How to use references?

Recently I’ve seen a drawn copy of a photo I pinned to one of my boards on Pinterest, and then I’ve seen more pictures like this. It made me think about references in general. Just a quick note for those who are not sure what a reference is. A reference in art is an object, often a photograph, used for getting the details like anatomy, lighting, colour etc. right in the drawing/painting. Ideally, an artist should be able to draw “from head”, and some people are strictly against using references. But I think it is all right to use them in order to get a more realistic image – a bit of help to get the shape right. Quite often I have an idea of what I want to paint/draw in my head, and then I start looking for a suitable image to use as a reference, quite often I have a particular pose in mind, or an object.

What I am against of is making a copy of a beautiful photograph one saw on Pinterest, for example. I don’t think it’s real art then, because the photographer has already done all the work: found the light, made composition. Making a copy is more of artisan, not a real artist. But sometimes it is really hard to resist “copying” something, when the picture you’ve seen is so cool, I’ve tried it myself 🙂 I think then it’s a good idea to add something of your own to it, supplement with a new character/element, tell a bit different story, use other colours. Maybe even though it’s not 100% yours then, it’s still have your individuality in it.

I am a big fan of Pinterest, but now I think I’ll be using it less for references and more for recipes and cool things for the décor 🙂 Where to get the references then? Magazines, commercials, movie screenshots, pictures from your vacation, just what you see around you. I think it’s not even the question of where you get your references from, it’s about how you work with them. Do you copy it all, or just get that one line you were not sure about, or that combination of colous that you haven’t thought of before.. there are many ways. I’m trying to use the pictures I take myself more. I’ve collected quite a lot of material while travelling, and now even on a usual weekday try to have a little camera with me, who knows what I’m going to come across.

These watercolors are based on the pictures I took on my last trip in Asia, one with my phone and another with the camera. Trying to do “art” of a snapshot is quite an exercise, makes you think 🙂