Thursday, November 18, 2010

"The Vanishing" photo ref

I was asked about my photo ref from my previous post. As you can see the figure in my final is fairly different. But the ref allows me to flesh out the piece and add in details and information that I think improve the piece greatly. I could try and make it all up from my head but even then I'm just referencing the vague images in my memory of things I've actually seen. Even if you have photographic memory I'm doubtful you would have seen the exact forms you need with the exact garments, color, lighting etc.

The trick for me is to maintain the stylization and freshness in my sketch and wrap the information provided by the photos around it. Sometimes my sketches are so far off in anatomy I make some minor changes. I always sketch, design, compose out of my head. This way I'm not bound to anything that may limit my design. When major issues are solved and I feel the piece is ready. I then take my ref trying to match up the model to the figure in my sketches. I hear from a lot of aspiring artists that they are looking online for the "perfect" ref. I feel this is very limiting artistically. And to be quite honest if you spent the time setting up a photo shoot(who doesn't own a digital camera nowadays?) you would save yourself some time and have ref that is exactly what you need. The more I take ref, the more I study it and try to understand it, ie folds, drapery etc. the more I can file away into my visual vocab. Over time I become more familiar with the subjects and when I do need to make some of it up out of my head I can do so with a little more confidence.

Another quick point before I forget. I think when you are constantly making things up out of your head they tend to repeat themselves. The same folds, the same hand at the same angle. You get the picture. A lot of cool unexpected things can happen in your photo ref. This too helps to keep your work fresh.

Here's another example of some of my previous photo ref.


  1. Very interesting indeed. Thanks for sharing.

    One thing I've noticed since I started taking my own reference photo's is that sometimes the model might come up with a pose or expression that works better than my original sketch:) Obviously if it's an approved rough I'm shooting from then I have to stick to it, but on occasion I've done work for myself and have decided to change the pose and composition radically to include the pose/idea from the shoot. I've now started to think about using a photo shoot as a part of the initial idea/sketch phase.


  2. You´re right!
    I can agree to everything you said. Do the sketch, compose the picture, shoot the ref. ( Or model all up in clay, set light and back to number 3 )

  3. My friend recently got into building maquettes for his paintings and he has had great success and improvements. I try to be as resourceful as possible when shooting ref but havn't really had the need for a maquette yet. They look like they would be a fun thing to build.

    I think the level of realism one is going after is probably what dictates the amount and type of ref used. So if your style more "cartoony" then the use of ref would be looser. In high school I viewed using ref as "cheating". It makes sense when the ref isn't yours. Esp if the photographer put in a lot of work composing the shot and mood. But that was a long time ago and not everyone had a camera or even thought to take their own ref. Why not let go of that outdated train of thought in order to master our craft and continue to improve.

    For anyone interested I posted a detail of "The Vanishing" on my blog

  4. Photo reference isn't something to be written off - though it's best not to overuse it. Copying a photo or a live model to the letter can make your work look stiff, rigid and unnatural. Imagination will have to play a part somewhere in giving live to your work.

    Taking cues from the Surrealists like Max Ernst and abstractionists like Jackson Pollack, I prefer to work chiefly from my imagination, especially the subconscious. Ultimately for any artist to succeed, they have to learn to use all three sources - imagination, photo reference and live reference.

  5. Eric, I'd like ot know if you take into consideration the light source for your second image posted. I mean - you shot the model under different lighting than what was on background photo. I noticed that some illustrators do not always pay attention to it (OK, even the big names like Sargent, for instance, did not always care about it).
    Sometimes different lighting - or even several different lighting sources - do not matter (in comic covers, for instance) but in many cases it does.

  6. @Max Ref Photos is a must I believe, for the reasons Eric provided. Thanks for the wonderful images. I though when you said "frankenstein", that you would stitch parts of every image you took into one. Anyways, your work speaks wonders.... doesn't matter how you do it. Thanks for inspiring!


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