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Thread: The use of references in artwork.

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    Question The use of references in artwork.

    Hi, I'm an student in Illustration and am currently working a graphic novel for my final major project that requires the knowledge of the male anatomy, military uniforms and weapons.
    The best plan of action for me I think is to use a series of photo references of the male figure, the uniforms and weapons.
    But can I use existing artwork as references of my work?
    I asking this because there are some elements in existing work that can be pulled off that real models can't, such as the poses and structures, and I would like to use those elements in my work. But there has been colliding opinions about what is consider Art Theft or tracing which has been frowned upon.
    I simply want to know if it right to reference existing as well as photo reference?

    It would be great if I can get this clear for me once and for all!
    Thank you!
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    There is no real conflict or confusion...only a lack of experience and awareness of those just getting started (which is ok btw, just don't confuse the two). You can reference anything you want - in fact you can't create something without referencing something - that's just an axiom of creation. You just have to understand what "reference" means - and many don't these days.

    Anyway, as far as a practical answer to your question, hell, if it's student work what's the problem? When I was in my graphic design major and we had to dummy up say a rock climbing catalog (in my case) I just cut pics out of magazines and pasted things up. Student work is treated and understood as a different kind of thing as opposed to professional, commercial work. Do what you have to do to make it look as good as you can.

    Now if heavy referencing conflicts with the assignment that is a different situation. If you're in illustration then I imagine part of any assignment is to learn how to draw, use models, use reference, etc. toward a professional practice.
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    Thanks for that, that explains a lot of things!
    But, I'm sure you can use do that as professional as well? Does it apply differently as a professional when you need something to help you along the way?
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    You just have to understand what "reference" means - and many don't these days.
    Even though we've made a LOT of threads talking about references and how to use them, people very rarely talk about how to use "found reference". Emily G posted in her thread that's been stickied...

    Is it ok to use other people’s photos as reference?
    It depends. Just like you own the copyright to your art, a photographer owns the copyright to his or her photos.

    If you copy all or most of someone else’s photo without permission, this could be a copyright violation. There is no rule that says “if you change it X%, then it’s ok.” In U.S. courts, the test is if a reasonable observer could look at the original and the copy side-by-side and tell that it is a copy. It is ok to copy someone else’s photo as much as you want if it is only for your personal study. It is considered a courtesy to acknowledge your source if you then show that work to anyone.

    Here are some examples of ways artists can use others’ photos as reference:
    Using individual, generic parts of a photo. Ex. A tree, hills, clouds.
    Using individual, specific parts of a photo. Ex. The Empire State Building, a Jeep.
    For historical research. Ex. Looking at pictures of WWII uniforms to get the design accurate.
    Gathering multiple photos of a subject without using a specific one. Ex. Looking at many photos of lions to see how they are built and how they move.
    Using multiple photos for general inspiration. Ex. Gathering photos of different kinds of machinery in order to get inspiration for your own machine design.
    That's really about the extent of what's been shared (though I do appreciate it!). There's never much examples found and shared about this, except for Chris Bennett. Chris Bennett is the only one I can think of off the top of my head that has. There has to be numerous techniques.

    And I wish I could find just what in the world the Charles E. Cooper Studio did that fascinated Al Williamson so much!
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    Quote Originally Posted by AOTenshi View Post
    Thanks for that, that explains a lot of things!
    But, I'm sure you can use do that as professional as well? Does it apply differently as a professional when you need something to help you along the way?
    It just all depends on the individual situation. Far too broad a question to answer specifically, except to say that you can't use someone's copyrighted work without their permission. That is pretty much a hard and fast rule, but within that context there is a great deal of leeway depending on the what, why, where, how much, etc. For student work it is pretty wide open from a legal standpoint...unless as I said, the objective of the assignment is to create your own image. Take a monster for example, if you just copy a Wayne Barlowe that would be a fail. Using Barlowe's concepts, style or even creating a creature that would fit into one of his worlds would be ok. Again, just all depends.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin View Post
    And I wish I could find just what in the world the Charles E. Cooper Studio did that fascinated Al Williamson so much!
    If you can give me a more specific reference I might be able to help you.

    Tristan Elwell
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    Williamson changed his interests between the time he was at EC and when he took on his own strips.

    Being influenced by Raymond's stylistic changeover from his days on Flash Gordon to his days on Secret Agent X-9, Williamson followed suit and learned crisp technique, crisp clothing with proper creases, crisp linework, no feathering with the brush except now and then in the hair, opaque shadows, unsullied lights, laying down every passage with the minimal of strokes, no messing around with invented figures, no violent action that needed to be imagined. He went for sophistication and simplicity. Minimal rendering, lots of flat black and flat whites.

    Williamson had previously done everything in a more organic style, rough, the hair was wild, men wore dungarees, he used the brush to give a softness to skin, he drew poses out of his imagination. Much of this was under the influence of Frazetta and the Brandywine illustrators. But Williamson really didn't have a painterly imagination. He preferred to know what he was doing, highly referencing everything, and having a repertoire of pen and brush conventions/techniques that he could use right off the shelf to solve whatever problems he encountered. Earlier in his career he ripped up or abandoned a lot of work out of frustration. So he figured out how best to do the kind of work he wanted to do, or needed to do, and that method was the Cooper Studio/late Alex Raymond way of working.
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    Elwell - I'm assuming you mean show an example of Al's work? I didn't have anything particular in mind, just that it comes up every once in awhile that he was influenced by the Cooper studio method. I have no clue what these methods are, but I always assumed it was using found images? Didn't realize it was more specifically Alex Ramond's method he was interested in, as Kev just pointed out. That makes sense, since Al worked on Flash Gordon and Secret Agent X - 9 also!

    Kev - Are you saying that he just heavily referenced when he could with a combination of his own particular stock character stylization? Do you believe he was trying to imitate Alex Ramond to some extent, often borrowing heavily from Ramonds comics?
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    No, not found images, at least when it comes to the Cooper Studio specifically. One of the things about Cooper is that they had a photo studio on premises, making that highly reffed mid-century illustration style that those artists epitomize really convenient.

    Tristan Elwell
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    From "The Art of Al Williamson" by James Van Hise;
    "Williamson: The best schooling I had was working with John Prentice [on 'Rip Kirby']. You have to have reference to draw a tank, unless you're a genius and can see it once and draw it at all different angles. So once I started doing civilian stuff [non-fantasy, non-science fiction] I started putting a file together.
    Leonard Starr ['On Stage'] had his file and he showed me how to file stuff, separate it into vehicles and so forth. So I learned a lot working with those guys.."

    A paragraph or so before;
    [still Williamson]:"I'm talking about, say, here's a tank job, now go out and get some tank pictures. If you have to use a Sherman tank, you go out and get pictures of a Sherman tank. You can get a model of a Sherman tank, you put it together, and if you can, you photograph it at different angles, or you draw from it."

    In the course of the discussion Williamson uses "reference" and "swipe" interchangeably.
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    Yeah, I think Williamson tried to ape Alex Raymond as much as possible. Raymond was Williamson's idol.

    Yes, Cooper Studio had an in house photography set up. And Williamson took all sorts of shots of himself too. But all those Cooper Studio guys would project and trace off reference that was from their massive "swipe" files. Boats, Ships, houses, planes, trains, cars, street scenes, complex machinery, close ups of guns, etc. Anything of a technical nature. They were all business and very organized. All comic book and comic strip artists who did realistic style stuff did that. You can see Toth do it, Neal Adams told me he did it.

    This is not to say that they wouldn't also take a camera outside and take their own ref of these things. But you can't always get a cruise ship or haunted house or '37 Ford or Gatling Gun when you need one. So a swipe file was mandatory.

    The big thing was to integrate these elements in the inking, using all those inking conventions. So it looked seamless.
    Last edited by kev ferrara; March 26th, 2012 at 09:17 PM.
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    The original Famous Artists School course had a whole section by Al Dorne on how to collect and organize a morgue/swipe file. In the pre-internet days, it was one of the necessary skills for a career as an illustrator. Every illustrator in the New York area was intimately familiar with the Public Library Picture Collection, and for times when both that and one's own files came up short, there was Reference Pictures, a whole business dedicated to clipping books and magazines and renting the pics out to artists. They were still operating up until at least the late '90s, but now the only reference I can find for them on line is this.
    Last edited by Elwell; March 26th, 2012 at 10:19 PM.

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    Kitchen Sink inherited "The Spirit" magazine from Warren Publishing and eventually turned it into "Will Eisner Quarterly", at which time issues would include Eisner chatting with another comics pro. I have some, but unfortunately not the issue where Eisner talks to Neal Adams. I just tried to scare it up. I remember it being an interesting exchange between THE big foot artist and THE little foot artist, with the latter insisting you have to have big foot exaggeration down even if you're doing little foot style. But I also remember liking how they touched on their opposing philosophies on reference.
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