Using Reference Photos

Original Post 11/13/2010

Here are my responses to questions regarding the use of reference photos.

How do you use reference photos?
  • Inspiration?

  • to work out a story or idea?

  • to identify technical accuracy of an object?
Yes, yes and yes.  I have thousands of photos that I have taken myself, photos taken by others and photos downloaded from the internet.  I use them for inspiration ALOT!  
Recently, my son hiked and took lots of photos of Yosemite.  I have researched the area on the internet and while I might personally haven't visited the area, I feel like I've walked those trails.  Can I make believable drawings of places I have never been to?  Well, I think I can. 
By drawing upon experiences of places I have visited and researching and understanding the terrain of the area, there is no reason why I can't produce just as dynamic and believable scene. 
Now there is nothing that beats first hand experience, but in my situation, photos are an acceptable alternative.  And I've been able to experience visiting beautiful landscapes through my pencil.

Has your use of photos changed over the years? Explain.
Absolutely.  I was a slave to photos when I first started.  If it wasn't in the photo, it didn't exist.  If the angle was skewed in the photo, the angle was skewed in my drawing.  This is an inherent flaw to using photos and when possible....to be avoided.

I'm now weening myself away from the dependency of photos being "the absolute".  With deliberate and conscious decisions, I'm deviating from them.  (With a mixture of good results and horrible results - but creative freedom none the less.)

“Reference and imagination are partners. It's important not be a slave to either.” Robert Genn
I really like Robert Genn's phrase.  Here is my take on it.  "Too much reference and the work is lifeless, too much imagination and the work is lifeless.  A healthy combination of both....creates a work of art."

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