In today’s podcast episode we’re going to talk about finding art reference and creating your own.
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I prefer working from my own reference photos
For me, I much prefer creating my own reference to work from, whether that’s from my imagination, from sketches I’ve done, from a still life life set up I’ve made, or from a photo I’ve taken of my own personal things. I also prefer the subject to be something that relates directly to me.
It would be much easier for me to find high quality reference photos on copyright free sites, such as unsplash, or Pixabay and they would be far better images than any photo I could take… I mean I’m no photographer! But I just prefer the feeling that the whole process has been my own creation, from start to finish. If I don’t do it that way, then it just doesn’t feel the same.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with working from copyright free reference, I mean that’s what these sites are there for. And they are really useful for people who for what ever reason are limited as to how much they can get out out and about. But I’m not limited, so I just choose to find my own.
I keep meaning to take more photos, the great thing with phones nowadays is we have a really good camera in our pockets most of the time. So it’s a good idea to keep a lookout for things you might want to snap.
Taking your own photos for reference
If you see something interesting, make sure you take a photo of it. Have a collection for future reference. I have a folder on my iPhone called ‘Inspiration’ and that’s where I file those photo’s. And that way, when I’m looking for things to paint, I’ve got a starting point. I may not choose to work from any of those photos, but they can still give me ideas for new paintings.
I remember one artist telling me that sometimes she walks down the street with her phone in her hands looking like she is doing something on it and snaps photos of people. Obviously, this isn’t a good idea if you plan to sell the paintings. And I am not sure if I would have the nerve to do this, would you?
Adjust your photos with an app
You can always adjust your images if you are good with photo-shop or apps, or use your creative licence as I do to make the painting as you want it to be. So even if you do take snap-shots of people on the street, you can always change the colour of their hair, their clothes, you could change the shape of their nose… By doing that, you can’t get in any trouble.
Change the reference a bit
If you are going to sell your paintings to be on the safe side it’s probably best to change up the image a bit. I paint and draw faces quite abstractly so often no-one would know the image I have used, but it’s more an issue if you draw realistically
You could also combine a few images and use those a reference – But if you do that, you do have to be mindful that the light should be falling in the same direction, otherwise it won’t make sense.
For me, I might take several photo’s and find that I like different bits of each, for different reasons, so in that case I often use different images to create one painting.
Lewis Rossignol has said that he does just that.
If you are just drawing for practice I don’t think it matters what you use. If you are painting or drawing to sell you have to be a bit more careful. Copyright is a minefield. We have an episode on copyright for artists with an IP lawyer where we go pinto this a bit more – Episode 56 https://kickinthecreatives.com/ep-56-copyright-for-artists-with-eric-hanscom/
Will there be similar drawings to yours?
As we said earlier, there are lots of free reference sites online, like Unsplash or Pixabay, and the photos are really high quality.
But what you should take into account, is that if you use a free photo online, the chances are that other artists have done the same. So, there may be a few very similar drawings to yours out there.
Personally I think it’s nice to be unique.That way you know that nobody else has done the exact same image.
Either that, or as we said before, change the image… Change things around, play with the colour… There is a lot you can do that makes someone elses reference become as much your work in the end as theirs.
Use royalty free images and pay any fees required
If you are going to use other peoples images, choose royalty free images and if there is a fee pay it rather than just drawing off the screen, unless of course it’s just for practice.
I don’t think we can worry too much about it but even if you use royalty free images there could still be issues. If you put a photo of someone’s face on one of these sites you should really have a model release which is a form that says that the person agrees for you to take their photo and use it for this purpose.
Ask friends and family for their photos
You could also ask friends and family if they have photos you can draw from. If perhaps you love painting different places and they’ve been on holiday, then ask if you can see some of their photos and use those for reference.
Or, if people ar your thing, you could ask them to model for you!
There are sites like Paint my Photo where people have uploaded their photos without copyright restrictions
Credit the photographer
If you do work from someone elses image, it’s also nice to give credit to the person who took the photo. You’re not obliged to, but I think it’s nice to at least say thanks.
Collect images for inspiration
We don’t always need to find reference that we want to work from literally.
Sometimes it’s just nice to collect inspiration and ideas for future work.
That might be looking at other artists’ work, or it can be collecting images of subjects you like to paint. Or you might even find reference in your old sketchbooks.
Reference doesn’t always mean images. You might even have written some ideas down in your sketchbook. Sketchbooks aren’t for just drawing! Write things down if you don’t have time to sketch them.
I write ideas down on my white board where it’s in plain view on my studio wall. That’s just as useful as any image is. In fact for me, sometimes that works better, because then I don’t have a fixed idea in my head. Instead my imagination plays a huge part in my final set up. Because I’ve thought about it, instead of just viewing it.
The other thing I do is I collect things that catch my eye. For example that crushed coke can I just finished painting… That’s a can I almost threw in the bin a few months ago, until I realised it makght make an interesting subject to paint one day. But, it could be anything… a scrap of material, a beer mat, an unusual bottle… anything that you notice that might inspire you later on. I’ve got a whole cupboard just for things like that in my studio.
We have a couple of blog posts – one on places to find face reference images and another on pose reference. We have also put together some free pdfs with royalty free hand reference, faces and animals that you can download when you sign up for our newsletter.
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This week’s creative question
Q. What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
The best answers will be read out on a future podcast.
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