Not too long ago we talked about keeping a sketchbook which is an invaluable tool for an artist to keep quick sketches of ideas, resources, and to just practice. Another thing that I do is keep a photo reference file. I tear out pictures from magazines, and sales catalogues that inspire me. I organize them into folders so they are easy for me to find when inspiration strikes.
I use the photo references when I am designing. Usually I pull an element out of a picture for my design or just refer to it for shape or color. Other times I might know I want to paint a particular object and looking at my reference file well help me develop my design. And there are times I use the pictures to practice drawing, especially faces and birds.
To start, make a list of the things that you like to draw or would like to draw. Then, when going through magazines start tearing out those inspirational pictures. You can really organize them anyway you want, but I like keeping like photos together in folders.
One thing I like to paint are birds. When I first started I had one folder for all birds, but as time went on I divided my folder into subfolders by type such as chickadee, bluebird, cardinal, etc.
I look at pictures for different reasons, like this picture of the flamingos. It is great for seeing how they look from different angles and positions, but what I really love is the colors. Those colors might show up together on something I do that is totally different.
Other things that also end up in my folders are scraps of wrapping paper and cards. I also don’t limit myself to just the content in the magazines but also look at the ads for inspiration. Again I like the vintage colors on the right.
There is a little glare on the wrapping paper on the left but I loved the red elements on the red background. It was the inspirations for the pie keeper below.
This photo could be saved for not only the bird and the sunflower but also the quote.
I also save articles of artists that inspire me, as well as different art techniques and technical tips. And when I am really good and remember to use my camera, I also take great photos to put in my reference folders.
I also have a lot of resource books, but often find it easier to look on Pinterest. And in a way, Pinterest is a digital reference file, but it can’t save the little scraps of paper with the unique color combination or pattern.
Sometimes it can be confusing because so much is available to us that we think we can freely use it all, but we do have to discern what is free and what is not. A bird is a bird and so the reference is free to use, but to copy someone else’s painting of a bird is not.
I like this quote by Austin Kleon from his book “Steal Like An Artist” helps us to see the balance in using reference materials to create:
“Nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original. If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it”.
If you are not keeping photo references I encourage you to do so.