I’ve had a lot of aspiring comics artists ask me if I use very much reference and I’m slowly understanding what they’re really asking. I have folders and folders of reference so I can get things right—like a car, a time period…stuff like that. But what they’ve really wanted to know is if I use reference for poses.
And I occasionally do—though if I’m confused about something I usually pose in the mirror first to see if that helps. Mostly I just come up with the pose on my own, not that it’s easy…but it gets easier, the more you do it.
But I think what some people are REALLY asking is whether I copy a pose—like either trace or draw it at the exact angle or whatever. That answer is pretty much “no.” Not unless I created the photo myself for the express purpose of drawing it at that angle. Even then, it’s nowhere near a straight copy.
Why am I asked this? I’ve only recently realized this is what a lot of amateurs do. Like I was always confused why their work would seem so inconsistent. But what it really is, is they find some cool pose and just copy it, because it’ll look better than what they come up with on their own. So some poses look amazing, leaving everything else to look much worse.
These artists are better at copying than drawing. I’ve always been better at copying, too. It’s an interesting talent: you get a lot of attention from it and it makes you avoid getting better as an artist by working on the things that aren’t your strengths. I should know; I didn’t try to actually learn to draw until I was 23.
Here’s what I suggest: when you use a pose for reference, don’t draw it at the same angle—change it up. I know a lot of these artists are GREAT at figure drawing—if you do figure drawing, try turning the subject around on your paper as an exercise. If they are facing you, create the drawing as if you see them from the side or from behind.
Because “drawing from life” only helps if you’re actually processing and interpreting life. It is possible to copy something and still not learn from it.
When you draw something in a comic, make the reference serve the story, NOT the other way around. I always try to draw something before I consult reference.
In the above panel, Brandon called for a “crouching slide,” one that “only a supercop in an action movie would take.” I could see something fuzzy in my mind, but I’m not an active person and wasn’t sure how the mechanics would work. So I started making chicken scratches to brainstorm what I was seeing. Then I looked online, but couldn’t find a great search term. So I returned to the thumbnail and just composed it as best I could, and it turned out fine.
When I went in to draw the final page, I remembered there was some version of what I wanted in a “Mall Cop” trailer and sure enough, I found my ref!
But notice that it’s flipped, the angle is different, and the body types are totally different. This is what I’m saying—I’m processing what is physically happening instead of copying the lines. Even though he’s large, I can tell his torso is slightly bent, and I know what position his legs and head are in. And I process that accordingly.
After I found this, I also found videos of baseball slides, which is what I should’ve originally searched for. So the pose ends up being a combination of all I’ve soaked in, plus my own personal choices.