Sunday Mailbag

February 15th, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: When you get a job, are you usually given reference photos to work from or are you expected to have your own resources? (Assuming the subject in question is famous, not just Joe From Accounting.) For a job where the reference photo is not provided, where do find your references? Do you have a clip file of particularly nice, interesting photos that you clip from magazines? Do you ever freeze a video image from a movie or TV show to get a reference?

A: Since these questions all deal with reference I thought I’d answer them all at one time.

When you get a job, are you usually given reference photos to work from or are you expected to have your own resources?

I usually get my own references. Back when MAD had a larger staff I used to get pages of references that they had an art department person or some intern dig up for me, but I prefer to find my own references anyway because some pictures are useless for reference and I know what I am looking for.

For a job where the reference photo is not provided, where do find your references? Do you have a clip file of particularly nice, interesting photos that you clip from magazines?

I get 90% of my reference from the internet. Google internet search usually does the trick, although in the case of a movie this site is great for movie stills. What I generally do is create 13″ x 19″ sheets full of reference pics, one for each “character” or actor I am drawing and a few for incidentals like environments, vehicles, etc. Here’s a sample of a reference sheet I set up of Alec Baldwin for when I did the parody of “30 Rock” for MAD:

alec-baldwin

I try to get a variety of angles and expressions. I got all of these off the internet.

Back in the day I had what was called a “morgue file”, which was a big file cabinet full of tabbed folders with clipped pictures of celebrities from tabloids and entertainment magazines. Actually I still have the file cabinet and the morgue files but I haven’t clipped a picture in years… the internet is too easy to use for that purpose.

Do you ever freeze a video image from a movie or TV show to get a reference?

Sometimes. If I am doing a TV show for example I can either download an episode or two or burn one to a DVD and then do some screen captures from the show and get some very specific reference that way. With movies I can download trailers and freeze and capture scenes and faces. I honestly don’t do it too often with TV shows… regular reference pictures are usually enough for that, and I will play some episodes on my laptop as I am drawing out the parody so I can freeze the picture anytime I want a look at what some room or environment looks like, or if I want to draw a specific expression from a reference.

What I don’t do is scour the internet or DVDs for the exact expression and perfect reference for every single panel. That would take forever and frankly it would sap the life out of the artwork if I drew everything from specific reference. That would be boring. Reference should be used as a resource, not as a crutch.

Thanks to Robert and Margaret Carspecken for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

Comments

  1. Hi Tom,
    I found your site is very helpful. I have used one of your post about crosshatching technique as a reference and i was able to draw something out of it. I have put a link back to your site.

    Thanks for the useful info you have posted. I wanted to learn caricature as well but it might be quite a tough start for me. Love the way you portray each individual in caricature.

  2. Quikdraw says:

    Great answer Tom.
    The Internet has really made life easier for reference photos.
    Plus the computer and CDs are space savers. No more space consuming file cabinets and no more wasting time finding and then returning them to the file.

    I spent hundreds of dollars each year on celebrity gossip rags for pics of celebrities for reference . It was great as a tax write-off but again very time consuming to hunt down that perfect picture.

    The only mags I buy now are People Magazine special issues. I just bought The Celebrate The 80’s issue which has great reference photos of the stars and fads from that era including then and now pics.

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