Friday, May 17, 2013

Using Reference Photos for Your Graphic Novel

While creating art for a graphic novel, the artist has to know how to create an entire environment. There's trees, cars, buildings, parking lots, kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, schools, bus stations...the list never ends. Being in such a position, it's easy for the artist to start thinking that they have to know how to draw EVERYTHING from memory.

Well, guess what? If you're an artist, you don't have to know everything. That's what references are for.

Reference pictures are great because not only do they make drawing unfamiliar objects and poses easier, but looking at different designs of the same object can help add personality to objects and atmosphere to a graphic novel.

*Important!* One thing to keep in mind about reference photos is that they are for reference. When students write research papers, they use references, but the paper is their own. The same thing applies to reference photos. Use them to research how your drawings should look and to grow ideas. But make sure that in the end, the work is your own and not a copy.

Where To Find Good Reference Photos

When finding references, I try to stick with photographs. I want to see what an object really looks like so I can interpret it through my own art style. If I used other drawings for reference, I run the risk of copying the style of that artist, and that's not the result I want.

Here is a list of some places that I've found to be good sources of photo references.


Magazines have big, glossy, colorful pictures, and models with attention grabbing poses. I create manga, so I really like looking at Japanese fashion magazines. The outfits in these magazines are a bit more creative than the outfits in the typical teen fashion magazine in the U.S., especially when it comes to clothes for guys. Try to find magazines that have pictures that cater to the style of your graphic novel. Also, since the main characters of my novels are usually teenagers, I like getting pictures from teen magazines as well.

Another thing about magazines, especially fashion magazines, is the power of the advertisements and the poses of the models. Looking at color schemes, lighting, and poses has helped me figure out what to draw for the many different volume covers I had to make for my graphic novel. The ads are designed to get attention. Use those elements to create attention grabbing covers.

Hardware/Home Improvement Stores

Next time you go to Lowe's or Home Depot, stop by the paint section and pick up a bunch of different painting brochures. They have great pictures of bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and any other rooms in the house. The rooms in these brochures often have their own style and personality which could be used to plan the living space for the characters in your graphic novel. The angles that the rooms are shot in gives a nice wide view of them--this is a camera angle that can be copied when showing rooms in your graphic novel. And an extra benefit is that none of these pictures have people in them, so no parts of the room are hidden.

Also while you're taking advantage of the free brochures at the home improvement store, you may also want to purchase a house plan book or magazine. If you create manga with black and white pages, definitely look for house plan magazines with black and white artist renderings of houses on the inside. Architects are masters at drawing houses, and I've learned a lot from looking at these books--from doing realistic windows to shingles and side paneling.

Catalogs and Sales Papers

Catalogs are also a good source for seeing how to draw everyday items. Not exactly sure how to draw a convincing coffee machine or luggage set? Look in a catalog. These books make it easy to see how each item has its own design. It's easy to start drawing all objects the same way when in reality, they really aren't the same.

One of my favorite catalogs is the Ikea catalog. Their furniture is very simple and easy to draw, but they also give rooms a very modern look.
 Imagine an introduction panel like this for a book loving character. Their room would say a lot.

Sales papers are also good for looking at miscellaneous items.

I keep all of my paper clippings in a folder. When I'm looking for something to draw, but I don't know what (for example, I want to draw a room, but I have no clue what it should look like), I usually turn to this folder. However, when I'm looking for a specific thing, I go to this next resource:

The Internet

The Internet works the best when you know what you're looking for. In my next manga, two of the characters are guitar players. I did a Google picture search on guitar players and got all the help I needed.  Looking for references online can be a bit overwhelming due to the variety. Also, you don't want to lose the picture you've searched so long and hard for. Programs like Evernote and One Note are great for clipping pictures from websites and saving them in an organized way.

So those are all of the resources that I can think of for reference pictures. Do you have any particular places where you like to find references?

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