In my opinion, the hardest references to find are ones concerning figure drawing for scenes and individual poses- odd angles, multiple subjects and especially those scenes where there is action going on, like a fight. What should you do? Where can you find copyright free references to use in your artworks? You can make your own – free. Here’s how:
Daz3D Studio– I’m putting this one top of the list because I think most people will find it the most appealing, and with good reason. The basic program and models are free. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of models, props and outfits in their store for you to purchase and add to your models and scenes. The models are beautiful. When working with the models setting up a scene they feel very lifelike- as if they actually had bones and muscles inside their bodies. Pretty cool. I admit having a limited knowledge of this program because it is a little overwhelming to use with all of it’s options. Basically I haven’t taken the time out to actually learn how to use it, so it is me being lazy. Overall I am very impressed with what I have seen and I really need to make a point to get more familiar.
Poser – At the moment this one is my favorite. This is the Poser 6 version. I got it as a gift years ago and it has served me well. While this software isn’t exactly free (various versions have various pricetags) it is easier to use than other programs. You can set up a scene and render it in minutes. Figures can be displayed as full or as boxes. I also like that the interface is drag and drop and the posing window can be resized. The only real downside is that the models are not as lifelike as the models in Daz3D Studio, at least in my version. The link I have provided will get you a free trial version of Poser 10.
Make Human – I have to admit that until I started researching for this article I had never heard of this program. I decided to go ahead and include it because it is a 100% free open source program. Should you be so inclined, you can code for it and make your own versions. I also am intrigued by other features, such as the sliders to change the race of your models. I’m curious to know if you can set up scenes with multiple models. I think it warrants further investigation.
Posemaniacs – This is not as customizable as Poser or Daz3D, however, there is an app that will allow you to use it on your smartphone. There is a huge library of poses that can be rotated 360 degrees. Sadly, this only applies to Y axis. It is free, although, you can make donations on the website. More poses are being developed.
When I was 15 I took my first art class in high school. To get in the class I had to present some of the work I had done on my own at home so the teacher could see where my skill level was at. I presented a large portrait of a musician in a band I liked. She praised my work. Then when the class started I was informed I was doing it all wrong. Up until that point I had always drawn things by gaging angles and distance. When we started doing portraits in class I was introduced to proportional grids. This is what we were taught. This is what we were expected to do. This is what we were being graded on. And on and on this went as a red thread in every art class I took, every book I bought for the next 27 years.
I’m not saying don’t learn this method. I’m saying learn it and break this rule as fast and often as possible. The late and great Andrew Loomis has a series of drawing books you can get as a free pdf download. Learn it, know it, do something else. Here’s why:
I drew the sketch above a few minutes ago. It is a very generic example of a face you can get drawing a proportional grid. The problem with drawing this way is that your brain switches to this mode of drawing symbolically instead of drawing what is really there. So you end up trying to draw the grid instead of your subject. Not to mention that unless you are a 20-40 year old white person of averge weight, your face won’t fit this grid anyway. I won’t even mention the part where it takes so much time to get the grid drawn, then you draw your portrait and getting it looking nice, then you have to ruin your drawing trying to erase your grid. Oh wait, I just did.
Young white women are the most common drawing subjects for portraits among beginners. Once you start branching away from that and learning to draw other ethnicities and age groups you realize their proportions range greatly. I don’t even have the same face I had 10 years ago. So what do we do to fix this problem? Learn to draw lights and darks.
Below are a series of sketches I did very quickly. I spent less than a minute on each. They are the first pass of blocking-in a portrait using techniques I learned from Jonathan Hardesty’s Essentials of Realism class. In this class we learned the best way to block in a portrait it to loosely measure your angles using areas of light and dark as a guide. So instead of drawing a face or an eye you draw the highlights and the shadows around it. Doing this allows you to block a portrait or entire scene in very quickly, then you make passes tightening it up. They may not look like much, but the thing I thought was really cool is that just by doing this you get the placement down lightening fast and already the sketches look like each other. This is very exciting for someone like me, who does sequential art and struggles with getting my characters to look the same in every frame. As an added bonus, you also start paying more attention to the value structure in your subjects. I won’t even mention the time saved not having to block in a stupid grid. Oh wait..
The next drawing I did of Marlene Dietrich. I did about 3 passes tightening things up. It’s easier, at first, to do subjects that have a lot of contrast in them. Start by drawing the shadow shapes. Group everything into dark. light and midtone. Let your darks and lights describe your forms. Remember to squint and let your color ranges group together. This takes practice but it’s very worth it. You are training yourself to see things differently. Once you get the hang of this then you can move to subjects with less contrast. In some cases the lessons you learned drawing constructively (using a grid to draw contours) will actually come in handy on subjects with few or no shadows on their faces. Still it is a good idea to think of drawing your subject by edge shapes, no matter how vague they may be, in order to keep your brain from drawing symbolically.
I wanted to point out that even though I used portraits as subject matter this method can be used to draw anything. I urge you to try it. If people aren’t your thing try a still life. I also urge you to check out Jonathan Hardesty’s class on Schoolism. If free is more in your budget or you want to get a preview of what to expect then you can check out his channel on Twitch.
This just in……
Adobe is running a contest for the next week to download a set of brushes and digitally copy Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. The reward is $6000 cash, but that’s not the best part. The best part is the brushes are FREE and created by none other than the magnificently genius illustrator/digital brush maker, Kyle T Webster.
If you are unfamiliar with Kyle T. Webster’s brushes I highly recommend heading over to his site and checking them out. I started out with a few from his sampler sets and then splashed out on the Mega Pack. And I’m not even a digital painter!
The super cool thing is Kyle is awesome enough to sell through Gumroad, so if you have a hard drive crash and lose all your stuff your brush library is safe forever. Just go to the site and download them again for free.
If you want to see the brushes in action check out this video:
Sometimes the hardest part about finding a good image, reference or texture is finding one that is not copyright protected. Here is a list of my favorite free sites and you can even use the images for your commercial work.
- morguefile.com – Creative commons site where images are donated “for creatives by creatives”. They boast over 350,000 images in their library.
- pixabay.com – All images and videos on Pixabay are released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0. You may download, modify, distribute, and use them royalty free for anything you like, even in commercial applications. Attribution is not required. They have a whopping 1M+ images in their library!
- unsplash.com – “Beautiful free photos gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers.” Creative commons zero license.
- freeforcommercialuse.net – This site is new to me. License is for images in the public domain.
- pexels.com – Simply, all images on pexels are under the Creative Commons Zero License. You can use them for any legal purpose.