Reference Photos

In High School, I took an art class. We did paintings in acrylic and for one of my paintings, I found a picture with boats in a port with a lot of fog. I copied the painting. My teacher liked it and told me she was going put it in the regional art exhibit. She told me that the rules didn’t allow you to use a photo to paint from but that real artists used a photo all the time to paint from.

She was right. Google images is my friend. What does a giraffe look like? I need an apple for a practice technique. What kinds of coral are in the ocean and which shapes do I like best? These are just some of the times in the recent past I’ve searched for reference photos on Google. It’s not ethical to take a photo and copy it as I did in High School. But reference is important and often necessary for successful artists to use.

I’ve been working on a series of robots. On one of the robots I wasn’t getting the hands right. Since this robot’s hands were to look like human hands, it was important that I get it right. I had put it off over and over again, but now I had the paint on the board and couldn’t put it off anymore. Hands are so multifaceted that finding the exact hand in the exact position in a Google search is time consuming and not always fruitful. In a flash of inspiration, I realized that my 16 yo son would be a perfect model. I already had the drawing as a guide and so I asked him to stand in the same way that the robot was standing so I could see how his hands looked.


I wish I had done it sooner. What had been a hot mess of hands became easy to see and easy to draw. I didn’t need to draw the whole hand, just a side of the hand. And the reference photo gave me the information I needed to communicate the stance of the robot including the position and direction of his feet.


Up close of his right hand

I only need to draw the thumb and two full fingers. A third is just a knuckle in the background


Up close of his left hand

All knuckles and part of a thumb. He added the fist on hip which is perfect for the mood I’m trying to portray.

If you are working on a drawing or a painting and have a tough time with a certain area, find or take a reference photo and it will give you the information you need to be successful.

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