I've noticed that lots of artists paint from their imagination and don't use any references, yet their paintings look so realistic. How do they remember to paint all of those details? How do they get the lighting perfect?
I can only get my paintings that realistic and detailed if I use several references for each element of the picture. As a fantasy artist, having to use reference all the time is annoying and it's hurting my creativity. I wish I could just paint what I want from my head and have it look good.
When I try to paint without reference, I feel lost and the result pales in comparison to my referenced work. I just can't get the same quality of work.
I'm starting to think that my visual memory isn't as good as the no-reference artists. I've tried copying pictures and then drawing them again from my mind. I can remember a lot but by the next day the memory has faded. My mind only remembers the basics even after years of drawing from life and reference.
Is it just a matter of more practice? If so, what should I practice?