What is a Reference Image

A reference image is a photo, sketch, or artwork on which the illustration you are submitting is directly based. If your illustration was created based on another image, you must attach the original as a reference image.

You must own the copyright to the original reference image. You cannot submit illustrations that are based on images to which you do not own the copyright, such as free images from the internet or public domain.

Reference for Art

Reference is not something you copy or claim as your own or use directly in your creations.

In the visual arts, using reference is the practice of discovering information in a photo and/or real-world object, person, or location. This information is used to give the artist better understanding of their subject and create a stronger sense of believability in the art that is being created.

The essential thing to understand is that reference in and of itself is harmless. It is nothing more than a source of information. Every artist, at one point or another, has used reference, either as a tool for study when learning or as a way to create more realism in original artwork. Even if you have never looked at anything but real-world subjects, you are still using references. 

Why Do Artists Use References?

We can’t remember every single detail of everything we have ever seen. If we only relied on our memory to create art, we would miss out on many important details that can bring depth and interest to our artwork.

When used correctly, reference bridges the gap between the limits of our memory and the believability we want to capture in our art.

Even if the intent is to create something very stylized or “unrealistic” there is still a valuable place for references. A photo or a real-world object will give you information that you use to inform your art, Even if you are being very selective about what information you choose to include, having more options is better than having less.

Filling the visual library. The most beneficial period of time to use reference is when you are learning new information. Using imagery or real-world observation to create a store of visual memory in your mind is almost a necessity. It simply isn’t possible to conjure every bit of information you will ever need for making art just by using your imagination. The images have to come from somewhere. You have to fill the visual library before you can make use of the information there and doing so requires study.

Creating a more convincing reality. You don’t have to be aiming for photorealism in your work to want the imagery to be convincing and believable. Using an image that depicts the conditions, textures, and effects you are striving for in a real-world setting can offer pieces of information you may otherwise have missed or imagined incorrectly.