AN ILLUSTRATORS GUIDE TO REFERENCE MATERIAL

* you can swap Illustrator with Graphic Designer, Animator, Art Director, etc

What is reference material?

Reference material can literally be anything that you find interesting or inspires you

Toys, games, brochures, catalogues, newspapers, magazines, song sheets, photographs, guides, bus tickets, record sleeves, packaging, computer games, the list is endless.

As a creative person you will naturally be inclined to Horde, it probably started early on when you never threw an issue of the Beano or Dandy away, or collected rubbers at school. It’s something you will always of done in one way or another!

When you are an illustrator or in any other creative field you still horde, but it is now called ‘compiling reference material’.

One mans junk is another mans treasure

Why do I need it?

You don’t need it per say, but I feel it’s actually a very important part of been a creative person, it keeps you constantly inspired, sparks ideas and motivates you to work! In my personal collection I find hand crafted script typefaces, amazing colour combinations, minimal (but effective) colour usage on a tight budget, drawing techniques of the 1950’s, foxed paper, halftone patterns, amazingly simple but effective packaging..It also educates me on design processes that have long since been replaced by photoshop and indesign. I really feel that is part of an education you need to teach yourself, you need to appreciate what has gone before, and how it was done. It also says a lot about who you are and what you’re into.

Where do I keep it?

Sketchbooks are a good start, you could pick up a napkin at a cafe with a really nice pattern on it, stick it in your book for future reference. Computer files are also great, if you come across anything on the internet, save it (trust me, if you don’t and you need it down the line, you won’t be able to find it and thats the most annoying thing in the world)To make this easier you can create sub folders within you main inspiration folder, For example I have a 1950’s sub folder and a pattern sub folder.

For a more physical collection of reference material it is a good idea have it all categorised and put into boxes, this saves a lot of stress later on when you are frantically trying to look for a specific item and can’t find it!

I have photos, sport, music, transport, childrens, travel, theatre/circus/fairs, mags, newspapers, packaging, porn, diagrams/instruction manuals and various (just stuff thats hard to categorise) I also keep books.

How do I get it?

Nothing beats scouring around second hand markets and car boots and finding a bargain, its the thrill of the chase, it also is usually very cheap! I love coming back to the studio with a huge haul that cost about £5, because as a creative this stuff is priceless. It is also putting cash in the pockets of the market traders, which unfortunately in this day and age are a dying breed, so anything to support these guys to keep doing it is always a plus. If you don’t have a local market jump on a bus or a train, find out what days local second hand markets are on and make the effort! its well worth it.

You can also scour Ebay, although it is very difficult unless you are looking for a specific thing, it’s usually professionals selling things too so the prices are a lot higher than if you stumbled upon it at a market.

Charity shops are sometimes good, but nowadays they tend to not sell old stuff, or if they do they cash in on the ‘vintage’ fad and up the price (Oxfam is especially bad for this, they even have ‘Oxfam Originals’ now) Usually charity shops are full of bric o brac, most of it junk, but I have been known to find an odd 1960’s national geographic magazine in there!

What now?

Be inspired! Below are some more examples of my collection!

Written by Peter O’Toole

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