The Stigma of Reference Photos in Art

This is something I am sure other artists can relate to. Drawing a beautiful rendition of a person, creature, or place then showing someone and them fawning over it then asking how you did it. The moment you even mention a reference picture you can see the disappointment. But why?? Because people don’t understand that a reference picture is just that- a REFERENCE.

People get disappointed because they think ‘Oh, they just copied a picture’. No. If you’re drawing, for example, an Egyptian beetle, then you just draw a regular old beetle without the details that make it an Egyptian beetle, then it isn’t one. And most people don’t know every feature of an Egyptian beetle off the top of their heads. Or say that a client wants you to draw a portrait of them, then when you do you don’t realize that you left out a distinctive mole on the side of their face. Then it is not specifically that person. Reference photos are for accuracy and making sure you get the detail right, not for copying exactly then claiming it to be your art.

I think that the idea of reference pictures take away from the magic. People don’t always like to see the technicalities that lead up to an artwork because then it isn’t quite as amazing as it seems before. Just like when someone goes to an amazing restaurant, they don’t always want to know that one person cooked, another chopped and another garnished etc because then the whole romantic idea of having a lavish meal served to them is tainted slightly. Or when a magician reveals his tricks (this is a much better example, I had to ramble awhile before it dawned on me) then the whole notion of a magician is tarnished by knowing the secrets.

I just wish that there wasn’t such a stigma with reference photos, because the end result can be so amazing and accurate. And I don’t know about other artists, but I am extremely personal with my art, so to know that a person is thinking “oh they just copied’ kinda makes me feel like shit because I know I didn’t copy and I know that if I hadn’t included the texture of an octopus’ skin then it wouldn’t look as realistic. So for my fellow artists reading, let me know if you can relate to this in the comments & for those of you who love to admire art just know that research and references are key to realistic and hyperrealistic art so don’t be so quick to judge. Thanks for reading and follow my blog for more posts like this. Have a great day!! ~~Amber~~


2 thoughts on “The Stigma of Reference Photos in Art

  1. Wonderful post!!!! I can totally relate and have always tried to hide the fact that I used reference photos until recently. You said it perfectly about disappointment crossing someone’s face. I almost get a little defensive ,thinking in my head, well you do it better without a reference! But now I’m not ashamed of admitting it. Think what you will but like you said it’s part of the process and reasearch. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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