HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Welcome to 2012 …. the perfect time to discuss airbrush reference photos (you’ll see why in a second).
I few years back I went to an airbrushing class where the instructor stated that “In order to be a good artist, you must split your drawing into thirds. One third is drawing from a reference photo, the second is drawing from real life, and the third is to draw from your mind”
While this is excellent advice and I am sure that the intent was great … this ain’t ever gonna happen for me. I need reference photos. Every single piece I paint is based almost 100% of a photo or a collage of photos.
I would say that this is probably true of most beginners. Reference photos provide the much needed support that new artists need … they don’t move or shift, the light doesn’t change and they require no creative thinking. They are what they are. And that’s what beginners need. We NEED to use reference photos because we need to FOCUS on painting it right, not flattening a 3D view, or coming up with some vision in our minds. Our minds are busy trying to figure out the friggin airbrush!
Reference Photos: Where to Get Them
Today we are super lucky … we have the internet to get reference photos from. Anything you want to paint is just one google image search away. Technically, though, images that you find on google are more than likely copyrighted. That means if you are going to create a replica of that image with your airbrush you should find out who took the picture and get their permission to use it for your artwork.
Personally, I don’t take copyrighting too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the idea and the law … but I don’t get all ridiculous about it like some artists do. I basically use the following rules with respect to copyright:
1. If it’s just for me – that is, I am just practicing airbrushing – I don’t ask for permission.
2. If I am going to put it up on my website – that is, others will see it – I’ll give credit to the original photographer if I can find out who they are.
3. If I am going to sell it or make money off of it in anyway – I get permission.
(Interesting side note: Do you know Disney has a division of people that crack down on people selling “homemade” disney stuff!? For example, they sell Disney themed cake pans for kids birthdays but if you make a Disney themed cake and instead of using it for your personal use, you sell it …. they’ll come after you! That’s why you never see nice Disney cakes at the grocery store … just ones with licensed little plastic thingies on them).
My favourite internet source for airbrush reference images is Flickr. Mainly that’s for two reasons.
Creative Commons: I tend to use the images on this website and I want to be able to give people credit for their work (i.e. not for personal use). Flickr has a whole section of creative commons photos whereby the photographer has granted permission ahead of time for people to use their artwork anyway they like. Creative commons is a wonderful thing … much too complicated to explain here but here’s a link to Flickr’s Creative Commons Rules
Interesting Photos: There are some incredibly talented photographers on Flickr. There’s a trick to finding them though. When you do a search on Flickr, for say, cats, it will bring up every single photo tagged with the word “cats” – including the one Aunt Mavis took of the two cats doing it in the alley. The trick is to sort the searched photos by “interesting”. This brings up the best of the best photos.
Picture Quality: When I choose a photo for airbrushing, I want the best quality photo I can get and that doesn’t always happen with a google search. Flickr will let you download the photos in varying sizes and usually there is a VERY big one to get. I then send those away to Walmart for photo finishing and voila … I have a great reference.
THIS IS WHY IT BEING NEW YEARS IS RELEVANT!
I love love love using calendar photos as reference photos for airbrushing. They are usually HUGE photos, great quality and the subject matter is usually stunning. This time of year is the perfect time to go hunting for great calendars or just to keep your eyes open for free give aways.
At my local mall, they set up a temporary calendar store just before christmas, and after christmas, they sell all the calendars at WAY less. Since I am only interested in the photos, I’ll go snap up what ever is interesting and CHEAP. As for freebies, I’ve already lucked out once … my pet supply store was giving out calendars with puppies and kitties pictures (umm… totally my fave subject) so I snapped up a couple.
My mom powers through magazines like nobodies business, so whenever I go to visit I take all her old ones. Not only do I get to read the latest version of People, but typically there are a few good reference photos in there too. Most of the photo references I snag from magazines are beauty ads … lots of high detail eyes, faces and hands. These are especially great to use as airbrush references because they have already been airbrushed digitally once so there are no flaws in them!
I have a thing for books. I love them. I love going to the bookstore and just hanging out, flipping through all the books I wish I had an infinite amount of money to buy. While I am certain to buy a reading book every time I am at the bookstore, every so often I find a book chock full of photos that I can’t live without so I snap it up so I can use them as references.
There’s one flaw to this method though. I usually can’t stand to keep the pictures in the book … so I cut them out and then regret it something awful later. There something inhumane about chopping up a perfectly fine book
What about you?
Do you have a secret source for reference photos that you’ve been keeping to yourself? You should tell us in the comments below … there’s enough to go around.