24 January 2011

On Using Reference

When just starting out, artists can find themselves being confused about the various aspects of using reference for their art. A lot of this stems from not understanding what is and isn't "proper ettiquette" in the art realm.

I've met young artists or friends getting started in art who were terrified of using reference because they felt it was "cheating". They'd tell me their goals were to eventually draw so well that they wouldn't need reference. It seemed no matter how much I tried to explain that professional artists use reference all the time, and in fact, the best often use reference the most (James Gurney, for example), my advice went on deaf ears.

They were so caught up in the drama of their art circle, terrified of being accused of either using or not using reference that they had it stubbornly in their heads the only way to combat this was to look at other artist's work as little as possible and reference for what they were drawing even less, if at all.

This hurts you as an artist for a multitude of reasons:
  • You stop learning. If you don't draw from life or photos, your brain simply can't remember all the intricacies of an object, leaving you with representational art (ie: a triangle equals a nose like how little kids draw) rather than informed, detailed drawings and paintings.
  • You can't get inspired. Your brain is an amazing thing, it can come up with lots of things all on it's own, but I'd be willing to bet that's based on what you've seen and experienced thus far. Stop experiencing life, reference and art– your imagination runs dry.
  • You're subject to subjective criticism. You will find yourself caring way too much about what "everyone else" thinks about your art. Critique is a wonderful thing, but depending on others to completely validate or invalidate your art is giving everyone else too much power.

What kinds of things were you scared of when you started drawing and posting your art online?

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