As an artist, referencing is one of the most fundamental methods we have available to us. It is not copying, but using a subject or object as a guide.
When I was younger, as a beginner to art and someone who had never been taught it, I often used to copy and trace for practice. Then I slowly began to identify skills of my own which I had developed. Then for some reason, the idea of using references seemed like cheating to me. I have no idea when exactly that idea was put in my head. The thing is, I was still doing it – but in secret. Back then referencing was a major way I drew but my imagination was somewhat suppressed a lot of the time. So when I look back on some of my old artwork, I vividly remember not drawing from my own imagination but often leading people to believe I did. I’d often change a lot of things in the drawing to make it just about different so it couldn’t be recognised as the original reference. It was kind of dishonest and it’s sad I couldn’t see my own potential earlier.
The referencing I do now is mainly from photographs (mostly I try to use my own but obviously if I were drawing something like a tiger … well I do not connections or access like that lol). Referencing is SO USEFUL for accuracy and even imagination. It can help you defer from the normal boundaries of an object or subject hence forcing you to NOT draw exactly like the reference and stretch your skills further.
For more normal objects like ears and mouth expressions etc, I use a MIRROR. Yes! Having a mirror by your workspace can be a quick way to help you in drawing process of facial features.
In the illustration above, I used a total of three photographs to create the imagery. Two of which were from the actual movie Lawless and the third wasn’t. It wasn’t easy because although I had my references, imagination played a big part in the drawing. If you are using elements from three different sources, obviously imagination HAS to be used in order to bring it together and make it look right.
My advice is whatever you’re drawing or designing, maybe have some imagery as a point of reference to help you along the way. However do not heavily rely on them – your own creativity will complete the task.