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Artists DO Use References.

Updated: Oct 9

This post is to debunk the myth that artists just pull all their art straight out of their heads with no help. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started drawing in high school, its that it is OKAY to use reference!

If you’re unsure about how a pose is anatomically structured or need some ideas for clothing or hairstyles, you can simply find a google image or look to Instagram or Pinterest for help! YouTube has a plethora of tutorials as well. I keep a Google Doc on hand with the artist’s I follow, their handle, and an image of one of their artworks, that way if I’m going for a particular style, I have a quick document to refer to and can visit their Instagram page. You can check out my document here!


https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ri-usZKGm7c4YofRqX41bB0dYUslyWxxX5wMoKiX7kg/edit?usp=sharing


Every school subject has multiple written textbooks and ways to solve problems presented at hand. Artist portfolios are the equivalent of an art textbook. Sure, there are various books written on anatomy, color theory, painting techniques, etc. but the only way to understand your own style and develop it further is to look at others work and channel the inspiration from their art into your own.

@vittysartbox recently made a post I thought was incredibly insightful,

Please go check out her work, she is wonderful! https://www.instagram.com/vittysartbox/

A couple of years ago I had the chance to take an online drawing workshop with Steve Ahn, who has worked on Voltron, Legend of Kora, TMNT, Ben 10, and many other shows.

Storyboard for Voltron Legendary Defender — Steve Ahn

I believe it was about 12 weeks long. Students sent in their assignment for the week and he would critique them for us. One of the most repetitive comments he made was “use reference, even professional artists like myself still have to do this.” His style is largely based off the looks of Evangelion and Gundam! That was the turning point where I realized that its almost quite impossible to create something perfectly out of your head, especially if its something you don’t have a lot of practice drawing.


This is something I wish I was told when I started making my own art seriously. I still feel stubborn about seeking reference sometimes, but I realize I am a fairly new artist and still have quite a bit to learn! Don’t mistake references for copying. Referencing a photo simply means switching a pose of the picture slightly, exaggerating a figure, or even utilizing a photo’s color palette. I spent a lot of days in high school hyperrealisticly copying images, not realizing that I was limiting my artistic creativity and simply copying something that already existed.

I could not find the original owner of this photo.

Acrylic painting of the image above.

Ross Lynch done in graphite pencil.

When Instagram started becoming more popular, it was easier to find artists who’s style I wanted to recreate in my own works. Pernille Orum and Laia Lopez were huge inspirations starting out. I looked at how they drew eyes, strands of hair, the way they represented figures in their own styles.

Pernille Orum

Laia Lopez

Here’s one I did from 2017, and another quite recently in 2019.


Thank you for reading all the way through this post! I would like to apologize for my absence, balancing a blog with work and school is harder than I anticipated!


#illustrator #denverartist #steveahn #dva #artreference #meettheartist #pernilleorum #artblog #vittysartbox #itslopez

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© 2023 by Natalie Young. Proudly created with Wix.com. Illustration Portfolio.

Zesty Creatives is based out of Colorado.