The steps I take with a reference image before starting a drawing

ABOVE: Left = reference image Right = My finished drawing

I use reference images a lot when I am drawing. I think a lot of artists do this so they can get all the proportions right.

I always get my reference images from Royalty free photos sites and the ones I use the most are as follows.





These sites let you collect your favourite images into collections. So I have some saved into different categories such as, animals, hairstyles, faces, etc.

Once I have downloaded my image there are a few steps that I take before I am ready to start drawing.

STEP 1/ Download

As soon as I have downloaded an image to my memory stick, I open it up on my laptop and start to edit it. The only edit options I tend to use are the brightness if the image needs brightening up a bit, the colour pop if the image needs a bit more oomph and the contrast to see the darks and the lights better. Once I have made all the necessary changes I save it and move on to the next step.

STEP 2/ Print

When I print my image, I make sure the size is right for the size of drawing that I am doing. I print a colour copy and a black and white copy. The black and white copy is just for identifying the tonal values and the colour one is to choose the right colours and to refer to it while I am drawing and adding colour. Then I move on to the next step.

STEP 3/ Identifying colour

This is the step that enables me to choose the right colours that I will need for my drawing. I have made colour swatches of all my coloured pencils because it makes it easier to colour match from a reference photo.

For example: say I am drawing brown hair. I will place the reference image next to the colour swatches I have of my browns and colour match about two light tones, two mid tones and two dark tones. I will look for any other colours that show up on the image and colour match them. I then keep all the colours I will be using in a tumbler next to me and all the other colours get put away. This way I am not tempted to add too many colours or cause me to be too overwhelmed with a large colour choice. I also have a black and a white colour just in case.

STEP 4/ Sketching

Sometimes I will sketch free hand by looking at the reference image and drawing what I see. Other times I will use my lightbox to trace around the outline. I try to be as light as possible because I don’t want the pencil to show through the colours.

STEP 5/ Lightening the sketch

Just before I start putting the colour down, I will lighten the sketch with my kneadable eraser to lighten the pencil sketch. I try to get it as light as possible so as not to allow the pencil to show through the final drawing.

STEP 6/ Section by section

Now I am able to start my drawing by shading a small section at a time. Working section by section makes it so much easier and lessens the overwhelm.

I hope that you found this blog post helpful. If you would like more hints and tips as a coloured pencil artist, then come and join us over on Facebook in my free group.


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