Sketching Without Reference

Tips and tools to creating images solely from memory

Sketching without reference is one of the distinguishable traits that you as an artist can possess that will separate you, as a professional, from other amateurs. However, sketching without a reference and relying solely on memory can be incredibly difficult. So, how can one learn to sketch storyboards without needing a significant amount of reference photos in order to create realistic or cartoonish images? How can one learn to draw from memory and imagination? A viewer asked Tom and Tony this very question in episode #124 of the Bancroft Brothers Animation Podcast.

Practice, Practice, Practice…

Tom initially jokingly answered by saying “well other than practice…”. So clearly it’s understandable that these skills will not be developed overnight, but throughout your entire career as an artist and animator. Tom explains that you know you’re ready to be a professional when you can sketch out most things from memory, although he reminds listeners that you’ll never be able to do this for everything and that is okay.

Continuing to practice your skills and building a collection of images in your mind will allow you to rely more heavily on your memory. Although in the times where you’re unable to do this, reference photos are key. Tom explains that using reference photos is not cheating just so long as you’re not using them as a means to trace your image. Using a reference photo correctly will help you accurately draw an image, while still being able to put your own creative spin and style of animation on it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Use Reference

Overall, the idea of being able to sketch and animate solely from imagination seems like a daunting task, but the Bancroft Brothers remind us that there are tools out there to help us. While practicing and building a memory gallery in your head is important and will distinguish you as a professional, the use of reference photos is not the bad thing and can allow an artist to present a more accurate and believable image. So, if you’re worried and wondering where to start, just take a deep breath and begin doing what you do best, sketch! Practice any chance you get and before you know it you’ll be confidently drawing from memory.