It's funny. I remember when I first began going to art school I was real frustrated with my drawings because they were dead, stiff, and lifeless. Then I started noticing that the upper-classmen were taking reference pictures of each other, which they then based their drawings on. This caused a huge lightbulb to go off. Since then, and after reading everything I can get ahold of concerning Rockwell, I spend a considerable amount of time in the early stages of my work taking a ton of ref pictures and to doing as much research as time permits. The more time I spend getting the pose just right, and referencing the environment, the story-telling, lighting, composition, color, etc....the better the piece always turns out. It's just become part of the process now, one in which I enjoy, because it is at this stage the piece begins to come alive.

I took a few screen caps of some of my reference folders. The top one contains the three main photos I based my Street Fighter piece on. I was in a crunch for time, so I went online and found some great martial arts reference. As you can see, I deviated quite a bit from these photos, but they informed many of my marks. The 2nd image is my reference folder for the "kitchen" painting that I am working on. That's probably the most researched piece I've ever did. And the last image is what's on my computer now. I'm working on a new painting, and am trying to figure out one of the primary figure's pose. Most of the time, I can never get the pose just right in one shot, so I shoot details of the face, feet, hands, etc.. These are helpful because they give me a ton of options to add to the "base" pose. Usually the reference that I print out and work from, is a chopped up from many different photos, and is optimized for my purposes. And like Rockwell said, the photos should just inform your work. I really try not to merely copy the reference, but use it to enhance the world that I am creating in my illustration.

Hope this is interesting to some!? 



Nina Cox said...

A lot of people think that using photo reference is "cheating", and it's really cool to see a great artist talk about it and even share some of his own shots. Thank you for this post.

Andrew R. Wright said...

I love seeing other people's reference (how they pose, what they use, tricks etc.). I think Rockwell took it to an extreme (real human blood for example) but his finals are none the less amazing.

A fairly simple trick you may be able to employ is setting up a white sheet behind your model. That way you can make a distinct shape and not lose parts in the grays of furniture and what not. Plus I find it helps with focusing the camera.

Looking forward to seeing your thesis!!!

andreas schuster said...

yes it is!
thx for posting this, i have to start making a folder with pictures (one without naked females) too.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting ever, i take/search a lot of photos to make an illustration (i use my frinds like models :) ). And another interesting thing for me is to take photos in certain states of the painting, the alterations that camera makes are usually inspiring.

Saskia said...

I totally agree with you statements about the use of reference :)

logan said...

Thanks for such an open post Francis. It's refreshing to see someone as talented as yourself, talking about his 'secrets' in a humble and honest way.

Aren't the lengths that Rockwell went to in his photo shoots and reference building stages just exhausting? The level of work and time that he would put into one magazine cover is just absolutely staggering to me. The amount of drawing he would do before even getting to the full scale charcoal study is alone inspiring craftsmanship.

Your Street Fighter piece was just awesome and so much fun btw!

And best of luck as you wrap up graduation!

Lauren Moyer said...

nice capoeira picture

Alejandro Gonzalez said...

I never read the books I study from. I should start too. I bet I can learn a lot more. Great post. Probably one of the best!?

heckadude said...

Hi Francis, I enjoy your work and your blog.

Tho't you and others might enjoy this article:

Roberto Zaghi said...

First of all congrats for your art and your interesting blog. I think that digital cameras are a basic support for us for visul artists, especially if we are enough experienced in world of photography and if we also do a lot of life drawings to enhance our eye-brain-hand connection.
As a comic book artist I use tons of digital reference from various media, including videos. I often use the mirror also.
Btw this post reminds me of Ernest Hemingway's iceberg principle!

Francis Vallejo said...

nina: no problem!
andrew: good idea with the white sheet, so simple but makes so much sense, looking forward to seeing you guys!
andreas: hah yeah at some point I get away from the naked girls too
abey: yeah process photos are fun!
saskia: cheers!
logan: thanks! yeah Rockwell was a master of disaster with his process, I aspire to that.
Lauren: yes indeed, capoeira was great ref for that piece, hope things are well!
alejandro: yeah I used to look at the pictures but words are cool sometimes..hah
heckadude: thanks, that blog is one of my favorites!
Roberto: yeah the ref is a lifesaver! can you elaborate on the iceberg principle?

Tom Scholes said...

Real interesting dood.

jstarr said...

well said.

big fan of your work sir

Adult Braces said...

Dude, I just saw you are on SIDEBAR. Listening now. Congratulations. Didn't know you're a Detroiter as well. Keep up the great work man!

Paolo Rivera said...

I really enjoyed your interview on Sidebar today. Nice post too. I don't know where I'd be without my digital camera.

Also, I just started using Google's Picasa software for my photo reference. It's perfect for organizing mounds of reference, plus it doesn't mess around with the folders on your computer.

Smarty said...

Awe interview man, I'm a first year Illustration student in the UK. So some of the things you said really hit home with me. Especially with regard to taste in style and stuff. I'm catch myeslf doing this kind of emulation myself every now and again ,when I know I just need to have solid foundations. Alot of my peers seem to have taken this route with more contemporary styles.

I've also been studying alot from referance photography alot lately but havn't made the jump to shoot my own (no camera, would rather buy paint :0) So far its giving me alot of insights I often don't get a chance to see properly in real life. My CA sketchbook is here ,check me out and leave a quick crit if you have time.

Thanks dude, and keep it up! I'm subscribed to this blog now.

M said...

really enjoyed the sidebar interview.

that Russia thing sounds like it'll be pretty awesome - I hope you'll have internet there (haha, it sounds like it could be vaguely austere - like no internet, no tv, just painting 24/7)

pao said...

awesome work : )

Torei said...

Hey. Thanks for sharing. I manage to get a hold on the rockwell book last year when i drop by SDCC and i totally agree with you. The thing now is i'm still trying to inject this working method into my working system so i can push my art further. I realise hmm. using reference differ differently from artist to artist so i guess refering is actually a skill by itself too and by the way i really enjoy reading your blog. It's very insightful. Really appreciate the sharing of methods and info. :)

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