On reference – part I
Hello there Studio Colrouphobia-followers!
Today I thought I’d take a little time to talk about how I use reference. There are many things to consider about references and many rules people
mention in regards to reference, so I thought we should discuss a little about it and I will also let you know how I use reference when I paint.
Lets start with the only rule you really should think about at all times. It’s divided into three parts.
If you are uncertain about copyrights and other rights- Shoot the reference yourself! Take a camera, locate a suitable view and take a
photograph of it!
The second part of the rule is:
If you bought a book with the reference in, and unless it say anything specifically about it on the image itself or on the publication-page (Where the information about edition and publisher and where it was printed etc. can be found) about using as reference , you can use it as reference!
And the third part of the rule:
When in doubt- Do not use as reference!
Now, before moving on to discussing other things, please do remember that the moment you use a piece of reference by cutting and pasting it into your work it’s not a reference any more- it’s a manipulation, manipulation wont bring you further towards being an accomplished painter or illustrator, it wont bring you anything but sorrow down the road (mainly because eventually people will find out and, rightfully, call you a fraud).
How I use reference and why
A lot of artists will say they do not use reference, or use it sparingly. I am not yet such an accomplished artist that I could do without reference though, and many of my illustrations defy life in such a way that using life as a base for painting them would only get me so far.
So I use photos to help me get certain things correct. It could be understanding a certain type of lighting, texture or shape of something. I used to copy photographs and drawings when I was young, it is an excellent way of learning how to sketch and/or paint, to copy something that already is well done.
But that was for practice. Nowadays I still do copies on occasion, though I would rather call them “studies”. Using a photo of an apple to try to paint a similar apple
(note “similar”, not “the same”). It needs to be believable, not a copy. I also do the occasional actual copy, trying to copy a work of a master such as Rubens, Caravaggio or Rembrandt to get the idea behind their work with colour and light, or to do a copy of a Pyle or one of the Orientalists to understand composition and how to use colours to strengthen it. But these are meant as practice, for me. They are not shown outside my family (and barely even that) and are not used for anything else but to further my own skill. A boxer need to shadowbox, an athlete need to run laps, painters and illustrators need to paint.
When it comes to actual illustration of something I use images, whether photos or other illustrations, as guides towards what I want to paint.
Consider Babar. If you have never heard of Babar: he is an elefant that grow up around humans, learn to walk on two feet and dress in clothes. Eventually he becomes king in his own land. A very nice set of children’s stories that teach basic ethics at the same time as being entertaining and sweet.
I have, for a longer time, been pondering to paint a classical portrait of Babar. He is a cartoony-like elephant, but only because the illustrated book was supposed to be for children, not education on the looks of elephants.
Since I illustrate with a certain amount of realism, and try to get to the part where seeing an illustration of mine is believing the illustration, I wanted to paint Babar a little more realistic. So I went about doing a little sketch of him:
This is my sketch: Babar, now an old king, sitting infront of a fireplace in a victorian styled chair sipping a Cognac. Behind him sits the head of Rataxes a friend and enemy (it’s a complicated relationship) of Babar’s. The size of the paper, and the fact that I had not truly planned this image much, mean that the head of Rataxes sit more behind the head of Babar then being visible.
After completing the sketch, knowing that I need to alter some things once I start painting it, I go about getting me some reference:
I find an image of a Rhinoceros, amazingly enough I find exactly the type of chair I wanted to seat Babar in, though not at the perfect angle, but still. I find three different elephant-heads, african ones, and I find a set of crown jewels (the Danish ones, but I like the Kings crown and it looks somewhat like the one I drew on Babars’ head).
I decide against using the elephants as final refferences, because I am uncertain where the images are from and whether there is a copyright on them. Normally, this would spur me to scour the internet for a massive amount of hours but my dear wife remind me that we have a zoo in the city, and that I have free admittance to it whenever I want to (one-year-subscription) and that, indeed, there are elephants there. Even though I will use the above elephants for my reference mash-up, I will still shoot new references to use once I begin the actual painting. (and on the plus-side, they also have a Rhinoceros or two at the zoo, which mean I might get some very nice photos of Rhinos as well, to use for this painting).
Now it’s time for a quick recomposition/colour-test:
In the above image, I have copy-pasted some of the references from above. I painted the clothes of Babar and the Head I had to paint because of the lighting but I did a lot of colour-picking. This stage is not really part of the painting itself, merely there to see if I “got it” or not. As such, it isn’t supposed to take that long. I believe I spent a glorious 30 minutes on getting the image above done. Obviously, the tone is very dark, but that is also partly because eventually I will look just as much on this image as the reference to get the final painting done correctly. The mash-up is meant to give a better understanding on the general look of the painting. The references are what will make the final painting come alive.
It is important for you to realize a couple of things here:
- This is meant to serves as a reference. I copy-pasted images in, to give me a better Idea on shapes. In the end, I might use the general tone of this, as well as using the photos copied into this document as reference, but I will paint the entire painting from scratch!
- I do not suggest painting over anything unless you really are starting out, and then only as practice! Don’t do paint-overs to get you “cool art that get me jobz”, because it wont. It will only tell people you aren’t good enough when they start putting pressure on you for deadlines and start seeing you painted over other peoples work, which in the end can cost them a lot of cash in the form of lawsuits and whatnot.
- I use reference as a visual guide, that does not men I have to stick to it rigorously all he time. There is still room for change along the way, but the reference is there to help me see things like light, shape, tone and texture.
Next time I come back to talk about reference, I will show you how I paint Babar from begin to end. With reusing the sketch as a base for the painting, painting under-layers and dead-layers, looking at the reference to get a good idea on what I need to think about with colour, lights and shapes/form etc. etc..
If you have any ideas on what to take up on this blog, or if you have any questions on this topic, other topics or such, please leave a comment and I will answer as promptly as I can.
Until next time,