One of the problems that you often come across in an art education (particularly trying to find one online) is conflicting advice. People will tell you how to use reference, that you shouldn’t use reference, that you should always reference, that you can only use reference in a certain way, etc., etc. While I’m going to hopefully disprove a couple of the myths in this post, I’m also going to discuss how to deal with your own advice troubles.
First - Find original sources. Do not take some idiot on deviantart or tumblr telling you something as the gospel truth. Yes, I’m aware of the irony, and let me address it: very few of the things are from my mouth alone. I try to have sources of professionals saying what I’m passing on (and believe me, it’s easier not to look those things up), or, barring that, I try to provide examples where you can see the principle in action. When I can’t do that, I make it clear that it’s worked for me/not worked for me/otherwise make it personal. “They say,” “Artists should…,” etc. are all big red flags - they’re citing a non-existent authority to back up their opinions.
Second - Look carefully to see whether it’s a principle or a rule. For example, realism is better than drawing anime so you shouldn’t draw anime is a common trope. However, it does have a kernel of good advice in there: you need to learn how to draw in a non-stylized manner (if you look at any major art school they will emphasize drawing without stylization in their curriculums). However, it’s been taken to extremes as “always” or “never” and it essentially made into a rule in extreme cases.
Third - Look for harm/benefit. Drawing manga will not ‘hurt’ you, in the same way drawing a page of circles will not hurt you. It will still help you with pencil control, the manga drawing can still help with composition, etc. However, it is also not the most helpful thing to be drawing either. There are additional benefits to drawing without stylization that you won’t get sticking to manga - better knowledge of the body, concept of solid forms, etc.
Fourth - There isn’t “right” and “wrong” in art, but there is “effective” and “ineffective” (and legal and illegal). While I’ll probably default to the old “right” and wrong” sometimes too, there isn’t one right way to do anything in art. The problem is that oftentimes our mistakes “look wrong.” I’m kind of splitting hairs with that example, but it becomes a larger issue later on. A lot of people say “tracing is wrong” and it’s not. Tracing is a tool, just like any other artistic technique. It is ineffective in terms of learning everything, but it is effective in terms of transferring an image, especially in a crunch, but it’s ineffective in that you can’t rely on tracing for everything. It’s also efficient for focusing on one skill. The only time when it’s “wrong” is when it would be illegal in terms of copyright infringement or possibly false advertising.
Fifth - Stick with your field if there is conflict among professionals. Occasionally you’ll find dissent between professionals on a technique, in that case stick to the best professionals or the ones in your particular field. Take the advice of a veteran over a newbie, and if you’re interested in comics, look especially to what the greats in your field are saying. In addition, follow the general consensus of professionals, because there will be a few odd birds out there who say something different. Now, these odd birds may have effective advice, but stick to the consensus before experimenting with the deviations.
Sixth - Silence on a subject is not agreement. If you find an artist that doesn’t discuss their references, that does not mean they don’t use references. They may not want to go into their process, particularly on a business website, but that does not mean that they deviate from the people who have spoken out. It’s very hard to find a professional artist that says “Don’t use reference” so people will point to the silent ones, or sometimes artists that no longer use reference (after using reference extensively for 30-40 some years). Don’t let this fool you; silence is not a statement either way.
Well I hope something in this post is helpful to you guys! Still no computer, so my posts are still few and far between. Sorry!