Finding Reference

While it is always better to go out and draw from life, it is not always possible. Sometimes you don’t have direct access to what you want to draw. That’s where photos come in handy. Having a visual reference library is useful resource. You can use references for information or inspiration. While most people would think to do a quick Google search, I like to go out and take my own photos. A problem with photos from the internet is that you may get images of what you want but not from the right angle. The images may also not be of high quality. Taking my own photos allows me to capture exactly what I need and I know that the quality is good. If I see an interesting plant while on vacation, I can take a picture of it from every angle and get close up or far away shots. If I want to use that plant in a piece later, I have multiple images of that one plant. Another great thing about taking your own photos is you can directly copy from them and not worry about copyright issues. You can create a watercolor painting of the picture of the ocean you took on vacation or include your reference photos in a photo manipulation project you’re working on.

close up picture of sand particles at the beach

A reference picture I took of sand while at the beach in case I ever need it

Once you’ve taken all of these pictures, the next thing you should do is organize them. For a long time, my pictures folder on my desktop was riddled with a mixture of family pictures and pictures I used for references. It was sometimes hard to find what I was looking for; I knew it was there, but I couldn’t find it. I read a book by artist Eliott Lilly and he gives great advice on organizing reference photos. I took his tips and created my own reference folder on my desktop.

I started by creating a folder and called it “Reference”. From there, I created subfolders with titles such as “Animals” or “People.” There is no right or wrong way to do it. Take a look at the reference pictures you already have and create categories for them. You can always add another subfolder or condense two into one.

A screenshot of my reference folder and its subfolders

Once you’ve created the subfolders you can create subfolders within the subfolders. For example, within my “People” subfolder, I have folders for groups of people, men, women, and details such as hand poses and facial expressions. Most of the pictures in my “People” folder is my friend, Kendra, in a number of different poses or facial expressions I’ve needed for projects. Sometimes she has posed as multiple people within the image I was creating. I highly recommend finding your own Kendra instead of trying to find the pose on the internet. It saves me a lot of time to just tell someone exactly what I need and instantly have it than tell Google and go through 5,000 images to find something close enough.

Girl kneeling on floor reaching for cup with dramatic lighting

Kendra, who is my reference for any pose I need.

From there you can really do anything you want to organize your reference photos. There is no minimum or maximum for the number of folders you create. It is just to help you find your images easier. You don’t even have to create your reference library on your desktop. You can print all of your photos out and make a physical folder if you wanted to. Either way, reference folders are a useful tool for any artist. They can help you find inspiration or give you access to draw something you don’t have directly in front of you.

Until next week!


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