I often find myself sitting at my desk with every intention of drawing, only to find that once I’ve opened my sketchbook my mind goes blank and I am unsure where to begin. Over time I have built up a variety of sources for reference images which I use to get out of a creative rut and start drawing in my sketchbook. These sources can provide the perfect inspiration for a drawing and can be the boost I need to get out of a creative rut. I’ve listed my five favourite sources to find ideas for your next drawing below:
Social media offers a great source of reference images for drawing. There are many social media platforms online to choose from – Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook to name a few – but I’ve listed my personal favourites and how I use them below.
Pinterest is a great resource for artists as you can quickly search for any topic and immediately find hundreds of relevant images. I find the search function particularly useful when I am trying out a new or unusual idea which I have not created a Board for.
For subjects which you like to draw regularly, you can create Boards to collect images you might like to use in future drawings. Some of my Pinterest Boards are shown above – I collect images of fossils, portraits, hands and watercolours to use as inspiration. If you enjoy drawing any subject in particular (or if you are looking to improve your drawings of a particular object) then I highly recommend curating a Pinterest board for future reference.
Instagram is good for drawing inspiration as the images are usually specifically created to be visually appealing. Instagram is similar to Pinterest in that you can search for particular images using hashtags – as you will see from the image above a quick search for #landscapepaintings brought up over a million images! Similarly to Pinterest, if you find an image that you like, it is possible to save it to your Instagram account for future reference.
It is helpful to create a habit of photographing sights and places that you think would be interesting to draw. By doing so, if you are stuck for inspiration at a later date you can simply scroll through your camera roll to find a suitable reference image. It doesn’t necessarily need to involve a high-spec camera – any smartphone camera could be used to capture your reference images. If you intend to sell or monetise your drawings then it is especially useful to utilise your own camera roll to ensure that your drawing is unique. If you see something you think would be interesting to draw at some point in the future, always take a picture!
Subject Specific Reference Books
Reference books based on topics of interest to you can also be a useful starting point for your drawings. Reference books are available for most topics, from fashion to nature. I particularly enjoy using photography books for drawing references as they are designed to contain high quality images, but you could really use any book containing images. I have a varied collection of reference books, but some of my favourites are listed below:
It can also be helpful to look to other artists for inspiration. Using your sketchbook to create studies of other artists can help you to learn and develop your technique. For example, if you are looking to improve your watercolour painting, then studying Monet is a fantastic place to start. I personally enjoy creating studies of paintings by Monet*, Van Gogh* and Klimt* – each artist has their own unique style which it is fun to try and capture.
Last but not least, sometimes the best way to find something to draw is to get outside and simply draw what you see. This is slightly more challenging than using static reference images as mentioned above, as you will need to capture the scene on location. Drawing from real life allows you to practice capturing an image quickly (particularly if you are sketching people/street scenes) which is a great skill. There is so much inspiration to be found outside – be it a quirky tree in your local park, a pretty building on a side street, or an interesting person sat in a coffee shop – you are sure to find something to draw.
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