Have artists always used reference?
Yes they have and you should too. Using reference is doing research to understand what you are drawing. Research helps you create a convincing reality. Artists have been using reference since before photography was invented. The reference they used was called live models and cadavers. Michelangelo and a lot of renaissance artists used models that posed for them. And Leonardo da Vinci surely went through his share of cadavers to learn anatomy, along with many other artists.
The problem sets in when you use reference as a crutch and not as a tool. If you're just going to copy or trace a photograph exactly as it is, then you're using reference incorrectly. Also you're violating copyright laws by using an entire photo, as it already exists. You have to make changes.
The best way to use photography for reference is to take the photos yourself. And that is so much easier now that the film does not have to be developed. Easier and cheaper. You can take a photo with your digital camera or smartphone of most reference you will probably need.
|The Problem We All Live With is © 1964 by Norman Rockwell|
Artists have always used reference, because they can see. You know how to draw a wooden chair because you've seen it, used it and you have sat in it yourself and drawn models sitting in it. So that you know it well enough, that you can draw it from memory. You will most likely have to use the photograph of a different type of chair that you're not quite as familiar with in order to make it look somewhat realistic.
This will be the case, when you have only looked at something and not really seen it. Because when you really see something, it becomes a part of your mental file that you can draw upon when you don't have time to get reference. You need to become a trained observer so you are always recording something for your mental.
Every artists should have a reference file, also sometimes known as a swipe file, scrap file or morgue. You start by cutting out photos and images from magazines, newspapers, catalogs, junk mail, and books. And file them away under different subject categories. And start cataloging your digital photos on your computer, preferably putting them on an external drive.
Here are some categories to get you started. Architecture, nature, people, animals, transportation, clothing, fashion, science, businesses, churches, schools, famous landmarks and street scenes. You can subdivide and add to them according to what you think you may need or want to draw. However, you should be prepared to draw anything and everything.
If you can’t take the photo yourself, here are some online reference resources to check out.
Reference Photographs for Artists
WetCanvas’ Reference Image Library
10,000+ Free Photos By Dennis Hill And Friends
Free Reference Photo’s For Artists
Totally Free Images
Public Domain Photos
If you know of any free resources for photo reference, then please include them in the comments below.
to be continued…
read next - How to Use Reference Correctly
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copyright 2016 H. Simpson