Process of working

I was recently in my class with my high school students and we were talking about using reference for inspiration and ideas. And one of them told me that their high school teacher was discouraging them from using photos and references. They were advised to use only what you see in real life.
While that is also good advise, I think one will become very limited in scope of possibilities if you only limited your ideas to what you see in real life. Don't get me wrong, real life observation is very very important, but I think sometimes, especially teachers, pass on bad advice.
Using photos to help inspire and also help solve problems is very important. We use it all the time to portray something accurately, especially if it's something that is far away that we all don't have access to. Like maybe the Eiffel tower. We all don't live in France, therefore, you must go and find pictures of the eiffel tower. And also understand how light is hitting it at certain times of the day, etc.

Anyways, I was slightly flabbergasted at the notion that you shouldn't use photos(especially other people's photos you find on the internet) for inspiration or reference. You shouldn't copy it exactly from a photo, especially if it's someone else's, but real references are so valuable! I couldn't imagine not using it. I guess we all have become so use to it as designers, illustrators, and fine artists, that when I heard that, it made me cringe. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there's a better way to explain this!

So, I wanted to show some examples of artists who use references to accomplish their vision, without slavishly copying what they see.

Here's Lou Romano's work. He used photos as a starting point and to get some things right, but used his creative talent and personal style to make it his own. Please take a look.

Also, James Gurney goes into depths about how he works. Here's an example where he actually create miniature maquettes to photograph, and he paints very convincing scenes from his own references. Very neat process.

Everyone has a different way of working, but one thing I know for sure. Never say don't do it this way, or no to this. As long as it is not plagiarized, one should explore freely! Especially as a student!!

There, I had to get this off my chest.


Great post on an important topic. I guess for me the problem I see with using other peoples reference is the tendancy to look through reference to get an idea as opposed to using reference after you've created an image on your own to strengthen an idea. One is a support for your creativity and the other is a crutch in place of ability.
The examples you post are great ways to use reference but we have all seen the opposite where people steal someone elses hard work and claim it as their own.
Glenn Kim said…
Right. I see your point on strengthen an idea, but I also think sometimes when you get stuck, and the composition is not coming to you or the color of the sky is not coming to you, then photos(or a painting from another artist) from any source can help break that moment where you're stuck. Like for example, if you are painting the eiffel tower in your painting, and you really want to see how the dark metal against the sunset looks, references, whether it's the photo of the tower, or another similar photos of a dark painted metal structure, you need to see, to understand how light is hitting that object, at that given time. Going outside and actually witnessing the real thing is even better of course.

But for a teacher to say don't use photos for reference at all, I think confuses kids. Especially when you are still learning, and I feel like the kids should be encouraged to experiment, and learn from everything. From artists, photographers, nature, books and magazines, it's all valid form of visual medium. I have friends who, at the time when I was in school, felt, they were basically copying their favorite teachers work and style. But most of these guys all moved on to their own personal style. But at the time when they were students, copying was the right approach for them. I certainly wouldn't encourage it, but if that works, who's to say. It's kinda like the gouache wash on gessoed board topic from old days. I don't know if you know what I'm talking about..
C.Deboda said…
Excellent post! Also, I've been reading through some older posts on here as well and there's some really good and educational info throughout. I'll be sure to check in here every now and then if you don't mind. :)

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