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The kids are afraid to reference now....

Just as the title says -- I have recently been running into a brick wall with people who catch me on AIM and ask me for advice on improving their illustration skills. The immediate problem that I see is that they do not draw from any observations.

They are afraid to look at anything as reference because they believe this would be 'stealing' or cheating to some degree. They mistakenly believe other artists draw strictly from what they can formulate in their minds. They do not understand that observations of such things as fabric and muscle tension in a pose, are essential as either learning tools or needed to work out details in existing compositions.

...I think this is a good place to bring this topic. I am very frustrated with having to tell new artists that they have bad habits to break -- and a fear of reference as a bad habit is a high one on my list.

It all brings a lot of issues to light...

Has the anti-theft mentality created myths of taboos that simply do not exist?

Are the guidelines too unclear for beginning artists to understand? What should we tell newer artists who do not know when they are crossing a line?

What can be done or said to make new artists understand that referencing is a necessary and useful tool? -- Is it a problem with confusion of WHAT KIND of materials they should be referencing? (IE -- look at photos taken by you, not other artist's works).

What other problems exist?

...Hash it out for yourselves.
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( 86 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 26th, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)
I would argue that the problem is not so simple. It's not just that new artists are afraid to reference photos/real life/etc, but that they too easily reference (or are simply influenced by, even if they do not 'copy') other artists. As Dr. Lecter says, "we begin by coveting what we see every day." I have seen anatomical errors passed down like a beloved heirloom from one artist to another to another in this fashion.

Artists look at what they like, and if they like it, they tend to be influenced by it either consciously or unconsciously. The result is often a young artist having a hybrid mish-mash style with no knowledge to back it up. As to how to fix it? Who knows. It's nothing new in art; similar things have been happening for decades. The internet just makes it easier and faster, and thus more apparent.
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)
Yeah, this is something that's bothered me too. A lot of people seem to think of it as a sort of taboo to use reference for practice. As if the true skill of the artist comes from just yanking all the data from their subconscious and not actually having the "crutch" of reference.

In fact I think the taboos of supposed theft on top of the possibility of ego are to blame here. Ego, of course, being the "good artists don't use reference, and I'll only be a good artist if I follow the same path..." mentality.
Aug. 26th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC)
I'm sure the "good" artists DO use references, they just don't always mention it XD i mean, everyone uses reference to a certain extent, even if its just looking at real life people and objects to get the pose and backdrop right
(no subject) - pseudomanitou - Aug. 26th, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - the_lest - Aug. 27th, 2008 10:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pseudomanitou - Aug. 27th, 2008 01:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - white_tean - Aug. 27th, 2008 01:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onyxserpent - Aug. 31st, 2008 08:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - white_tean - Sep. 1st, 2008 02:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:33 am (UTC)
I think referencing from photo or real life is the best way to learn. I do not believe that referencing another artists' drawn work is something they should do if they're learning.

When it comes to mediums like pastels, it's the only way to learn certain techniques - to reference artist's existing works. An anatomy book can only take you so far, but it's only once you start observing existing pastel works that you see how soft pastels in particular can be used to create certain affects etc.

I agree that if a person just wants to create realistic portrait or picture or illustration, photos are perfectly adequate. But sometimes the trick is recreating not just an image, but a technique, a way of blending colours, using linework, or applying a medium. In that sense - observation and pulling from referenced artworks works better than a photograph.

I also believe that mimicry is a basic building block in learning how to become original. Babies learn how to speak by mimicking everyone else around them - you can't take that fundamental building block from the learning curve. Eventually they use cognitive processes to turn that language into new sentences, thoughts etc. For me, art is like learning a language. At it's very basic, you must learn - through a degree - through mimicry, before you can adapt the cognitive processes necessary to create something 'original.'

Edited at 2008-08-26 01:33 am (UTC)
(no subject) - fallimar - Aug. 26th, 2008 01:54 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - white_tean - Aug. 27th, 2008 01:37 am (UTC) - Expand
That would depend *cough Master Copies* - arshes - Sep. 2nd, 2008 07:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)
I reference stock photos and thats it - and people have in the past given me grief over 'using reference'.

How am I supposed to learn how stuff looks if I dont LOOK at it?

I have on occasion looked at art-I-love to try to figure out 'how they did that' but try to not even look during the drawing / painting process which is possibly being TOO careful but better safe than sorry =3
Aug. 26th, 2008 10:23 am (UTC)
There's nothing wrong with using other artists work as a reference, but if you really feel that bad why not use artwork by people who are not part of the fandom/furry-anime-cartoony-scene, even artists who are dead now. I often use the work of Egon Schiele as reference, for example.
(no subject) - pseudomanitou - Aug. 26th, 2008 02:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starrydance - Aug. 26th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:30 am (UTC)
I have no problems with people using artworks (and anatomy books and such) as references to learn - I have problems when they then display that artwork publicly on places like DeviantArt, and seek to make profits off it, or simply don't pay credit to the original artists they're referencing.

I learnt how to do pastel artwork by copying other artists, since it is one of those skills that requires a lot of observation to learn what other artists are doing - how they're combining colour, blending soft pastels etc. Something you just can't learn in an anatomy book, and that can't be explained as well as it can be observed. But those pictures won't go up as 'originals' of my own work, they'll be kept as examples of me learning a trade.

I think the problem is when students start seeking to gain all the credit for works that may be wholly influenced or even copied from other artists. In that sense, if a student wanted to put their art on DeviantArt for a critique, I think it would be good if they could provide credit and hopefully get permission first before putting it up as an example of student work or techniques they're learning...
Aug. 26th, 2008 10:25 am (UTC)
I don't understand why people are saying you need to observe pastal work to learn. I figured it out for myself without any reference :\
(no subject) - badkitty - Aug. 26th, 2008 12:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - moonvoice - Aug. 26th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - the_lest - Aug. 27th, 2008 10:10 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:33 am (UTC)
In a lot of cases, the artists that say "referencing is theft" are either well-meaning but clueless as to what proper referencing really is, or they are using it as a shield to refuse to improve. The latter seems to stem from listening to other equally well-meaning but clueless artists, or due to being jaded by art theives who use "referenced" as a euphemism for "traced." The rabid theft-haters kinda don't help, either, when they say "cite your references." Or maybe that was just me. :(

What I've been taught about real referencing is this: It involves collecting a stack of (stock/personally taken/specifically photographs or images of something you'd like to draw, in various angles or environments, which you study to better understand your subject matter, but don't specifically rip from when you create your final image. Referencing is a learning tool. It only becomes a crutch if you're no longer able to draw anything WITHOUT a reference, but that particular breed of danger shouldn't be new to anybody who's set out to really learn how to draw.

A lot of photographers explicitly state that their photographs are NOT to be used for reference, either at all or without permission -- I'm willing to bet that's also scared a lot of artists off. Not that I blame the photographers; it's probably just as disconcerting to find their photo repainted in Photoshop by some moron who's having sex with the dodge/burn tool as it is for an artist to find that some fifteen year old yahoo is making money by tracing their art and passing it off as "commission work" to the naive.

Hope that all made sense. I've never really run into people asking me for advice -- if you want people to stop bugging you, revive Yerf and get put into rotation on the review team ... uh, maybe my take on it will help you?
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:43 am (UTC)
will help you deal with them, rather. I ARE VARY SMRUT
(no subject) - pseudomanitou - Aug. 26th, 2008 02:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:38 am (UTC)

The problem is in how referencing is used.

Referencing is not the wholesale copying/tracing of another copyrighted picture, it's the use of several stock images to give you a reference point for a work.

The wholesale copying/tracing of another copyrighted picture is producing derivative work which is a violation of copyright. Therefore it's theft.

I find many young artists do not want to use reference because often it reminds them of how much they still have to learn or because they want to draw things straight out of their head without realising they need something real to base those things on.

Referencing has always been an issue and always will be, I don't think it's caused by people not wanting to be stolen from because -legitimate reference- material can't be stolen since it's often licensed for reuse/reference. I think it's caused by a lack of understanding as to what referencing is, why it's so important and a reluctance on the part of many young artists to move out of their comfortable ruts of drawing stylised wolf pictures.
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)

Note, I did not address reproduction often practised in academic circles, that usually involves works done by the old masters which are under public domain. Still that's not really relevant to the level of people who are "afraid" to reference since most of them are not usually in that kind of academic setting where reproduction of the old masters work for learning and gaining a greater understanding of it is encouraged.
(no subject) - badkitty - Aug. 26th, 2008 12:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fiercereaper - Aug. 26th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
I know it's unrelated... but don't get me started on Greg Land... the man started tracing and he's suddenly famous for doing so.
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
...refer to my article link in my response to Verix (second comment in this thread)...
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:49 am (UTC)
To get away from the theft mentality side and back to a simplet time when INTERNET ART THEFTZORS wasn't such a huge problem (IE 8 or so years ago when I started drawing!) I was always leery of using photo references as I felt that a study/copy of a photo wasn't being 'creative' enough. As a beginner, you've generally got huge expectations and a largish art ego, which gets popped as soon as you start seeing the techniques used to produce really good artwork and learn about the journey that's needed to get there.

Personally, I think it's a big mixture of people just not knowing the necessity of studies and referencing, and the mentality that it's 'cheating', though that thought disappears into nothing once you learn the value.

That said, The legality of it all is always a bit sketchy - I know for a fact I've used copyrighted photos as references for paintings and studies without a clue that it was illegal or frowned upon - though I also knew that tracing or copying other artists' work without giving them credit (and praise!) for their original artwork was completely out of the question.

So - ignorance mainly. Lessons and practice to pop the ego bubble. :)
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:28 pm (UTC)
The art college I attended had a philosophy: learn all the rules, only then can break them.

...the thought there was that, in order to know what you were doing in creating a style or a theme, you had to first understand what rules you were ignoring or manipulating. Otherwise, you would not be in control of your process.

And to that end, it was okay to closely follow reference -- because these things would be closely discussed later. But never was this work to be sold or had any claim laid to it. My college forbid ownership of art produced for/from class.
Aug. 26th, 2008 01:56 am (UTC)
I think we have to clear up what referencing really means before we fix any problems. Too often people use the term referencing as copying/eyeballing or tracing, when it's supposed to be looking at pictures or photos to get an idea of how something works.

It really doesn't help when tracers and copiers call what they do "referencing" and confuse people who don't intend to steal -_-
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
very good point, but truthfully it's a pretty commonsense kind of thing if you're not being an idiot about it.
Making a copy of, or heavily referencing from something is most often fine as long as if it's posted publically, the original artist/photographer is credited and NO money is made from the image or any part thereof. If the original artist is known for not liking their work copied even with credit, it's prudent to ask first (well, it's always prudent to ask no matter what, but we all know politeness levels on the internet these days!).

It gets stupid when no credit is given, the work is claimed as one's own or money is made from copied work (referenced work, as long as the reference is copyright-free or the artist has rights to it, or anything like that, is fine to be sold of course) - basically, when any lying is involved.

Lying is a really crappy thing to do, and that's really the crux of the problem, along with impoliteness and ego.
(no subject) - oltri - Aug. 26th, 2008 03:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pseudomanitou - Aug. 26th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - the_lest - Aug. 26th, 2008 10:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pseudomanitou - Aug. 26th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
Referencing is fine and should be encouraged. Copying is not.
There is in fact a distinct difference between the two, and people need to understand that.
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:06 am (UTC)
Referencing other artists is not wrong and its not theft. There is nothing inherently wrong with, say, coming to some kind of conundrum like 'how to draw dragon eye ridges' and then looking at several dragon artists in addition to lizard and horse photos. Or wanting to draw Art Nuveu and therefore staring at Mucha for several hours.

I always suggest referencing artists outside the fandom (aka published ones.) They're more likely to be secure enough in themselves that they're not going to wig out if they detect that ObscureFurryArtist27 draws ears like they draw ears. I also suggest VARIETY when using artistic refs (and photo too actually but yeah.) We're derivative of each other enough as it is, no need to limit oneself to the old standbys.

Avoid direct copying, avoid pose copying from peer artwork (you can pose copy if you're like drawing a furry Venus de Medici) and use LOTS of reference. The more the merrier! All those separate pieces will distill eventually into a style unique unto the budding artist.
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:51 pm (UTC)
When referencing other artists though -- it is important to be sure we have knowledge of the wide range of artists. It may not be like theft in that regard, but it can cause stagnation in art styles if the referencing is too narrow in focus.

For example -- many tell me my style is very original. The fact is, it is not -- but the artists I have studied are not familiar to most furry artists -- so it seems new to them.

Anyone who tells me I am very original, needs to look much further into other professional and historical artists.
(no subject) - allykat - Aug. 26th, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pseudomanitou - Aug. 26th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - allykat - Aug. 26th, 2008 05:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kuwaizair - Aug. 27th, 2008 12:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - allykat - Aug. 27th, 2008 01:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)
I see nothing wrong with Referencing a photograph or real life. Referencing a drawn image isn't going to help them, unless they intend on drawing that same image (come on, I used to copy coloring Books 15 years ago when I wanted to draw Disney Characters, it wasn't a huge deal).

When I started my art classes we were encouraged to sift through magazines and cut out images we could put in our "morgue". Told by many teachers that it was a good idea to keep a photographic morgue so that one day, if we must draw the Pyramids and do not know what they look like - we can go to the morgue. Taking a Camera with you is a good idea. Digital cameras make it so easy now for quick and easy references.

A young artist, who may be posting an image on DA that is obviously copied from another drawing or photograph, shouldn't be attacked. I see a lot of harshness towards them, and I can see why people are afraid to reference - they aren't sure what is okay and what isn't, and if they make a mistake they'll have people jumping all over them screaming 'theft! credit references!' Who wants that? It is discouraging. So why bother referencing?

Just explaining without being overly bitchy, help them out. Helping is a part of teaching, and for cripe's sake would it hurt someone to be nice and helpful once in awhile instead of snide?

Aug. 26th, 2008 10:39 am (UTC)
One thing i think can be even better than referencing a photograph, is referencing a video. It depends on the artwork, but if you were drawing, say, a person running, looking at videos of runners and watching it in slow motion can really help not only get the anatomy right, but help an artist to understand how each body part came to be where it is :) and with youtube, this is something that can now be easily done :)
(no subject) - hellebore - Aug. 26th, 2008 01:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - the_lest - Aug. 26th, 2008 01:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pseudomanitou - Aug. 26th, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - blondierule - Aug. 31st, 2008 02:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:16 am (UTC)
Ah man. :/ While I'm glad they're concerned about not stealing it also sucks that they're terrified to draw anything without a reference. Of course with all the drama concerning art theft, I'd say some artists can be overly paranoid (for example the recent DA drama regarding the artists who claimed Disney had stolen her generic looking character) and will scream "Art Theft!!" at anyone who draws art that even vaugely resembles their's.

I don't think a lot of new artists understand the difference between "copying" and "referencing," which may explain the confusion. I've seen a lot of people copy another artist's work exactly (eyeballing), changing only a few minor details, and then insisting that they've done nothing wrong because it's a reference. I bet many young artists also don't realize that there are many stock photos are available for referencing, or even know what a stock photo is. :/
Aug. 26th, 2008 02:20 am (UTC)
I think part of the problem is, a lot of artists, namely on deviantart, are like 12-16. I have a painting I did in High School that was a completely copied pose from the Sonic Adventure 2: Battle instruction booklet. Do I still do that? No. But I will say that even though I was kind of unaware I was doing something "bad," it did help me a bit. I have an entire sketchbook from 9th grade where I redrew the poses on Pokemon cards. I could even tell WHICH pokemon cards I was copying. It's funny to look at. But later on in the sketchbook I have a comic I did using Pokemon, that weren't copied from pokemon cards at all. They were my own poses and expressions.

I don't believe in pose stealing, for the most part, unless it's a blatant trace. A pose is a pose, you can't INVENT a pose, unless it's a crazy super stylized pose where the left foot is like 300 feet in the background and the head is under the crotch, etc. People who flip out on others for copying a pose are ridiculous. I hate that.

I think borrowing bits and pieces of others' "styles" and techniques is a lovely way to develop your own unique (I shudder at the abuse of this word) "style." Unless you REALLY REALLY TRY to copy another artist, you'll more than likely develop a unique way of drawing things, a quick, cute little style that inhabits your drawings. This isn't saying that developing a style and then STRICTLY sticking with it is okay, you should explore many mediums and ways of drawing to better improve your art. There's no way to improve your weaknesses unless you go outside your comfort zone.

Mainly, I think it's the huge mass of people who suddenly want to be artists because they can get a lot of attention from the internet doing so. There are so many preteen "artists" these days just drawing what's popular. Some will get away with it and make money off it (A curse of the time we're living in) Some will get disinterested and wander back over to myspace, and some will realize what it takes to become a dedicated artist. :P I don't think it's worth losing too much sleep over, though. DeviantArt and other art posting sites are becoming the scum of the internet these days.. I don't even visit dA anymore it's so full of crap.

My animation professor was once trying to improve a character design I had on a dinosaur. He suggested I make the eyes smaller and the chin larger. He brought in a book of character designs someone did of certain animals and pointed out a crocodile that had similar features as to how he described I changed my character design. I asked, "But isn't that stealing?" He said, "If you're drawing it, it's already yours. If you draw it your way, it's not copying. You're animating this character, you're putting life into it. It'll be yours no matter what you do." After he told me that, I loosened up a little bit over the fear of stealing character designs. After all, he was right. I'm not drawing a crocodile, I'm drawing a dinosaur. If I mimic how that artist pulled off exactly what I want out of my character, where is the harm in that?

Wow sorry this is so TL;DR. lol
Aug. 26th, 2008 10:48 am (UTC)
Good words :)

I don't think copying is really wrong so long as there is a good intention behind it. By that i mean the artist is copying as a way to improve their skills rather than improve their ego or their purse. In fact, direct copies CAN be helpful. I bet you can draw pokemon perfectly even now. I can't.

If I wanted to draw a fan art of an official character that I find quite hard to draw, lets say for argument's sake... Amy Rose. The way I would go about it would be to make some sketches directly copied from official artwork of Amy. I probably wouldn't post the sketches online and I certainly wouldnt claim them as my own work. But it would help get an understanding of how this particular character should look and how the official artists achieve the look they do with Amy Rose. :)

What I forgot to say originally is that i wouldn't USE those sketches directly in the finished article. I'd simply use them as a way to getting to grips with the character, assimilate the knowledge and techniques before going on to do my original artwork, from scratch.

Edited at 2008-08-26 10:50 am (UTC)
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