My thoughts on photo-referencing: I don’t do it enough.

Either subconsciously or unthinkingly, over the past few years I’ve made it my mission to draw all my sequential work with no referencing at all. I don’t think this was due to any sort of cockiness, i.e., “I can draw this better than real life, so why bother looking at reference?,” but rather out of a genuine desire to just magically know how to be able to draw anything, always.

Of course that’s a lofty and unrealistic goal, and even now, about 6 years into drawing comics professionally, I still feel like an absolute beginner in most ways. Maybe that’s due to having studied fine arts rather than illustration or comics, and never having formally learned how pesky little things like perspective and pacing worked.

Anyway, the point is that now, I’m finally starting to admit that I may not just be able to come up with everything off the top of my head (though I certainly do try that approach, nine times out of ten). I remember something my friend and great influence Eric Canete said to me several years ago, when I asked him to look over my first set of substantive inked comic pages: “Is this supposed to be the inside of a car? I think it might be, because of the seatbelts, but why don’t you try looking at the inside of a car?”

Oh, ouch! But Eric really did have a great point. Observation is often the best teacher.

To that end, I’ve been using photo reference in about 10-20% of my panels on MARA, which is more than I’ve ever used before. Here’s an example of one of my most extreme instances of photo-referencing so far, from photographs, to thumbnails, to semi-finished inks. There’s my whole process.

Maybe some people still view photo-referencing as cheating, but more and more I view it as a kind of exciting evil. Sure, looking at a photograph isn’t as creatively “pure” as pulling something fully formed from your own mind, but if it helps you grow? Then I suppose I’m for it. I’ve been very preoccupied with bettering my craft and not painting myself into a rut through sheer stubbornness lately, so here you go. My confession. My name is Ming Doyle, and sometimes, I use other pictures to make my own pictures better!

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    All the great masters used references. it makes sense to get it right.
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