain images available on the Internet, with thousands being added every day. Fortunately, many of these images have been collected by museums and libraries, and expert curators have organised them to be easily searchable. Here are some of the biggest and best collections:

Library of Congress

The US Library of Congress holds millions of images, over four million of which are held in their free to use and reuse collections. Imagine training a LoRA to capture the style of these vintage Japanese prints, or these classic American travel posters.

New York Public Library

The NYPL is another venerable US library, and has placed almost a million free-to-use images online. As with the Library of Congress, these images have been curated into collections. Perhaps you will be inspired by the eerie beauty of these cyanotype photographs of algae, or the hand-etched precision of these engineering-themed playing cards.

NASA

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration has an incredible collection of space-related images. There's less curation than the previous two sources, and there are some caveats on commercial re-use - but just click on the trending and popular tab and drift away into distant galaxies, extraterrestrial landscapes, and spaceship architecture.

The British Library

Yet another great collection of freely useable images from a library. The British Library have published over a million freely useable images on Flickr, grouped into thematic albums. What could you generate using this set of decorative papers, or these classic typographical illustrations?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Heading back to New York, the Met has tens of thousands of open access images available via their slick search interface. Curation here is more self-directed: use a combination of filters to narrow down to a subset of images. Be it 19th Century Czech glassware, Ancient Greek bronzes, or bizarre netsuke sculpture, the Met has plenty to inspire you.

Europeana

The Europeana project is funded by the European Union and serves as a single entry point into public-domain media from institutions and museums across Europe. Extensively curated, dive into art movements, themes, or time periods to find inspiration for your next model.

Unsplash

Whilst not technically public domain, many images on stock photography site Unsplash are published under the Unsplash Licence, which permits almost every type of use and reuse (the only exceptions being that you cannot resell photos without modification, nor use them to create your own Unsplash competitor site).

Unsplash has an excellent and intuitive search system, and you can also explore via individual creator pages or user-created collections. A huge range of aesthetics, techniques, and subjects are well represented on Unsplash, making it easy to find source material for img2img generations.

Public Works

The cover image for this article is an example of the creative possibilities of combining public sector images with Stable Diffusion. The image was generated using an img2img workflow including a LoRA trained on the covers of books of Persian poetry from the 19th Century. The aged lacquer, rich colours, and geometric designs of the book covers create a powerful style that works well on source images with high contrast and strong lines.

Including public domain works in your generative art projects is a great way to broaden your understanding of different art styles and techniques, and hopefully a source of inspiration for some beautiful artwork.

The next post in this series will consider how you can create interesting models using only the resources you have on your desk. Until then - thanks for reading, and happy generating!

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