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Photo references are a valuable tool for designing art, whether you’re a beginner or a professional. They can provide inspiration, help you better understand complex subjects, and improve your realism. Still, this tool can present some issues if not utilized correctly.
Follow along to learn how to effectively use references for your sketches, ensuring that your inspiration doesn’t prevent you from creating unique, original art.
The Benefits of References
When you are void of inspiration, references can be a lifesaver. Apps like Pinterest and Instagram offer a wide range of photos that capture beautiful landscapes, dynamic poses, and lively portraits. Some users take photos specifically for artist use, donning certain attire and holding makeshift props to inspire artists’ work.
Photo references can help you perfect the proportions and anatomy of your sketches. It is easy to fall into the habit of drawing from the same pose or angle every time, in the way that we typically perceive the world. References can depict more dynamic poses and angles, pushing you to analyze the proportions, practice techniques like foreshortening, and give your portfolio some variety.
Even further, references let you study lighting, textures, colour tones, reflections, shadows, and highlights that you might not typically encounter. The vast selection of possible references will allow you to try new, compelling compositions and techniques, hopefully sparking your creativity in the process. Variety in your collection of artwork will also make it easier to later market and sell your art.
Some Dangers of References
With these benefits in mind, it is important to be cautious when using references. While utilizing photo references can help enhance your skills in perception, anatomy, lighting and the like, overreliance can harm your ability to produce drawings from your imagination.
References should be used as a foundation for an artwork and a learning tool to build your understanding of these visual concepts. From there, it is important to practise these skills and work from your imagination when you are inspired.
References can also pose an issue surrounding copyright and the use of intellectual property, especially if you plan to sell your art. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what photos you can and cannot work from, for fear of someone recognizing your source image or getting caught up in a legal struggle.
The solution to ensuring you produce original art is simple. When using references, it is important that you add to them. You might take inspiration from two or three references and join them all in one drawing. Or, maybe you follow one reference’s anatomy and adapt the scenery, accessories, and character to your style.
As long as you have changed elements, your artwork should be safe. Besides, why would you want to completely copy an existing work anyway?
References are an important learning tool and mode of inspiration for both professionals and emerging artists, and using references properly isn’t a difficult task. As long as you appreciate the reference’s role in inspiring artwork and you are willing to take that inspiration a step further by yourself, you are on the right track to producing great artwork.
Created on: Feb. 21, 2024, 3:41 a.m.
The Women’s Art Association of Canada
Founded in 1887 by Mary Ella Dignam (above), the Women’s Art Association of Canada is a volunteer-led, not-for-profit organization comprising 230 members. Located in the historic Yorkville neighbourhood of Toronto in a house dating back to the 19th century, the WAAC houses two art galleries, the Dignam Gallery and the Ruth Upjohn Gallery.
The Dignam Gallery hosts four group exhibitions: community outreach exhibitions, signature exhibitions, scholarship exhibitions in the summer, and its residential artist exhibition in the fall. The Ruth Upjohn Gallery hosts both solo and group exhibitions.
As well as its art galleries, the WAAC hosts public art workshops and educational programs and provides various art scholarships to students.
Upper Canada Native Art Gallery
For over 30 years, the Upper Canada Native Art Gallery has worked intimately and directly with Indigenous artists across Canada. Specializing in Inuit and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) art, sculpture, and giftware, the Upper Canada Native Art Gallery holds a unique collection featuring Indigenous artists such as Frank Polson, Cyril Henry, Rebecca Maracle, and Manasie Akpaliapik.
Founded in 1976 by James and Inge Pataki, a classical musician and visual artist, Gallery 78 is the oldest private art gallery in New Brunswick.
The Patakis moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 1970 when James became a part of the Brunswick String Quartet at the University of New Brunswick. They opened an art gallery in their home at 78 Brunswick St., where they showcased paintings of many of their artist friends, including Bruno Bobak, Molly Lamb Bobak, and Joseph Plaskett.
In 1989, the Patakis purchased the historic Crocket House at 796 Queen St. and relocated the art gallery there, where it is also a studio space on the second floor for watercolour and egg tempera painter David McKay.
Gallery 78 hosts both significant solo and group exhibitions each month.
While Inge Pataki continues to advise the gallery, her daughter Germaine Pataki-Thériault and granddaughter Nikki run and promote the gallery, working closely with friends and family.
North End Gallery
Located on the Whitehorse Waterfront in the Yukon Territory, the North End Gallery houses Yukon artwork, Indigenous art and crafts, and fine gifts crafted by Canadian artisans.
North End Gallery represents Yukon artists who work in a variety of media. The paintings at the art gallery are inspired by the Territory’s breathtaking landscape, while the sculptures are crafted using natural, local materials such as mammoth ivory, moose and caribou antlers, and sheep and musk-ox horns. The jewelry at the gallery showcases Indigenous trade beads, gold nuggets, mammoth ivory, and hand-carved silver.
Featured artists at the North End Gallery include Halin de Repentigny, Richard Shorty, and Nathalie Parenteau.
Established in 2005, The Rooms houses over 10,000 pieces of art, ranging from historical to contemporary, and from international art to local folk art and craft works.
Located on the site where Fort Townshend once resided almost 250 years ago, The Rooms offers a gorgeous view of the city of St. John’s and its harbour.
The Rooms manages 3 Regional Museums, located in Grand Falls-Windsor, Grand Bank, and North West River in Labrador. The Rooms holds over 1 million natural history specimens and over 1 million artifacts.
The Rooms is also in charge of preserving and managing records of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and collects records from private sources.
Anne Chafe, CEO of The Rooms, states on their website: “As the province’s largest and most comprehensive cultural space it is our objective to create a venue which fosters meaningful and memorable visitor experiences that represent Newfoundland and Labrador to the world. Our responsibility is to our community, and to the cultural industries and artists we serve in building and supporting this community through exhibition, education, and public outreach.”
Created on: Feb. 14, 2024, 8:28 p.m.
There are varied definitions of activism, but at its core, activism involves different actions born from the desire to influence social, political, economic, or environmental status quo for a perceived greater good. Forms of activism include rallies, strikes, boycotts, petitioning, creating art, computer hacking, etc. Despite the need to affect change, most forms of activism hardly get the desired results. Strikes and boycotts in particular sometimes go overboard and push activists further from their goal. Emily Wilcox, in her thesis An Investigation of the Intersection between Art and Activism, notes that an art-based approach to activism is “a positive alternative because it stimulates empathy… necessary to achieve social and environmental justice.”
The fact that art is a peaceful alternative for activists doesn’t mean it is always permitted. Throughout history, artists have been threatened, arrested, and killed for creating art pieces that contradict the narratives of those in power. As such, censorship around freedom of expression – including artistic expression – limits activists’ ability to connect with like minds and seek change. Governments sometimes fear art’s ability to carry a narrative that differs from their own and influence the masses, which proves that when used strategically, art is a powerful tool for activism. Stephen Duncombe and Steve Lambert – founders of the Center for Artistic Activism – believe that activism moves the material world and creates Effect; while art appeals to our emotions and “generates Affect.” As such, the art community is important for advocacy and combining art with any form of activism can yield desirable outcomes.
Activists finance the creation of artworks around a specific event or protest for documentation and to share with people around the globe. Creating art for activism is a difficult task; it requires that aspects of reality and abstraction be present and appealing to viewers. If the art depicts just what society desires, it becomes boring, but, if it is too out of touch with society’s views, it might seem unrelatable. Art thus needs to strike the right balance between relatability and abstraction to maintain its impact and effect change. Activists use art to communicate in different ways including creating artworks of live protests or social events, creating artworks around specific political or socio-economic issues, or creating specific artworks for activists. Below are a few examples of artistic creations used by activists.
The internet contains a plethora of photographs, illustrations, and paintings of activists’ activities from around the world. By capturing these protests, activists expand their reach beyond their immediate environment. Below is a protest image by Nan Goldin & P.A.I.N. from 2019, titled ‘Die In at the V&A’,.The aim of this protest was to prevent the organizations from accepting donations and sponsorship from the creators of the addictive opioid painkiller OxyContin.
Artists sometimes decide to create works of art around social and or political issues that intrigue or affect them. Alabi Mayowa, among other members of the art community in Nigeria, used his digital illustration skills to send a message about Nigeria’s 2019 END SARS movement; its main aim was to fight against police brutality.
Activism sometimes requires the use of flags, posters, paintings, wall murals and other artistic creations. In some cases, artists may produce these materials for activists when requested, or as a personal gift to the cause. Below is an artwork of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement known as the “M” and “A” in Harlem, by Thomas Heath. You can find more photographs on BLM in this article by the New York Times.
There are thousands of protest artworks from around the world available on the art in protest website. Feel free to go through and share your thoughts in the comment section.
Created on: Feb. 7, 2024, 6:09 p.m.