Friday, September 14, 2012

Sorry...I Don't Get the REFERENCE

Hello, hello, Meat-Heads! I thought today I'd talk about about working from reference! So, all artists really should work from reference, right? Well I think Reverend Lovejoy put it best when he said:     Reference, working from reference, and knowing how literally to use it is something that each artist really needs to determine for him or herself. Plenty of people draw solely from their imagination and are perfectly content to do so, and I'm not here to knock other drawing styles or approaches, so I'll just talk about how working from reference has related to my own work. I've had a love/hate relationship with reference over the years. I've gone from not using it at all, to using it exclusively, finally to what I've felt is a solid balance between the two. Here's a breakdown of how things have changed in Dead Meat over the years:


  a. No reference--BLECH. Very unrefined, very....well...bad. b. SOME reference--Better, but still unsure of HOW to use it. At this point, using reference meant just drawing the photo I had taken. Turning it into a character was difficult. c. ALL reference--This is a look that I don't hate, but I became unsatisfied with. I'll talk about why in a minute d. HALF and HALF--this is my current, and preferred method of working. Some reference, some imagination. The difference between b, c, and d may be subtle, but it's there. I worked EXCLUSIVELY from reference for a long time, and though I'm glad I did, I'm also glad I've started to move away from it. Working so literally from reference really helped me work out some style problems I was having. It helped me with form, with anatomy, and especially with shadows. I would light and shoot everything, and then draw from those photos very literally. here's an example of how little changed sometimes in the transition from photo to drawing:

From Vermillion #2 available at

  However, after a time two things happened: 1. I worked so deliberately from reference that in certain spots where I wouldn't, due to time restraints or lack of a photo, it wouldn't look the same. It made the work look very inconsistent. Even with background elements--If the foreground characters were all referenced, but the background characters weren't, it was obvious and distracting (at least to me). 2. I felt like the reference was becoming a crutch, and also it was making my work very stiff. Every thing felt very staged, nothing had fluidity to it, and I became really dissatisfied with the way things were going. If things were to change, I had to re-evaluate how I was doing things, and luckily, producing Dead Meat full time actually forced me to do so. I realized that working so tightly from photos really slowed down my production time, on top of all those other things, and also the more I was drawing, the more confidence I was starting to get in my non-referential abilities. That's not to say I don't use reference anymore--of course I do, I still light and shoot my reference--but I'm not a SLAVE to it, and I think it's making an important thing happen: my work doesn't necessarily look more REAL, but it definitely looks more TRUE. So in the end, should you? shouldn't you? Well let me put it this way: reference is a TOOL, and using it, even in the most passing fashion will NEVER hurt your work. It may not always make your work look real, but it will always make it look TRUE. Now it'd be unfair to end this post without an embarrassing reference photo, so here you go! Until next time, EAT DEAD MEAT!

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