The Importance of Referencing

The Importance of Referencing



BY Jiji Knight

Drawing from reference is a universal artistic skill, but often it’s seen as shameful and lesser than drawing without. Learn about the importance of referencing life and images from @jiji_draws in the newest blog post on the Bee Paper website.

Many artists are told that drawing from reference is cheating. Shamed for even considering pulling up a photo of something they’ve never drawn before and for having a difficult time drawing it. “A real artist can just do it,” some would say, but the one thing all creatives have to deal with is this glorified persona of a ‘real artist’, a mythical and unattainable status. A real artist is somehow:

  • Good at drawing everything even if they’ve never ever drawn it before.

  • Amazing with color

  • Went to art school

  • Is depressed and makes their best work when in total emotional agony

Don’t. Don’t be fooled and don’t buy into this imaginary idea of perfection and tragedy that people want you to believe. Reference is vital to growing.

If one thing holds universally true it’s that your favorite artist uses reference when the going gets tough. It was part of the basics they were taught. And whether it be self-taught or mentor-taught, they learned through observation, relentless practice, and by creating studies from references of works done by masters and in-field professionals. They learned how to draw people at their most basic from reference: both live and photos.

They learned ‘realism,’ from reference, the structure of a head from reference, the nose and mouth, eyes—or how hands can be broken up and put together by just arranging complex rectangles, again, from reference.

They learned that reference was good.

Reference is and always will be your friend, whether it be reference for poses, reference for compositions, reference for harmonious color palettes – whatever. It’s meant to be there for you when you need it and to help you.

There are rules to art. These are rules anyone can learn. There are so many online resources nowadays that all you need is dedicated time and a strong will to sit down and learn. And the beauty of it is, you don’t need to go to school and pay for someone to teach you these things. And once you’ve learned the rules, you can start to break them—stylize what you learned with a voice you’ll develop slowly over time.

Your favorite artist put a lot of time into doing this and you could too. You’ve got the power to learn and grow right at your fingertips and could start simply by drawing from life. Your ability to observe will be your strongest ally and the practice of repetition will make you stronger still. The more you draw faces from reference, even when you’ve gotten to your stylized point, the less and less you’ll have to bring up reference at all because your muscles can and will remember all your hard work. Then you’ll only be bringing it up when you need to draw a pose that’s unfamiliar to you, or a new kind of animal, a jacket you particularly like, and so on.

The goal isn’t to not use reference ever again, the goal is to eventually be able to use it smartly, when you need it, and to simply make a good drawing a great drawing.

Photo credit: Senshistock

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