Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Note on Using Reference

Maybe most of you can relate to this story:
         5th grade, and all your classmates know you are the kid that can 'draw'. You have a little sketch book of drawings of Pokemon and other random things you think are cool. You take pride in your drawings and you kinda let yourself feel like: "hell yea, you know what? I CAN draw" Then one day you are put on the spot, someone asks you if you can draw them a Tiger. You try to say you don't draw in front of people but everyone crowds around because they want to see how you draw a tiger. So you try to draw a tiger and the damn drawing ends up looking like freakin kitty cat.

          Why is it that when you are at home laying stomach down and you have a ripped page from a magazine to look at and copy from, you can draw anything! But when you try to draw from your mind and have nothing for reference all your drawing skills disappear?

          Well in my opinion: When one hasn't developed a photographic memory, their mind usually defaults to cliches and generic drawing solutions. While developing as artist, free style drawing is usually their weakest area. People like drawings that breath life and remind them of the real thing. Even if the drawing isn't perfectly photo-realistic, if it has enough detail from your reference, people will accept it. This is probably why life/figure drawings or copied drawings usually get a lot of wow's, ooo's, and Ah's. They were drawn from life/something real and they have details in them that regular people wouldn't think of including into a drawing. Even caricatures and portraits are specific enough where the viewer accepts the drawing enough where they start to invent personalities and feelings to associate with the image.

         Every artist uses reference in one way or another. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Norman Rockwell and even Disney artists! They all use reference. (they actually used live models, they would sketch them and then use their sketches as reference while working on their final painting) But using reference doesn't mean 'to copy', reference is to be used as a starting point and it should always be improved upon.

           Here are a few images from the 1950's I found on the internet. You will see the reference in black and white and the finished painting on the right. You can see the photo the artist used for their foundation and if you study it closely you can see the specific changes the artist made in the final piece of art. Use this chance to test your observational skills and see how many changes you can spot between the reference and the final painting. If you want a greater challenge: Try to figure out WHY the artist made each change.

ARMS: The artist chose to switch the girls arms so that the other one held up the sheet.
LEGS: are more vertical up and down than in the photo. Forces the legs to line up with the vertical arm above them. which makes a line that leads you to the face of the girl. And the face in turn, leads your gaze to the mirror. You might think I'm over thinking it but these are just some of the elements that make a drawing stand out from the rest.
LEANING towards the mirror rather than away. 
EYES: in the reflection her eyes were changed to look down to bring focus on the tan line.
MIRROR: shape is changed. A square is too masculine! A circle is a much more 'softer' shape to compliment the female.

HEAD:Turning the head screen right forces a twist in the body/neck that is visually more interesting than having all the main body parts orientated in the same direction.
LEGS: Are tucked in to simplify the silhouette 
ARMS: Are changed so that the object's silhouette do not compete with the woman's silhouette. The box top is brought in closer to the body.
PILLOW: It's a better decision to tuck it in behind her so that she 'leans forward' more towards the viewer 

Very little difference here

         Sometimes the artist will really like their reference and literally copy it. *GASP* ...and it's not a bad thing! *DOUBLE GASP* Your audience will never see your reference so all they know is that these drawings/paintings have come straight out from your imagination. It might feel like cheating but it's not. When all is said and done it is still your work and your decisions that we see. Keep in mind this is not the right and only way to use reference. I urge you to find your own (but similar) process for using reference. Stay away from stiff character designs and generic poses!! 

1 comment:

  1. As a non-artist I had no idea that the artist sometimes made slight changes in the details or positions even when he has direct inspiration! Perhaps these allowances are also made by animators.