Laura McKendry shares tips and techniques for taking references from photos and videos to create art inspired by nature
Laura McKendry (@laura_mckendry) is an educator and illustrator who has developed an approach founded on curiosity and experimentation. Her creations have been licensed worldwide for book covers, gift-wrap, homeware, fabric, greetings cards, and more, working with clients such as Waterstones, John Lewis, Laura Ashley, Woodmansterne, and Profile Books.
Inspired by the natural world, she looks to what she says makes life fascinating, beautiful, and delicious: fruit, herbs, wild animals, the sea, the changing seasons, and much more. She works mostly in watercolor, ink, charcoal, and colored pencils.
In this blog post, Laura lists her dos and don'ts for taking references from photos and videos to create art inspired by nature. While drawing from photos and videos should never replace drawing from real life, if the latter isn’t possible–or you want to use additional references–then photos and videos can serve to help you fully understand your subject, the way it moves, its behavior, and its habitat.
Prioritize drawing from real life
If you can experience the sights, sounds, smells, and the overall atmosphere of your subject’s habitat in the flesh, then do! Not only will this sensory overload take your creativity to new levels, it will also mean that you can determine the perspective–reference images are limited to the camera angles that their authors chose to shoot from.
Use alternative search terms
Try using Latin names and different languages when conducting your search online, as this will help you arrive at different search results. If every artist looking for reference material uses the same search terms, they’ll all end up recreating the same images.
Draw from a moving video
Start by drawing from a moving video to loosen your hand. You won’t create a realistic drawing, but this exercise will help you to understand the movements and behavior of your subject.
Use multiple references at once
Take a full page of search results, and without looking at any one reference image too closely, spend 15 seconds sketching each drawing. Using multiple reference images will push you to recreate a range of postures and angles.
Draw from a distance
Try drawing from a distance! Position your reference image away from you but close enough that you can still see it.
Don’t make an exact copy
Experiment! This will make the final image more interesting and will ensure that your work is 100% original. It will also prevent you from running into any copyright issues. To do this, you could use a less controllable tool than a pencil (or use a controllable tool in an irregular way); work quickly and loosely; try drawing with the wrong hand; or edit elements and make your own changes to the photo as you draw.
Don’t rely on just one photo
Don’t rely on just one reference image. Find multiple photos or use a video that shows your subject from different angles and perspectives.
Don’t look at what you’re drawing!
Try it! This exercise might surprise you.