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“What is it about that street?”

Artists will often tell you to use photo reference (including myself) but also, in the same breath, tell you not to copy it. The question that inevitably comes after is “when does it hit the point when you are merely copying?”
The degree of how much you take from reference depends on what is required for your artwork. It is absolutely impossible to dissect every individual case. It is, however, poor form by the “artist’s code” to merely copy a photo. In any case, it is very tempting to do so, similar to looking at the back of the textbook for the math answers instead of actually doing the thinking.
Still, at what point is it “copying”? There’s one simple way to always avoid a case where you merely copy. It’s very easy; you create an opinion based off your reference.


When you look at photo reference, it’s easy to fall to the trap of using it as an answer to “What does this street look like?”. While this is a perfectly legitimate question (nobody’s brain can possibly have perfect know…

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