Reference sites for budding artists

by Gaby Agbulos

BEING an artist is tough especially when you’re just starting out. 

With thousands of resources online teaching different methods, trying to learn how to draw can be extremely confusing.

This is why it’s important to use “references” in your art, because doing so helps you better understand the anatomy and positioning of what you’re drawing. If you have no idea what a reference is, artist Chrystal Moe explains it.

A reference is using someone else’s photo, or even an object in the real world, then studying it and using the information that you’ve gained to create your own art. 

There are some who might say that using references is cheating when it comes to art but pay them no mind. According to Moe, no matter what kind of artist you are, references are an absolute must.

If you’re a budding artist struggling to look for websites you can use, here are some that we at republicasia recommend to help you out:

1.     Reference Angle
If you’re looking for a site that’ll help you learn how to draw people, then Reference Angle is a great way to start.

Using photos from the Head Pose Image Database and FFHQ’s dataset, this tool was created as a way for artists to more easily understand how to draw heads at any angle.

On the left side, you have a blank 3D model which you can rotate to your liking, while on the right, you have reference images to copy from, which you can change based on factors like emotions, gender, age.

You can also narrow down your search to photos of people smiling, wearing sunglasses / eyeglasses, or to people with mustaches / beards, and open mouths / eyes.

2.              Github
This is the tool that Reference Angle took inspiration from. As such, it has the same format although this site is focused on helping you better understand animal anatomy instead.

On the left is the skull of the animal you wish to draw, and on the right are several photo references to choose from. Here, you can specify the species of animal, as well as the skull type you want for your animal.

Like Reference Angle, you can also adjust the angle of the skull to your liking. 

If you’re thinking that you’re not going to need this, remember: being a good artist means being versatile when it comes to drawing!

3.              Pexels
If you need a website with hundreds of thousands of reference photos to choose from, then Pexels is the way to go.

Pexels is filled with free stock photos and videos that you can use for your references, and what’s great about it is that you aren’t just limited to humans or animals. Here, the sky’s the limit.

Need a photo of a little girl eating ice cream? Just search for it. A woman with a snake wrapped around her? Check it out. A man dancing around like a crazy person? Go for it!

What’s even better about this website is that you can download almost any photo or video on their site, and each download has the name of the person who took the photo, in the photo or video name. 

Be sure to credit the artist whose photo you used. To artists, proper attribution means a lot.

4.              Proko
If you’re looking for something that’s a little more hands-on, Proko offers hundreds of art lessons and courses to help you learn things like human anatomy, shading, sculpting, and the like. 

They even offer bundle packages: there’s one for those who have just started drawing, and another for those who want to learn about the basics of drawing comics. There are others that are meant for specific art styles that you may wish to learn.

Take note, though: there’s payment for some of the lessons posted but there are a lot of videos that are free for your perusal. 

This site is great if you have a bit of anxiety when it comes to drawing and want something to guide you more closely through each step of the artmaking process.

5.              Sketchfab
On Sketchfab, you’ll find 3D models of people, objects, places, and many other things to use as references for your art. 

William James of the eLearning Industry said 3D models are a great help when it comes to learning how to draw because of their visual, tactile nature. 

If you’re struggling to learn using the traditional methods, then it may be easier to understand certain structures or concepts when shown to you in 3D form.

Like Proko, there are models on Sketchfab that you must purchase before you’re allowed to view them fully, but there are many models that you can access for free to get you started on your artistic journey.



We have the stories you’ll want to read.

RepublicAsia Newsletter