Pose Reference: Bring Energy and Life to Your Art

by Laura C. Jones

When you are drawing a character, you have to get the pose right so that it can send the right message. A perfect pose should clearly describe the action you want to convey and describe the forces that influence the character. If you are having trouble creating good poses, you should use pose reference images. This article talks about pose referencing and how it can bring energy and life to your art.

What Is a Pose Reference?

Pose referencing is the art of drawing poses based on a photograph. Almost every artist uses photo-referencing at some point in their career. Although photo-referencing is not a daily practice, many artists use it as part of their training to enhance their artistic eyes. It also becomes necessary when you want to draw an image that is based on a subject that’s not readily available.

For instance, if you are drawing a pose and you don’t have a live model for your work, you can use a reference image to aid you. This type of art is very common in comic books, even though it has been widely criticized as a way of disguising weaknesses in an artist’s technical ability. Nevertheless, many professional artists believe that photo referencing is a legitimate technique that helps illustrators grow.

So, pose reference is not cheating, especially if it is used properly without copying the exact image. After all, drawing is creating an illusion of a 3-dimensional object on a 2-dimensional surface. When you are drawing a pose, you are creating an impression of what happens in the real world.

What Is Reference Drawing?

Reference drawing involves drawing with the help of external imagery such as a printed photo, digital image, existing painting, and/or a model from a real-life context through observation. This type of drawing is commonly used by artists as a learning tool and for accuracy.

If you are making art for commercial purposes, you need to maintain a high level of accuracy and clarity in your work. This is where reference drawing comes in handy. With a reference photo, you create a perfect painting without leaving out any details that define the drawing. A reference photo will also give you ideas and inspiration to be creative.

How Do I Find a Pose Reference?

Pose reference, if applied well, can be a dynamic resource for you. But finding the right reference is important if you want to have the best final product. While there are many places from which you can get your pose reference, including Google and Pinterest, not all of them have what you need. So, you need to know exactly what you are looking for.

Here are some important considerations you need to make when looking for a pose reference.

Overexposed VS Underexposed

Avoid blown-out images because they have shadows or excess light that hide important details of the subject. To avoid this, you need to choose a pose reference with proper lighting and color harmony. Otherwise, you have to have enough knowledge of the subject, especially the anatomy of their body, to be able to invent the blow-out areas.


The size of your pose reference is very important because it determines how clear the details are. So, choose an image that is not less than 6 x 8 inches. The smaller the referencing image, the harder it will be for you to see all the details. If you blow it up, it will result in an enlarged image with blurry details.

Clear, Soft Edges

A blurry image makes it very difficult to see the edges properly. Choose reference images that have soft edges because hard edges will waste your time trying to invent them. Good edges are important for showing you the depth and volume of the image. If the image has a combination of smaller shapes, its edges will get lost, requiring further invention.

Focal Points

A good referencing g photo should have focal points. These are points of interest that make the photo worth painting. So, the pose should be interesting and have all the necessary features to describe the action you wish to convey. If the pose in the image has flaws, then the chances of reproducing the flaws in your final product are very high.

Space Arrangement

Although your main interest is the pose, you also need to check the photo’s arrangement of positive and negative spaces. It goes without saying that the best pose reference photo should have a well-balanced arrangement of space.

Too Much Mess

Before you start drawing your pose, make sure the referencing photo you are using doesn’t have too much clutter because it affects the overall composition of the image you are interested in. For instance, if you want to paint a man squatting, don’t choose a referencing photo that includes chairs or other people standing or sitting next to him.

Unrealistic Alterations

An image that looks great to a photographer doesn’t necessarily make a perfect reference photo for painting. Therefore, you should avoid images that have been significantly altered and look unrealistic. The image you paint should look like something that can be seen in real life.


Never paint from an image that has been copyrighted because it will get you into trouble with the law. The good thing is that there are many free pose reference photos on the internet and other offline sources that you can use to create your preferred poses.

Where Can I Get Portrait Reference Photos?

If you are looking for a portrait reference photo for your painting work, the internet is the first place you automatically turn to. However, using photos downloaded from the internet can get you into trouble with the law, especially if they are copyrighted. Even if your painting is not for profit-making purposes, you are required by law to seek permission from the copyright owner to publish your piece.

Nevertheless, certain websites offer portrait reference photos that are free to use. Obtaining your reference photos from such sources protects you against lawsuits and gives you peace of mind knowing that you can freely publish your piece without asking for permission.

Most copyright owners have allowed other creators to use their work through the Creative Commons License. However, several other related licenses have more restrictions. Here are some of the websites that offer free portrait reference photos.


This is an online platform for sharing photos, vector graphics, videos, and illustrations. It is important to mention that all images shared on this platform are copyright-free. However, they should only be downloaded under the Pixabay License.

This license prohibits you to sell an unaltered copy of any work you download from the site. It also prohibits you from distributing copies of this work as stock images or wallpapers. But it doesn’t stop you from using the images as your reference photos. The overall quality of work on this site is great.


Unsplash is a popular website that offers photographers and artists a platform for sharing their work. The site is dedicated to sharing stock images under the Unsplash license. Currently, this website hosts over 200,000 active photographers. It is estimated to generate over 17 billion photo impressions every month on its ever-growing library of over two million photos.

The amazing photos shared on this platform are free to download. Therefore, you can use them for any of your projects without fear of infringing on a copyright. This is a nice place to look for your portrait reference photos.


Flickr is an American social networking site that offers hosting services for images and videos. It is also an online community of artists and creators where they share ideas and use their work to inspire others. The platform is currently hosting billions of photos and millions of videos from both.

Flickr is free to join and post photos and videos. You can also download content posted by another person as long as they have permitted you to do so. With tens of billions of images on this platform, you are assured of finding portrait reference photos for your paintings.

Paint My Photo

Paint My Photo (PMP) is a social networking platform dedicated to providing artists with a free space where they can share their work and draw inspiration from their peers. It is a place where artists can find reference photos for their work without worrying about copyrights. It is free to sign up for an account on PMP.

All you need is a unique username, password, and valid email address. Make your username good because it is going to be used to identify you on the website. Also, don’t use your email as your username. This website has hundreds of thousands of portraits that you can use as your reference photos.

Most Popular Pose Reference Anime Creations

Female Poses

These poses are commonly referred to as neutral girl poses. These are mainly bust shots, peace signs, and everyday anime girl behaviors. Female poses are classified into various categories, including cute poses, action poses, and sitting poses. You can use them for inspiration or when you are not sure how certain parts of the body should behave in a particular position.

Male Poses

These poses can include fighting poses, action poses, sitting poses, and cute poses. For instance, you can draw a man holding a weapon to represent a fight or a man running or jumping to indicate a certain action. These poses also incorporate various props including swords, guns, pool noodles, and many others.

Sexy Poses

Sexy anime poses feature suggestive and NSFW poses. You can use them to represent sex scenes or explain a character’s personality. They can also be combined with facial expressions to convey a seductive message.

In Summary

With this information, you should be able to know which pose reference photos are useful to you and make sure that everything falls into place. It should also help you to ensure that every part of the body is the right length and shape.

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