References and reference boards are the starting point for any visual designing work. They are essential visual guides for artists to achieve wanted results. At the end of the lesson, we will gather references and assemble the reference board for the main assignment of this course.
Artists of various fields use references to make their art more believable instead of just relying on their memory and perception of things.
Let's start this lesson with a small and fun exercise. Pick a pen and paper or start your drawing software. Now, without looking at any references, draw a bicycle as correctly as you can. Not so easy, right?
Especially the bike's frame is quite challenging. Next, draw an ant as anatomically correctly as possible. We have seen those crawling around and maybe held some, but how many legs did they have, and how are they attached to the body? That’s more difficult.
When you are done, check out the flashcards below to see how close you got.
This was a simple explanation of why artists should use references. Our capability to remember visual images is limited and imperfect. You can memorize a bicycle or an ant by practicing and studying them for hours. Unfortunately, the brain limits visual memories in order to function economically and prevent overloading and cluttering of memories.
Copying references is not a good idea, but you should still study them to understand how things act and interact with other objects. For example, how folds act on a dress when it's windy or the structure of an airplane.
When searching for references, don't settle for just a few. Gather multiple references, no matter if it's a same kind of pose or a lighting set-up. Having a good number of references makes it possible to have more flexible resources to use. Some references might have just the right pose for the rest of the body, except for the hands, so those can be referenced from other resources and the colors from a sunset you saw yesterday.
Sites like Pinterest are full of great images, but it's good to keep in mind the copyrights. Try finding copyright-free images or consider purchasing stock photos. The safest way to use images is that the references can't be recognized from the final artwork.
Don't forget that you can create your own references. Currently, most of us have a smartphone, so taking pictures is easy and quick. References aren't only photos; they can be everything that gives a better understanding of the subject. A rock from your backyard is a reference, a pet cat is a reference, everything you see and observe, if it serves its purpose, is a reference.
For some reason, a common misconception states that using references is disrespectful and a true artist should be able to draw everything from the memory and references are only for learning.
This, however, isn't true. References have been used for as long as art has been made. The old masters had live models, artists take photos to use later, and many gather from multiple sources to create new and unique assets.
Reference boards are meant for gathering references into one collection. Images, fonts, colors, anything that is useable as a reference, and what the final art piece will be built upon. The collection of resource material defines the guidelines and the rules you are going to follow during the process.
Reference boards are also a way of communicating with others as images tell more than just words, especially if you are working in the entertainment industry. Communicating the overall style that a game should have, is essential information for the artists to make the game look cohesive and united.
Sometimes you may hear term moodboards used in the same context. However, moodboards can also be more about the mood that the final image aims to have.
This course aims to help you create a 2D character. The first thing is to start gathering references and constructing the reference board.
You can choose from two themes: fantasy or sci-fi. Fantasy is often more historical and sci-fi has futuristic elements, but you can expand your theme even more during the designing process.
Spend a small moment on designing your character’s basics; sci-fi or fantasy, gender, profession, items… The final identity forms during the process, so don't stress about the details yet.
Write down a small description of your character. It will act as a base to start the design. Write few sentences or, if you are inspired, why not write even a few pages.
Our hero is a knight. Her name is Shoshanna Terrowin, age 43. She is the second command of the King's Guard. She is passionate about her duty and will defend the King fiercely. She carries a broad sword and uses the gauntlets to defend herself from any attacks.
Here are a few things that guided creating the reference board for the demo assignment:
As seen from the reference board, the images are set in small groups. The group on the top right has overall images of armors and next to it on the left are ornamental pieces for the armor. Gloves and boots have their own groups and the sword of course will be added for the paladin. This is only a bare minimum of references but is still enough to give a starting point.
All right, now we have foundations for the assignment. In the next chapter, we’ll finally start designing!