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  1. #1
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    May 2006
    Berkeley, CA
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    I'm not comfortable drawing without references..

    Is that a bad thing? Just as an FYI on my skills - I haven't attended any art schools yet (well, I attended Academy of Art's high school programs) so I have no formal training other than a couple of drawing classes at my local community college. I've always been able to draw though, but it's only recently that I've started doing more realism. I consider myself to be very rational/scientific when it comes to doing still life or copying anything from real life basically, in a sense that I have all the information there, it's just a matter of problem solving in order to make it look either realistic enough or as realistic as possible. I never made a "as realistic as possible" drawing or painting but I don't think it's impossible.

    Now, I'm putting together a portfolio and I'm having a problem including pieces that I actually like. For me, there's a technical standard in which I personally have to live up to because I know better (my heroes including such artists like Michael Hussar and 15th-16th century artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt.) Unfortunately my standards aren't living up to my skills yet. I mean, I have no problem doing still life, but when it comes to imaginative/concept art, I'm just stumped.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm probably one of the most imaginative people around being that I love fantasizing about fantastic things. I just have a problem executing them correctly on paper. If I were able to get some models in costumes in a set (all of which I can pick out), that would be no problem for me to draw, but I have none of that.

    So should I still push forward to try and make things work with my imaginative drawings even though they might turn out mediocre and not live up to my expectation or should I just stick to what I'm good at right now, which would be a lot of still life and self portraits? I have so many good ideas, but at the same time I don't want to show the school art that I'm not happy with.

    Are there any tips any of you pros can give me? Any exercises to better my imagination concept-to-paper skills? I know it's a common dilemma and usually I just wouldn't ask for help, but I just need some advice from anyone of you who can provide any because I need to turn in this portfolio asap. I guess I'm getting what you can consider as the artist's equivalent of a writer's block. Such bad timing too.

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  3. #2
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    Sep 2002
    Southeast coast, USA
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    Everybody draws better with reference. There are plenty of pros that don't do art without models and props. Of course the old masters did the same thing.

    Personally, I think the difference is what YOU bring to the piece. If you're just a copy machine, then who cares? You have to take the ref and make it BETTER. More fanciful, more fluid, more dramatic.

    What I suggest is think up your "from imagination" idea, then use yourself to pose it out in a mirror (doing gestures to capture it, or taking pictures), and look up the types of props you need. This way you'll have the reference in pieces, but it's up to you how you put them together.

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  5. #3
    Ilaekae's Avatar
    Ilaekae is offline P.O.W.! Leader, Complete Idiot, Super Moderator
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Southwestern Pennsylvania
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    What she said...

    ...and I can't draw a damn thing without a moldy cup of coffee and a cig hangin' out of my mouth. Big deal.

    Oh...and I was that word?--TAUGHT to build a massive reference file on just about everything I could find. It was called a morgue and was basically a couple of hundred pounds of reference clippings, and if real artists aren't supposed to use ref, I wasted a lot of time I wish I had back right now...
    No position or belief, whether religious, political or social, is valid if one has to lie to support it.--Alj Mary

    Ironically, the concept of SIMPLICITY is most often misunderstood by simple-minded people. --Alj Mary

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  7. #4
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    Aug 2005
    Philly PA
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    basically a couple of hundred pounds of reference clippings
    hey gramps, we got this thing now called the internet I kid, hardcopy refs cannot be beat.

    regarding the issue here: get access to a halfway decent digital camera and shoot some photos. Hell, even a crapy digital camera. If you can't get friends to help you, set the timer and pose yourself. Improvise costumes out of whatever you have on hand, be creative.
    "Every little step considered one at a time is not terribly daunting" - Ethan Coen

    New books and process DVD available NOW!

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  8. #5
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    Jul 2008
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    Check the Book of bones

    I came across the following advice from mentler in his "The book of bones" thread:

    Quote Originally Posted by mentler View Post
    Short Muscles of The Hand (from memory)
    I am posting my mistakes along with everything else to let you see the process (that is how u learn)
    I study something ::: then try it from memory ::: then study it some more!
    It is not an easy process ::: but it is the best process I have found ::: I started out like everyone else coping the plates out of anatomy books, but it wasn't till I started learning to do it from memory that I felt I was really learning to draw!...
    Quote Originally Posted by mentler View Post
    The the rest of you who are studying the human form and trying to figure out how it works. This is an exercise I started doing two or three months ago that has helped me understand my weaknesses and helped me focus on the areas I need to work on.

    What I do is draw the figure from 3 points of view: front, back and side.
    This is an old academic exercise called "3 graces" or "tre garzie" in Italian.
    I do this without a model or any reference of any kind ~ I try to do this every day even if they are pretty simple poses some days.

    You should draw from memory every chance you get ::: it will seem hard at first but it gets easier the more you do it ::: if you are working from life you can do this same thing by moving around the room to three different positions during longer poses. Another way to approach this exercise is to find a good piece of reference, ideally an old master drawing of the figure, draw it then draw the other two views as you imagine them. In other words, if you have a front view of the figure, draw it, then use your imagination to draw a side view and a back view. I won't be easy but you will learn a great deal. If you do these "three graces" exercises a few dozen times you will see amazing progress ~ it has worked for me ~ give it a try!
    Check out his thread (if you already haven't). It's awesome.

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  10. #6
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    Aug 2003
    Virginia, USA
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    I was just reading some Loomis last night (Creative Illustration), and his recommendation is to not use any reference for the thumbnails or roughs, but once you get to that point: get some friggin' reference. His argument is that you're not going to be able to consistently beat out the other guy who always uses reference, if you hold to using none at all.

    It was advice I myself needed to hear.

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  12. #7
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    Sep 2007
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    when you do the concept for your painting you can simply use stick figures or similiar just to get down the composition and roughly the shading. The mistake I used to make is that i wanted it to look really kick as from the start and I did not allow myself to doodle with simple figures. when you look at Frank frazetta sketches for example they look simple but they capture the essence of what he wants to do. Once you have the picture down with stick figures you can get somebody to pose for you and buid up the level of detail in the picture.

    off topic: I have started to draw more from life latelly and it is much easier to get the actual 3d form of an object when you can walk around it. this maybe sounds obvious but I go to sculpture museums and life drawing classes at the moment and it is a lot more fun than drawing from photos. even if you have taken photos of the pose you want i would recomend to get somebody to pose at least for a short while.

  13. #8
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    Jun 2003
    Olympia, WA USA
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ilaekae View Post
    ...and I can't draw a damn thing without a moldy cup of coffee and a cig hangin' out of my mouth. Big deal.
    please don't stop posting...PLEASE
    ---- -
    sehertu mannu narāṭu ina pānāt šagapīru ningishzidda

  14. #9
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    Feb 2007
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    Thanked 708 Times in 426 Posts
    Sleep...Eden, if you only recently started drawing from imagination, well, that's fine!! It's not easy knowing right away where and how elements measure and fit together on a subject without some refs to be sure! Sometimes, as you'll see, different refs have nuances that might even throw you off (like head shapes, muscles, etc.). It would be pretty difficult to keep all that info in your imagination until you get enough time with the subject(s)!

    So, what everyone's saying about references: YES! Keep as much as you can!! I got refs all over the place, but especially on my computer. I even included fictional cartoon characters, because I sure do forget how to draw them from imagination, too! hee hee. And also as said, you add your twist and make the piece your own, no matter how many references you use!

    Good success!

  15. #10
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    May 2003
    Hudson River valley, NY
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    In summation...
    Quote Originally Posted by Sleep_Eden_sleep View Post
    Is that a bad thing?
    Quote Originally Posted by EVERYBODY ELSE
    No. Stop worrying so damned much.

    Tristan Elwell
    **Finished Work Thread **Process Thread **Edges Tutorial

    "Work is more fun than fun."
    -John Cale

    "Art is supposed to punch you in the brain, and it's supposed to stay punched."
    -Marc Maron

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  17. #11
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    Sep 2005
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    Someone either on this site or on DA - yes, there are some pros on there - said that if your art style is focused on realism, you'll always be using and referring to reference. I'm using it constantly for my work now and I'm noticing how much faster I'm learning. Once I got rid of that mindset of "working with reference is not good", it helped.

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  19. #12
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    Feb 2008
    Ogden Utah
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    Here is what I would advice. Use reference but only in certain ways. For instance...Ahem: Use reference when you need to figure out how to draw an arm in a certain position for a character your drawing. Try to look at several different reference pictures so you have a broad idea of how that arm could look in different lighting situations, poses, etc, etc. And don't be afraid to use reference for any number of things for one piece.

    However there is also a bad way to use reference and I witnessed this on a grand scale during highschool. I had a teacher who use to tell everyone of his students it was ok to completely copy an image and call it their "art". He would take pictures from magazines, merely copy them in graphite or acrylic and label it as his art. He was an older man and had spent his entire career doing such, and one day when he was asked to draw something from his mind he drew up a complete blank and said he couldn't do it. When you treat your art like a copy machine it becomes not only dull and boring but you never really learn how to draw things WITHOUT reference.

    Don't use reference to copy, use reference as an indication of what you should do. If you need to look up how to draw an arm in a certain situation please by all means do so. Analyze it, study it, compare it with other photos and decide on what information from that reference your going to put down and what your going to change to match your style and taste. Use reference but still be yourself and not a copy machine.

    - Tox, out

  20. #13
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    Feb 2008
    New Haven, CT
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavePalumbo View Post
    hey gramps, we got this thing now called the internet I kid, hardcopy refs cannot be beat.

    regarding the issue here: get access to a halfway decent digital camera and shoot some photos. Hell, even a crapy digital camera. If you can't get friends to help you, set the timer and pose yourself. Improvise costumes out of whatever you have on hand, be creative.
    Hah, I was in art school in the beginning of the 90's, so the internet was still developing. We were taught all about morgues (and the art school had one of course). Luckily by the time I graduated the internet was a pretty reliable place to find photos of almost anything, and now you can not only find almost anything, but you have a ton of choices as well. I can't help but still file stuff away for future use, but it's at least a digital morgue, so no bulky filing systems.

    Another great option is dvds and a computer that can take screen grabs.

    To the original poster, use as much reference as you can and do the best you can. It may not live up to your standards and hopes and dreams, but you need to start somewhere. If you let not having all the skills you desire stop you from trying, you'll never get anywhere.

  21. #14
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    Sep 2005
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    Use reference or memorise what everything has looked like, ever.

    Your call.

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  23. #15
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    Feb 2006
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    Don't just stick to what you're good at.

    Get reference whenever you can. However, the better you can draw from your imagination, the more mileage you will be able to get out of your reference.

    I don't know your work, but usually the biggest block to drawing from imagination is a poor understanding of perspective. Learn it very well- beyond just drawing a couple cubes. Most people skimp on perspective and don't take it as far as it really needs to be taken to make it really useful.

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