Ideally I would like to take all my own photo reference. If I need a picture of a person, place, or thing to make a drawing from I like to go out and take the photo myself. That way I get exactly what I want and it’s unique. No one else would have my photo reference to work from. But the real isn’t the ideal and that doesn’t always happen. Especially when it comes to the human figure.

Back in the 1990s I used to used a Polaroid camera and pose for my own photos if I wanted to work out a male figure. Occasionally I’d have a female friend pose for the same purpose. That became even easier in the digital age. But if you really want good photo reference you need to hire models. That has never been in my budget.

I don’t always use photo reference in my drawings. More often than not I’m drawing without it. But it does help and when I need it I use it. One of the styles of drawing that I often use photo reference with is my painted ladies. I just recently crossed that style with my big ink drawings and made a couple of 22×30 inch painted lady big ink drawings.

Since these painted lady drawings are basically nude women that I draw a whole bunch of tattoos/markings on I find it best to photo reference the figures. Since I’m not taking my own photo reference I turn to the internet for this. There are plenty of photos of naked people on the internet but the vast majority of them are unhelpful when it comes to use as photo reference. Only about one in five hundred is any good to me. It gets tedious looking for that one.

Cut to this week after I finish the second of my painted lady big ink drawings. I wanted to continue doing something along those lines but not the same thing. As I thought about what I wanted to do one of my own photos came to mind. It was a photo I had already worked with. A picture of a woman with an “F-Train” shirt on walking through Bryant Park. Years ago I had already used this photo in one of my prints where I mix words, pictures, and Photoshop filter recipes but now I wanted to draw it.

I pulled out the digital photo and drew right over it on my iPad in Procreate. I find that the best way to work with photo reference theses days. The Apple pencil and the iPad are great drawing tools. After that I printed out the digital drawing onto a piece of 9×12 in paper and redrew and refined the drawing. I then scanned that drawing in, printed it out on eight 8.5×11 inch pieces of paper, taped the sheets of paper together, and used that big version of the drawing to transfer the drawing to the 22×30 inch final pice of paper.

I forgot to mention I also had to come up with a background for the drawing too. I just used the woman’s figure from the photograph and not the background so I had to come up with a new one. I looked through a whole bunch of my drawings and came up with a few that might work. I added them in digitally to see if they were up to the task. Eventually I mixed two drawings together. The effect above her head comes from one drawing and the face comes from another. After I had the background done is when I printed out the drawing on eight sheets of paper.

Much of the rest of the drawing went as usual. I use a brush and ink to draw over the pencil lines and I start with the face and then do the figure. After that comes the background where I use both brush and marker. I use marker for the straight lines.

This one eventually veered in a different direction than my Painted ladies. I didn’t want to give her op art tattoo markings on her skin but I was at a loss for what to do. Once again the iPad came in handy. One of the new steps I have in making these big ink drawings is to take a photo of them, bring the photo into Procreate, and draw right over the top of the photo. That way I can try out new patterns and lines without ruining the actual drawing.

I had worked on the drawing for a good long while and it was still missing something. I had changed the F-Train logo on her shirt to a skull, gave her a big collar and gauntlets, and put some strange boot tops on her thighs but her shirt and shorts were still pretty blank and dull. Then I remembered seeing some drawings by the comic book artist Frank Cho on Instagram. He sometimes does this style that’s based on old woodcuts where he uses parallel lines on fabric. The lines follow the form the fabric.

I took a photo of the big ink drawing and started to work on it in Procreate. I had to find the forms of the fabric. Frank Cho’s fabric drawings are usually more complicated than this one so it took some doing to get the hanging fabric forms just right. The shorts were a whole different kind of form. But eventually I got the Procreate drawing to be what I wanted it to be.

The actual drawing of the lines on the big paper was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I sketched in all the lines first in pencil and then drew over them with ink and brush. It went quickly. The lines don’t have to be perfect since there are so many of them. In fact it’s better if they’re not so perfect. It looks more natural that way. I’ve got enough perfect straight lines in this drawing anyway.

After I got the fabric lines in I continued to work on the drawing. I put in some more of the grey patterns in the background to separate it from the lighter grey patterns of her shirt and shorts. I gave her fishnet stockings, made her hands into gloves, and gave her those circles and lines on her arms and gloves. Those circles may have been the finishing touch. Just a tiny bit of the Painted Lady.

All in all I really enjoyed the contour lines in the fabric technique. I far from being a master of it like Frank Cho is but I think it worked well for me. I’m going to have to use it more in the future.