TRSE: How To Draw Tutorials:
Reference for Reference
How to use other peopleís art to improve your own
© 2009 Kitty Ocean  &

        First of all, I donít encourage stealing or copying someone elseís work. People spend a lot of time on their work and that should be respected. Donít copy someone elseís work and claim full credit. Give credit where credit is due and remember, if you donít want something to happen to yourself, donít do it to another! When in doubt: ask the original artist; they appreciate that and they will be (most of the time anyway) most willing to help wherever they can!
1. You just started out drawingÖ

You read an awesome manga/comic/whatever and decided to draw something just as cool. Maybe even some fanart! But where to start? You have a blank piece of paper, you have a pencil (maybe even two!) and an eraser. What more do you need?

How about some inspiration?

Not everyone is blessed with an automatic character-creator inside their brains. And even if you do, then what? Letís say, you like Sailor Moon so much, that you want to create your own Sailor Senshi. Sheís is the daughter of ChibiUsa and Helios and instead of pink hair, she has purple hair. Her odango (= those buns) are star-shaped and her fuku (= uniform) colours are blue and green (why not?).

You then have a few options:

    * You take a Sailor Moon drawing (letís say, an anime screenshot) and you trace it; editing where it is needed.
          o Pro: Easy and fast. You get a nice result within a few minutes and you know how things will look; combined. Effort needed: not much. Eventually you will be able to draw on your own in this style, but mistakes will be made a lot, because you donít learn about anatomy.
          o Con: You donít really draw yourself. You donít know where the eyes need to go, how long arms need to be. You donít learn much from it.
          o Other peopleís views: People know it when you trace. Itís quite easily identifiable and youíll get little respect. I donít recommend posting this work online. If you do want to post it online, do give credit to the original artist. This is a must do! If you can contact the artist, ask him or her before posting this online. Most artists donít appreciate their work being traced; after all, you are editing their work without their permission.
          o My recommendations: If you do this, donít post it online. Also, donít make this your only way of drawing. Learn it for yourself. People will like you, way more if you draw yourself ^_^

    * You take a Sailor Moon drawing (again, a screenshot) and draw a stick-figure over it. This way you know where the arm goes, how long the legs need to beÖ aka: reference material!
          o Pro: You actually draw the image yourself, so it will always be different. People often recognise poses though and some people think copying poses is just as bad as tracing. However, if you donít have a model living with you, this is a great way to understand the basics of the human body! Effort needed: not that much.
          o Con: You donít learn much about anatomy, because some artists have odd proportions (for example: CLAMP).
          o Other peopleís view: Some people say copying a pose is just as bad as tracing. However: what pose has yet to be drawn? Not only that: especially beginning artists donít always have an idea for a pose. Using a reference helps a lot.
          o My recommendations: Personally, I donít see the problem with taking a pose for reference. I donít copy the pose exactly, but it helps me find out how far a leg should be able to bend etc. In the past, I used pose-references a lot, but nowadays I make up my own poses more and more.

    * You take a Sailor Moon drawing, so you can see what items a fuku should have. Thatís all you use it for.
          o Pro: You draw everything yourself, from pose to fuku. Especially when you are a beginning artist, this can be quite discouraging. You need to put a lot of time and effort in this. However, if you do this: good for you! Keep on doing this!
          o Con: You have to keep proportions in mind, as well as the folds of clothes. In the beginning it will most likely look crappy (unless you are super awesome, of course, and that you are perfect from the start) and it can discourage you a lot. But practise makes perfect!
          o Other peopleís views: People applaud this (or at least, they should!).
          o My recommendations: Keep on doing this! Two thumbs up!

Those are the three options you have, that is, if you decide to use someone elseís art/story. If you want to make everything up yourself (story, characters, etc) then you can still use the pose as a reference.

A lot of people use references, being it live models, stock images or drawings by other people. Even popular Manga-ka do it when they are in a pinch! (Though they often have assistants who strike a pose for them ^_^í)

2. You drew quite a while nowÖ

So, youíve been drawing for what, two years now? Thatís wonderful! Keep on going, no matter what people say. My teachers in High School often said to me I couldnít draw and that I should quit drawing (nice, eh?), but I kept on going ^_^. Practise makes perfect!

Anyway, letís take a look at your styleÖ Letís say you continued with your ĎDaughter of ChibiUsaí (a.k.a. ĎRinií to some) concept. Weíll name her ĎTsukino Mitsukií (= Beautiful Moon of the Moon), a.k.a. ĎSailor Neo Mooní. You made a regular Senshi (= Warrior/ Sailor Scout) outfit, a Super outfit and even an Eternal Outfit.

Because you wanted to be original, the bow of her Super outfit has bells on the bottom and the wings of her Eternal outfit are dragonfly-wings. Just because you wanted it. Other than thatÖ

Öhold onÖ

She really looks a lot like Sailor Moon, doesnít she? I mean, the eyes, the hair, the proportionsÖ Only now you realise that if you change some colours, sheís a dead ringer for Sailor Moon.

While itís admirable you managed to copy the Ďofficialí Sailor Moon style, itís only handy if you want to be an animator on the Sailor Moon series. You again have a few options:

    * You keep the style. So what that itís Sailor Moon style? Itís a cool style! Besides, itís a Sailor Senshi!
          o Pro: You donít have to think about how the eyes should look, how to do the hairÖ there isnít much creativity, now is there?
          o Con: You managed to copy someone elseís style. Where is the Ďyouí in Ďyour artworkí?
          o Other peopleís views: People often say they like your art, because it looks good, but people rather see original styles. In the world of Sailor Moon, the ones with different styles stand out! Get the attention you deserve and become original!
          o My recommendation: Look at the style you have now and try to find out what you like and dislike. Think the legs are too long? Shorten them. Think the eyes need to be bigger? Sure, why not! Try to be an original, instead of a copy. You are an original too, so why not your work?

    * You keep some of the style, but adapt it to your needs.
          o Pro: Itís recognisable where your love lies and you donít need to do much to change. Time does the rest.
          o Con: People will keep on linking it to Sailor Moon and you still donít have a style for yourself.
          o Other peopleís views: People will link it to Sailor Moon, but like your art more, because itís starting to be original. And if they donít: their problem. Itís your work, not theirs; it should stay like that!
          o My recommendation: Good work! Keep on doing that! The more you draw, the more the style will change :). Soon people will be able to recognise your art from a pile of fanarts (which is handy, in case of thieves ¬¬)

    * You throw the entire style overboard and create your own.
          o Pro: Your work, your style, your rules. You will be truly unique!
          o Con: Some people will use their style as an excuse against critique. ĎThe legs are too shortí Ė ĎYeah well, thatís my style!í. ĎThe eyes are outside the face.í Ė ĎBut thatís my style!í.
          o Other peopleís views: Some people dislike original styles and it attracts less viewers. There is no fanbase, so people will find your art less easier. However, most people are quite positive about this!
          o My recommendation: Donít forget about anatomy! But that is about all I have to say, because you are on the right track!

And what about the poses? Or other peopleís work? An artist is also an Observer: they look at the world around them and learn from it. Letís say you really like the eyes from Tenchi Muyo, but the anatomy from Sailor Moon and the hairstyle from Ojamajo Doremi. You can combine those and make it work together, until you have something that doesnít look like a hybrid bride of Frankensteinís son.

If you do such a thing and keep on drawing it yourself, you will eventually create your own style. Youíve used someone elseís work as a reference then; a starting point to create your own.

Is such a thing bad?



Because you have to be really amazing to make something up that hasnít been made up before. Everyone had influences and artists their admire. Itís only logical you can find back traces of the artists you admire. Some people tell me that Winx Club is the inspiration (sometimes even claiming I stole the style!) for my work, while Iíve been perfecting my style since 1999 (way before Winx Club was on TV). My major influences are: Elfquest, Pokémon and Sailor Moon and the Elfquest influence is quite notable.

3. Ten years laterÖ

So, youíre ten years later. You are now the best artist ever and donít have anything left to learn any more. Your work is simply perfect!

If you think that, please let me introduce you to reality. An artist is never done learning! If your style is perfect, you still have to think about learning how to work with different media. Pencils, Computer, Watercolours, Acrylics, Ink, Crayons, MarkersÖ the world of art is so big!

No matter how good you draw, there will always be flaws in your work. The reason is simple: you are human (if you are notÖ then okay, you can be perfect).

However, after ten years, some other people expect you to be perfect. They expect you to make everything up yourself and that other Artists are now rivals, instead of (sometimes without their knowing) teachers. Still, itís best you keep on looking at other peopleís work to become even better. How do they shade? How do they draw those annoying toes? How do they handle perspective?

Even poses can still be used, but after ten years, without you probably realising, you will be using less and less references. You can do it on your own now! ^_^v

4. Arenít references for cheaters?

In my opinion, references arenít cheating. References are just that: finding out how a pose works and most of the time: inspiration. No matter how good you are, you canít make up new poses and drawings every day. As long as you keep on using it for reference and just that, no one should think it is cheating.

If you wish, you can give credit.

5. How about you?

When I began drawing, about ten years ago, I started gathering official art from Anime/Manga I liked, printing them out and posting them in a binder. Thatís my reference and inspiration book. If Iím stuck with a drawing, not knowing where that darn foot should be, I can take that book and look at how others have done it. Since I donít have an assistant, this is all I have to find the mistakes myself.

Once in a while, I also have an Art Block. I can still draw, but Iím never satisfied. I then sometimes take my ĎR&Ií book and flip through it. The pose I usually pick looks nothing like the end result, but the Art Block is crumbling down then.

I still gather reference images; usually Resin Models (those awesome Anime Figurines/Statues/Models) or Action Figurines. To promote that figurine, they usually make photoís all around the figurine, as well as close-ups. That way I know how a certain pose looks from the left or the right.

While I still gather images, I use them less and less. I mostly use them for inspiration; to kick myself into drawing again. We all have different ways to help ourselves improve. We all have our specialties. Some specialise in pencil works, some specialise in digital work. Some specialise in editing Colouring Blanks, others evolve into amazing Manga-ka.

References are not bad, as long as they stay references and donít dominate your work. We are all unique. We should be proud of what we are achieving; letís show our pride through our work!