We had a teacher come by from a University close-by. He's worked as an artist, doing stuff like making a 3D model of a character for Disney, as one example. He's experienced, seems like an awesome teacher and he's only 25!. Anyways, he had some good tips and I thought I'd share the most important with everyone.
I've found that a common thought here on the site, one which I once shared, is this idea that you aren't good as an artist if you have to use a reference.
This is a great lie.
Now...we're talking about having the quality that a working artist has. It might work without references when you're just doing some hobby art, or in one picture once, but if you want to do some quality stuff, especially if it's later gonna be translated into 3D, you NEED to have a reference. If you want to improve as an artist, then listen to this.
If you make something abstract from your fantasy that is one thing, but even when you're making such a thing as a talking and walking tree, such as Groot or Treebeard, it still has to feel logical. It has to look as if it's possible. How would the tree move? Most of us would refer to us humans or other animals with legs. So, how do you make it look "real" in a sense and not just like a floating tree with legs and arms? You need to be able to make it feel like there is a volume and weight to it. And how do you do that? You need to look at something else.
Working from memory doesn't work when it comes to quality work. We are getting exposed to so much information that we need to sort things out. Even our strongest memories lack all the information that once was there. Imagine yourself being in class, turning your head and looking behind you at the wall. Could you recreate the whole thing in detail? Are there pictures on the wall, what's on them, where is it light, where is it dark?
It's pretty hard, isn't it? This is the case when you draw. You might once have learned something like how a human head looks like. You might even have practiced drawing it several hundred times. If I now ask you to draw Ned Stark, could you do that? You might be able to hit the basic proportions and if you're a big fan of Game of Thrones, you might even get fairly close, but. If you now show it to a person that you know have seen GoT, can you be at least 97% sure that this person would recognize the character? Would they be able to tell in a heartbeat that that was Ned Stark?
What if you would now use a reference? You can easily build up the head's base because of your basic knowledge of anatomy, but now, with the help of a reference you could be spot on at the details. Can you imagine how much easier it would suddenly be and how much better and more detailed the drawing would be?.
When you draw from memory or even fantasy, you use what knowledge you already have, you are re-using what you've already learned.
We can allways learn more!
Using references is a good way to learn. You will notice the small details that you might otherwise have missed. Small details, but they make a huge difference in the quality of your work. You might think that you know everything there is to anatomy, but you don't. We are all different. Without a reference you can't draw a person and make it look exactly like them. It is the same way when it comes to movements. How does a heavy movement look? Slow and sturdy, okay... So, if a shark is heavy and then you have a tree that is heavy, will it move the same way? Well...heavy movement might not have been the best example, but even there there's still a difference.
The teacher showed us a model that he has been working on for fun at home. It wasn't finished, but you could immediately see who the figure was. The person he made was, Ragnar Lothbrok, one of the main characters in the tv-series Vikings. Now, I have only ever seen two episodes of that series, but even so I could immediately tell who it was. The funny thing was when he showed us his references...
He literally had a map filled with just about 50 pictures of Ragnar. He'd even searched for pictures of the actor, Travis Fimmel to get some references where he didn't have a beard to really see the face's shape.
Now, you might say that that's a bit "Overkill", but you could clearly see the results.
References are a good thing people, we should use them!
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