if someone ever tells you that using references to draw is cheating
punch them in the face
take a picture while you do it
and use it as a reference when you recreate it in comic form
In the interest of not having a five-mile-long text wall, here’s a summary of the discussion/argument to date (given at the risk of oversimplifying/misrepresenting the individuals’ points), with links:
Aiffe takes issue with Quillery’s tags, because artists should be allowed to feel pride over refless art-for-enjoyment
Quillery takes issue with Aiffe’s comment that drawing from imagination is ‘more creative’ than from ref
Aiffe takes issue with Quillery saying her art is ‘just’ a hobby, and expands
I’ll make the disclaimer now that I’m biased toward the use of reference, as that’s who I am as an artist.
The interesting thing about this is, I think the issue being argued is being approached by either side on almost parallel tracks. I honestly think both are saying the same thing at the core - if ref is or ain’t your thang, that’s really honestly fine, but don’t judge either way - but with two very different caveats that have absolutely everything to do with their own experiences and relationships with art.
For one person, art is something intended as a career; for the other, it’s not. For both, art is an intensely personal expression, but because the two individuals are coming at it from such different places, with such different biases, I’m not sure if they’re communicating successfully.
To be fair, I honestly can’t remember seeing anyone on dA saying ‘no ref’ as a way to clear up issues of credit, so I’m not sure how much credence to give that defense; on the flip side, I can understand someone being proud of not using any if what they achieved is something great in their eyes (since I’ve been there myself, if years ago at this point), or if they straight-up find more joy in not using it. There is, however, the… rather undeniable fact that the use of reference is seen as cheating by a lot of people in online art communities - and it’s a fairly pervasive idea, especially for artists whose formative years take place in that arena. It’s also what the original post, and Dana’s (quillery’s) tags are about… because just as no one should feel shamed into using refs, no one should be shamed out of it.
"But when I say they are less creative, I mean that less original content is being generated. This is not a “cheat.” This is not bad. This is not saying that it lacks creativity entirely. Just that reinventing is different from inventing."
This is where Dana took offense, and where I also flinch, because, I think, it’s missing a big part of what reference is and can be.
Now, I’m going to use my own art as an example for this, because a) I’m the only one I feel comfortable calling out, and b) I use reference very, very heavily, and therefore my stuff works as a good example (I think). Let’s take two examples of art that I’ve done, both of which were entirely dependent on reference for the figure(s).
Here’s piece #1:
To do this fanart for a favorite webcomic, I copied the figure (here) as closely as I could at that point (translation: not terribly well), and I used further reference of the character herself to draw her face. The dress is out of my head, and that’s about it. But (and this is a very big ‘but’) I spent hours searching for The Right Photo to transform, and did everything I could to match what I had in my head - meaning, this pose, this drawing, was more or less in my head before I began, I would have done it from my imagination if I believed I had the skills to do it.
Here’s piece #2:
This second piece is, I’ll argue, creative in almost the same way, because here I started from my head again - the difference is that instead of searching for a photo to match it and draw from, I went out and shot the reference myself. I even went further than that, as I selected the models out of the pool of my acquaintances (based on how close their appearances were to the image in my head) and posed them myself, Frankenstein’d the mess together… and when I ran into issues with the figures’ gestures in the illustration, I shot more reference:
This is honestly what I would have done with the first piece if I’d had the means (aka, a camera), because there, again, I had the image in my head before anything else.
The level of reliance on my reference is pretty damn high across the board - high enough that until late this past year I resisted doing it for exactly the same reasons as many young artists do: it felt like cheating. But it’s not cheating, especially if you’re aiming specifically for realism, especially if you’re aiming specifically for a professional career.
And that’s the thing I think is the main reason that Dana and Aiffe’s argument/discussion isn’t meeting in the middle. Aiffe said, straight up, in her first post:
I DON’T OWE ANYONE ELSE QUALITY.
That is huge. I do owe others quality, because this is my chosen career, and Dana owes others quality for the exact same reason (if a different field). If you don’t, if you’re creating completely for yourself and anyone else enjoying the result is icing on the cake, then being free of that is a big factor in how you approach things like reference (at which point it comes down to preference).
Art done in that realm of only-for-me isn’t invalid at all - but at the same time, art done with other people in mind, and therefore referenced shouldn’t be invalidated, either, even if by something so subjective a judgement as ‘less creative’. More importantly, maybe even most importantly, young artists on either side shouldn’t be in a position to be ashamed of their inclination, whichever way that is.
As Aiffe said,
People tell me … that refs (and a number of other artistic techniques) will make my art better. They’re … certainly right about [that] (I know this because my art IS better quality when I use refs).
Reference does equal technical improvement, and for those for whom technical improvement is vital, it’s an incredible stumbling block to internalize the stigma against it.
And that’s my argument. (I’m not even sure if I have a thesis at this point.)
tl;dr: Shaming an artist - any artist - is damaging, the end.