Breaking Down the Drawing Process: Step 1 of 4 Taking Reference Photos

posted by Misfit July 16, 2015

I have a confession to make.  You know those people who with ease could pencil in an amazing drawing within minutes and everything looked spot on.  Yeah,  those people.  Well, I’m NOT one of those people.  The drawing process was always a labor of love for me.  It never came ease and it always took a great deal of erasing for my drawing to appear somewhat decent.  If you are reading this article then there is a chance you understand precisely what I’m talking about.

The Drawing Process

The drawing process was always a labor of love for me.  It never came ease and it always took a great deal of erasing for my drawing to appear somewhat decent.

I will say that over the years this process has become easier but with much practice and specifically training my hand and brain to work as one.  Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be sharing with you my process of how I broke down drawing into steps/exercises to help me learn how to draw right the first time.  So get out your pencils, erasers (which will be become your very best friend-if it isn’t already) and let’s get started.

So, Step One is the easiest and funnest part of four exercises-Yes, I’m going to call them exercises-because no matter how good for you some days you just don’t want to put in the effort.  The first exercise is putting away your paper, pencil, and erasers (didn’t see that coming did you-or perhaps you knew because of the title.  The first exercise you need to do is learn to take great reference photos.

Exercise One: How to Take a Great Reference Photo

When you are first starting out in drawing, personally I would start from a reference photo.  By training your brain how things really look compared to how “you” think they look is important.  Once again through observation you will train your brain to determine what looks good, what looks bad and most importantly how to fix what is bad.  I love taking photos because it freezes the moment for me to really examine what is going on before me.  As I learn more about shapes and lines from my reference photo, I will be able to take that knowledge and free draw illustrations without the aid of a photo in the future.  So, look at your reference photos as textbooks for your brain.  The more photos you take the more chances for you to learn faster and easier.  Also keep in mind you don’t need some fancy camera.  A regular camera phone can work just as good.  The point of this exercise is not to take super caliber photos but good enough photos to actually study from.  So here are some tips on how to set up a great reference photo.

Normal-ViewWorm-ViewTip #1: Change your perspective

  •  A lot of times as artist we forget Bird-Viewthat there is more than one way to view an object than just straight on.  There are 3 views I’m going to target today.
    • Eye Level (or Normal) View
    • Worm’s Eye View
    • Bird’s Eye View
  • Eye Level (or Normal) View: this is when you are staring directly at an object from your “normal” perspective.  Thisis typically the go to view for most artist because perspective isn’t distorted in some way.  Thus meaning it is typically easier (but not always) to draw.
  • Worm’s Eye View:  This view is from below the object.  It can make the appearance of the object look massive and intimidating to the viewer.  Similar to a worm’s actually perspective on life.
  • Bird’s Eye View:  This view, as it sounds is from above the object-similar to a bird.  This view often flattens your object is strange ways which are difficult to interpret when drawing.

Tip #2: Try to take picture Up close to the object

  • DetailsThis can be a bit tricky with a camera photo but it can be done.  Your goal when taking pictures should be to take them as close to the object as possible to see as many details as possible.  This is going to help you later when you are painting.  But for now try and fill your frame with the object you wish to paint unless you desire otherwise (such as a landscape).

Tip #3: Think Rule of Thirds

  • This is an art term meaning to break down the picture into a grid.  It looks something similar to a tic tac to board. Normally (but not always), your goal is to place the item you wish the viewer to focus on one of the corner intercepts as sh
    one below.  This is more appealing to the eye and feels settling whereas placing the object off of the grid can give it a more disjointed look  and unsettled look (which some artist want).  It really depends on what you are trying to communicate.Rule-Thirds

Tip #4: Tell A story

  • This I feel is the most important tip of all!  Try and take pictures that tell a story in some fashion or form.  It can be through color, the set up of the photo itself, or even with a character’s emotions.  These will be the best photos of your batch.  By subtly changing your photo from the norm to communicate something to the viewer is your most valuable and precious reference photo.  why you may ask, because these photos are the best to study if you are planning on moving form realism to illustration.   When you are illustrating your main purpose is to communicate something (even if it is small) to the viewer.  This can often mean slightly emphasizing an expression or even color in your painting to communicate to the viewer.  This is why telling a story in your photo is crucial because these photos will become your references later on for illustrating.Tell-a-Story


And those are your four tips.  So Maybe you are asking yourself, why is it so important that I have reference Photos.  Well, here are a couple of reasons.   First, trying your brain how to take great photos also helps teach your brain how to set up great art.  Another positive about having great reference photos is that you do have the option of tracing your photos directly onto watercolor paper.  Some realistic painters prefer to directly trace their photos to make sure all proportions are correct and speed up the process.  Since these photos are your own, there is no copyright issues.  So peace of mind there.  Also, creating a reference library for yourself will be incredibly helpful in the future.  In fact, Many artist sell rights to their reference photos and make a good deal of money in the process.  So those are just a few reasons why your own reference photo library is important.  Now that you have the skills, go out and capture the world one photo at a time.


Lots of Love,

Carrie Luc


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