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How To Stop Relying On References To Draw

References are awesome to use when drawing! But are you relying on them too much to draw?

To stop relying on references to draw, start by building a visual library.

Sketch and break various subjects into basic shapes, observing real life and different art styles.

Don’t completely abandon references: they’re excellent for understanding complex subjects and adding depth.

Balance practice and creativity to enhance visual memory and draw confidently without relying on references.

Keep reading for more examples and tips!

Build A Visual Library First

cartoon character using their visual library of flowers to rely less on references to draw

Building a visual library first lets you more easily recall details of what you want to draw.

As an artist, you won’t always have to rely on a reference image to create your work.

Start by observing and sketching various subjects around you—people, objects, nature—anything that catches your eye.

This practice helps you learn how to draw and internalize different shapestextures, and perspectives.

Diversify your sources to build a robust visual library.

Look at real-life subjects and different art styles.

Studying masterpieces or figure photos can provide invaluable insights into anatomy, proportions, and composition.

The goal is to store these visual elements in your memory so you can draw something from imagination with greater accuracy.

27 Art References and Resources - The best resources for artists around the web and offline.

Don’t just copy what you see; analyze and understand it.

Break down complex forms into basic shapes, and practice repeatedly until recalling and drawing them becomes second nature.

This approach nurtures your ability to create original art without the crutch of a reference image.

Draw More Of What Interests You

When you draw more of what interests you, you’ll find it easier to memorize the shapes and details of your favorite subjects.

Whether it’s anime, TV shows, movies, games, original characters, or animals, focusing on what you love naturally engages you more deeply and accelerates the learning process.

Start by identifying the subjects that genuinely excite you.

Different types of Fantasy Elf Ears, like super long and Pointy.

This intrinsic motivation will keep you coming back to your sketchpad with enthusiasm.

Try to break down complex shapes into simpler forms.

This helps in understanding the underlying structure, making it easier to recreate from memory.

For example, if you enjoy drawing anime characters, notice how their eyes, hair, and expressions are constructed.

The same goes for any subject; studying their shapes closely helps you internalize them.

Additionally, repeatedly drawing what interests you builds a mental library of shapes and forms, enabling you to draw more confidently without needing constant references.

This practice enhances your visual memory and aids in developing a unique style.

Understand Construction And Anatomy

Mastering construction and anatomy is essential for drawing with confidence and minimizing reliance on references.

To start, focus on understanding the basic construction of the human body.

Break it down into simple shapes like spheres, cylinders, and cubes.

break down the reference image into different shapes to understand anatomy and stop relying on references

This helps you create a solid base for your drawings, making it easier to draw without references.

Next, dive deep into studying anatomy.

Learn the major muscle groups, bone structures, and how they interact.

This knowledge allows you to draw the human body accurately from memory, enhancing your innovation ability. 

Practice sketching different body parts from various angles to internalize their forms and proportions.

As you become proficient in construction and anatomy, you’ll find drawing complex poses and figures easier without a reference.

This not only boosts your creativity but also your confidence as an artist.

Try Starting Without Reference Photos

Instead of starting with reference photos, challenge yourself to sketch from your imagination to boost creativity and confidence.

When you start drawing without using reference images, you push the boundaries of your creative abilities.

Begin by imagining a simple scene or character.

simple drawing of a base character model

Visualize the details in your mind and let your hand translate those thoughts onto paper.

To build this skill, start with basic shapes and forms.

Think about the fundamental structure of what you want to draw.

For instance, if you’re drawing a person, break it down into circles and lines to represent the head, torso, and limbs.

This method helps to solidify your understanding of anatomy and proportion.

Don’t worry about perfection.

The goal is to train your brain to visualize and create without relying on reference images.

drawing of an arm bending showing muscle

Over time, this practice will help you build a robust visual memory.

Use your imagination to fill in the gaps and make creative choices.

As you continue to practice, your drawings will become more dynamic and original, setting the foundation for a unique artistic style.

You Shouldn’t Stop Using References Completely

You shouldn’t stop using references entirely because they are essential in enhancing the believability and depth of your drawings.

While the goal is to reduce reliance, references serve as valuable tools for understanding complex subjects and refining your style.

Free Pose Reference Websites For Artists - Cover

Think of them as guides rather than crutches.

Using references, you can learn intricate details about anatomy, perspective, and lighting that are difficult to capture from memory alone.

The key isn’t to copy but to use references to inform your work and inspire innovation.

Balancing reference use with imaginative drawing is important.

So be sure to select the right Portrait Reference Photos to draw!

And if you’re ready to kickstart your drawing career, check out my Complete Figure Drawing Course!


Patricia Caldeira is the main writer here at Don Corgi. She's an art teacher with over 20.000 happy students across many platforms and courses!

Enjoy your stay and as always:
Keep on drawing!

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