Thursday, November 17, 2016

How To Use Reference Correctly When Drawing

When you use reference as a tool to help you draw then you are using it correctly. When you use reference as a crutch, then you're using it incorrectly. To be clear, using photography and models as your reference source is the topic of discussion here. It is not a crime, sin or even cheating to use photos as reference.

Gil Elvgren photo and pin-up art

This is more important when you're doing figure work. When you are drawing backgrounds, which include building, streets, cars, machinery, then it is expected that you stay pretty close to the reference. With figures, when you stay too close to the reference, even if you didn't trace it, it looks stiff, posed, awkward and stands out like a sore thumb from the non referenced figures in your story.

Tracing or copying a figure exactly is using reference as a crutch. Why? Because a normal human body doesn’t fit the idealistic or heroic proportions used in comics. Look at the traced figures below compared to the drawn figure.

Real life woman in photo above has a nice shape. The trace of the real life woman makes her look dumpy. Without changing her height measurements and making some artistic decisions while drawing and looking at reference, she looks more feminine without tracing.

When you are drawing from a photo as reference, you should be adding your own knowledge of anatomy, composition and rhythm to the mix. Drawing every wrinkle you see in the photo does not look good at all. You just need to draw enough information to communicate to the reader. You are extracting the information from the photo you need to help create that convincing reality.

When you stay too close to the source of someone else’s photograph, it becomes a derivative work. There is nothing wrong with this, just don’t try to pass it off as totally original art. I must admit a bias against photorealistic work. While I am impressed with the draftsmanship, skills and patience required to do it. I have an attitude of, 'What's the point?' I'm getting the same information as if I was looking at an actual photo.

It’s always best to start with your own drawing of the pose. Then find or create reference if you are having trouble communicating the authenticity of it. One tool an artist should have next to their drawing table is a mirror. Some expressions and hand gestures are easily solved with this.

It is hard to set forth, firm guidelines for using photography as reference. There are countless big, small and minute decisions an artist is making while drawing. Please study the images below and see how those decisions come into play to create a piece of art. See the differences that artist is making as they deviate from the photo in order to create something more graceful, more individual, more beautiful than the photo.
Gil Elvgren photo ref from chunky to trim and graceful
 pin-up art

Gil Elvgren stiff photo ref to lively pin-up art

Gil Elvgren photo and pin-up art

Gil Elvgren photo and pin-up art
Alphonse Mucha from boring to graceful

Paulonna Donkey by Picasso 1923

Norman Rockwell in studio working on Art Critic, 1955

The Runaway pencil art by Norman Rockwell

The Runaway photo ref and final painting by Norman Rockwell
Use reference as a tool, not a crutch!

And here are some other thoughts on using reference. Very interesting reading.
Amy Reeder



Vera Curnow - The line between inspiration and plagiarism needn’t be confusing.

Oliver Wetter - A Tip for Digital Artists

Teresa Bernard

Augie De Blick - Artists: Stop Tracing. Start Cartooning Again

If you know of any free, legal online resources for photo reference, then please include them in the comments below.

to be continued…

read next - Rock That Body
previous - Using Reference

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copyright 2016 H. Simpson

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