Reference concern



  • Hi everyone, so I have a question that’s just been burning on my mind recently which has to do with references. I used to pull a lot of reference from google, but beginning this year I stopped and only used photo references that I had taken myself, the worry being that I don’t want to share or publish (omg) finished images from references that weren’t mine...
    Recently however, in making image boards for story ideas that I have, I began making Pinterest boards which naturally led me to sketch from those images again. Now, my question is, is it ok to pull reference from images that aren’t yours if you change things - clothes, hair, etc, and use the reference mainly for the pose? I wouldn’t even ask this if my style leaned towards cartoonish, but it doesn’t, I tend to draw fairly realistically. The expectation would be that these would be published images.
    If it’s a resounding NO, I would love to hear how others go about getting their references for publications etc if they draw in a realistic style. I’m expecting that I would need to hire models and pose them, which I’m really not looking forward to if that’s the case 😂 that sounds like such a pain...I’m a good artist but not a good photographer 🤦🏻♀

    Thanks so much for any tips and information!



  • I have a lot of opinions on this subject, but here are three points to consider. If it were your photograph, would you recognize it from the painting? If someone copied the pose from your photos, how much would you expect it to be changes before it didn't feel like yours? Secondly, is this a process you intend to continue in your professional life, or are you working toward not relying so heavily on one posed photo? Third, you don't have to be an amazing photographer to shoot your own reference. Even if you are adamant about copying the pose completely, wouldn't you be changing the lighting, color, movement, and emotion as well as details like hair and clothing? So photographing your own pose just got a bit easier. Also, right now you are using the photos to help you draw, to help you compose illustrations, and to help you with your dummies, right? I can't see that would be a problem at this stage, because the goal would be to move past that seed and make an image your own. The finished product is what gets published, though of course none of us would want to infringe on another creative's artistic property. Brett Helquist didn't want to deal with this problem, so he developed a style which couldn't be mistaken for anyone else's. Vanessa Brantley Newton relies heavily on photos for inspiration, but clearly makes them her own. Jan Brett takes all her own photos (they are in no way professional. I've seen them) yet her style is highly detailed. James Gurney spends so much time painting from life that when he shoots photo reference, it doesn't need to be very accurate. Tony DiTerlizzi has posted you tube videos about creating characters from plant photo reference, which are nothing if not uniquely his own. While his subjects may be fantastical, his style is very true to life. The Hildebrant brothers believed they needed accurate photos so they went to great lengths to create them. I believe "stealing like an artist" (see Ausin Kleon's book) means synthesizing something new from multiple sources + imagination. Hope this helps.


  • SVS OG

    @VeronicaMui I think it's alright? As long as you alter a pic I think you're good.



  • @VeronicaMui its fine to use whatever you want, but use it wisely. Reference should just be exactly that. For example, If you need to know how armour connects to a body, get loads of pictures of armour and study them, then work out how your armour would connect to your character. Work out how armour reflects light, and apply the theory to your lighting setup in your artwork. If you want to steal armour designs, steal em, but steal from lots of places and put em all on one character, and change em a bit, so your character is now unique. No copying there! If you just find a picture of a knight and copy it exactly, thats not using reference properly.

    Its fine to steal. Just dont get caught! 😉


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