Sunday, July 26, 2015

Real Artists Don't Use Reference

I think there's a huge misconception among artists just starting out and amateurs; they think all those bigwig professional artists come up with everything straight out of their head.  The truth:

They don't.

The difference between a professional artist and a not so professional artist?  Professional artists actual use reference for pretty much everything.  Non-professional artists will only use what's in their head because they think that's how it's done.

Yeah, a little backwards.

Life is basically handing you all the blueprints to making all of your art look correct.  Even fantastical and made up realities should be based off real life things in order to be believable.  Your space elf has five stomachs and ten ears?  Yeah, it still needs to look anatomically correct.  Even Modernist artists who create figurative paintings and such need to have the foundation down and understand the workings before branching into the fantastical.

Once you've drawn a human body a million times you probably can pop one right out of your imagination, but in the end they're all going to starting looking alike.

So references.

I'll admit, I still feel weird using references.  It feels like cheating in a way.  Like the art isn't mine unless it comes 100% from my imagination.  That's bull, and I'm going to keep telling myself that until I believe it (and so should you).

Using references will make your art a million times better.  Once I started using (not drugs, just reference!) my art immediately shot upward.  Is it magically amazing now?  No! But probably because I'm not using enough reference :)

So here's a list of potential references (oh yay! another list, I'm sure you guys aren't sick of lists yet).  If you find you're having a hard time thinking of ideas or how to execute something, chances are your answer is somewhere in this list.

  • Instructional "How to" books or tutorials
    • Wanna learn a new skill or your High School teacher failed to teach you the basics? This is the one for you.
"How to"
  • James Gurney Books/Blog
    • This man is a genius and his writing is invaluable for any artist.  I have professors who have been illustrators all their lives and they still go back read James Gurney again and again.
    • As you can see, I've got one of his books pretty well marked up.
James Gurney 
  • Magazines!
    • What great reference, plus they're literally everywhere!
    • I especially recommend National Geographic as their world wide subjects are great for ideas.  I've marked the pages according to People, Environments, Animals, and Objects.
    • (Courtesy of my sister who gladly dumped some of her unwanted magazines into my eager hands) 

  • "The Art of" Books
    • The movie and game industries will release books showing all their concept art and processes.  These are just chock full of inspiration and ideas.
    • The one I'm showing is the art of Blizzard and I always come away with ideas and solutions to problems when I flip through this book
  • Comics/Graphic Novels
    • These artists have already done a load of research, so don't feel bad when a solution for them works just as well for you
    • Plus comics/graphic novels have a way of inspiring ideas and motivation
  • Other Artist's Sketchbooks
    • You'll find that a lot of artists will sell copies of their sketchbooks as kickstarters and such.  They're a pretty good investment.
Jake Parker's Inktober Kickstarter
  • Your Own Sketchbook Studies
    • Go out and draw people, places, pets, architecture, anything!  It doesn't have to be for anything specific.  It's good practice and if you save them then later you have something to go back to for reference and ideas that are right at your fingertips (phew, was that a run-on sentence?)
  • Teachers and Peers
    • Chances are somebody knows more about something than you do.  People are generally helpful and would be willing to get you over your hurdles.

  • Your Own Photos
    • Go out and shoot pictures of that tree you're having a really hard time drawing.  Can't remember how water ripples over rocks?  Chances are you have a photo of that.
  • The Internet
    • A lot of what I've mentioned costs money and the sad truth is, is that artists are pretty poor.  One of the cheapest resources and references out there is the internet.
      • Pinterest:  Holy mother of references.  You type in what you're looking for and chances are pretty good that you'll end up with an endless supply of examples
      • Figure Drawing References.  Yeah, you need to be careful with this one, but there are some sites where it's legit references and not "Adult Entertainment"
      • Muddy Colors Blog.  This blog is a collaboration of a lot of amazing artists who take turns writing a post and being awesome.  Answers and enlightenment abound.
      • Other blogs.  A lot of artists have blogs.  It doesn't even have to be an artist.  Follow someone who specializes in woodwork or machines.  Answers may lie in there.
      • Google.  The almighty search engine . . . 'nuff said.

Now using reference may seem daunting or fundamentally wrong and you are more than welcome to continue without it, but I guarantee that all the people killing it out there right now are using reference to some extent.  Do, or do not; it's really up to you.


(P.S. I'll be putting up a page of references and helpful links soon)

If there is any topic you wish me to discuss, or any questions that you would like answers to please respond in the comments and I will blog about them!

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