How To Use References (For Art)

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Hello Everyone,

Following on from last week about artists tools I wanted to write about how to use references for art specifically as that is what I have been using this week.


I have focused on faces again this week, not for any specific reason and I have also been using pencil again as I felt a bit out of practice with it after using the iPad for a while. 

I used Pinterest for the references and focused on ‘female face drawings for reference’.  Whilst I can draw certain aspects of a face well from memory and pulling on what I have learn’t so far sometimes it can be hit and miss and there will be just one thing that just won’t work out right.

So in came the references.  I found them especially useful for 3/4 views and perspectives where someone was looking up or down slightly. Also for open mouths and hairstyles.

                       How To Use References (For Art)

How Do References Help

Well how do references help?  I use them to help with eye placement, primarily for the left eye looking face on, how it lines up with the right one.  I know where the eye line is but it’s the other stuff around that, matching up the proportions.   Proportions is another way I use them, proportions of the mouth and nose and hair size, I seem to make it too big on the sides for some reason.  I also seem to default to the same styles of hair.

Line quality and by this I mean thickness, style - is it fluid or broken does it have moment to it, what overall impression does it give.  Shading, how others denote light and shadow, this is really interesting as it can be quite stylised and done with few lines and others it can be very detailed. General composition as well, this gives me ideas and acts like a trigger point to get my brain working. It also gives me ideas for other styles to try.

                  How To Use References (For Art)

How To Use References For Art

To sum up how to use references here is a list below for you.

  • To help understand proportions and how certain aspects relate to one another.
  • Line quality, how do others use lines, pressure, thickness or thinness, continuous or broken.
  • General layout ideas and composition.
  • Shading, how light and shadow work, how others interpret it can give you ideas.
  • Idea generation, they can help trigger ideas for you to try and lead you to experiment more.
  • Try out the style of the reference you have chosen see how it works or doesn’t, add your own twist.

Overall references are a useful tool and they have helped me immensely this week progressing with my faces.  Go and find some references and have a play.  I would love to hear from you how you get on with them or what they have helped you with, leave a comment below and we can have a chat about it.

To see my sketches for the week see my Instagram page @zoebadgerart.

Happy Sketching


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