Using Reference Images for Sketching

Using Reference Images for Sketching

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Hello! My name is Liz Staley and I’m a long-time user of Clip Studio Paint (I started using the program back when it was known as Manga Studio 4!). I was a beta-tester on the Manga Studio 5 program and for Clip Studio Paint, and I have written three books and several video courses about the program. Many of you probably know my name from those books, in fact!

In this article, I am going to share with you some techniques for drawing from reference images while using CSP. Drawing from reference while using a digital art program can be difficult, especially if you don’t have access to a computer setup with multiple monitors. That being said, every artist has different preferences and methods of working, so feel free to adapt these techniques so they work for you. My goal is to show you some techniques and options you might not be familiar with so you can use CSP to its fullest capabilities.

I will be assuming that you know the very basics of using Clip Studio Paint, and that you have the following basic skills.
Opening an image in Clip Studio Paint
Creating a new image with custom dimensions in CSP
Using the Pencil tools
Creating Layers



A Note On Using Reference Images…


I have heard many debates on whether or not “real” artists use reference images. Some people seem to think that you’re not an artist if you use reference, and the only way to draw is to pull everything from your head. This is nonsense. If you don’t know how to draw something, you should use reference images! In the Internet age, it’s easier than ever to find reference images for nearly anything you could want. And, with phones and digital cameras improving in quality all the time, it’s even easier to shoot your own reference if you have access to the subject that you want to draw.

So, yes, you should use reference images if you don’t know how to draw something. If you’re trying to become proficient in drawing bicycles, but you’ve never drawn one before, how can you possibly become good at drawing bicycles? You need to study the subject, whether in real life or from still images. If you rely on your memory alone, then you’re more likely to produce a drawing that is missing needed details.

That being said, it is NOT okay to directly copy or trace another person’s image and claim it as your own. Remember that every image you find online was created or shot by someone, and they own that copyright, so unless it’s specifically stated on the website that you can use the image, proceed with caution when drawing from someone else’s image. The best thing to do is look for specific drawing references on DeviantArt, take your own reference images using a camera or phone, or to use a variety of images and “mash them up” to put your own spin on the subject. For instance, maybe you use five different references of a tiger to draw one tiger in your own pose and with a unique angle to its head.

In this article, I will be drawing from a reference image taken from “SenshiStock” on SenshiStock is a popular stock photo resource who allows their images to be used for artistic reference. They have tons of poses ranging from everyday poses, to action poses, to pin-up poses and just about everything in between, so if you need a reference image to draw from, they’re a good place to start!

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to drawing!



Using Grids


In this section, we will be using the following techniques:
Viewing the Grid in Clip Studio Paint
Editing Grid Settings
Viewing two files at once using Tabs
Using Layer Color Settings to refine a rough sketch
Changing Image Resolution

Using a grid when you’re working from a reference image can be very helpful. The process is simple: you put a grid on your reference image, then put a grid on the file you’re drawing on. Once both have matching grids, you can use the squares to properly position details more easily. Grids also can help when drawing tricky poses, such as the one I’ll be working on in this example, because they allow you to focus on details and help to get all the parts positioned correctly by treating each square as its own little drawing.

Let’s see this process in action!

Open the Reference Image and Set Up a Blank Document
First, we’ll need to open our reference image in Clip Studio Paint. As stated above, I went to SenshiStock on and saved one of their images to draw from. I then opened the image in CSP from my computer.

Once I have the reference image saved, I found the pixel width and height of that image and created a new, blank document to draw in. Using the same dimensions for your drawing image, at least at the beginning, makes it easier to set up your grid. Later on in this article we will be changing the resolution of our image to make the sketch larger, but for now we want to get a rough sketch of our pose from the reference image, so a 72dpi, low pixel dimension drawing file is okay.

The screenshot below shows the settings I used to create my new document, and the dimensions of the reference image I saved.





Setting Up The Grid


Now, let’s head back over to our open Reference Image file and set up our grid! Your reference file and your blank document should both be open in two separate tabs near the top of your program interface. The arrow in the following screenshots points to our two open files, each nestled in their own tab within the workspace.





Next, we will add our grid to our reference image. This is a very easy process, because Clip Studio Paint already comes equipped with a grid that we can easily use in our image! To turn the grid on, click on the “View” option in the file menu, then go down and click on “Grid”, as shown in the following screenshot.





Just by clicking this menu option, our grid will appear. Unless you have used the grid and changed the options before, your grid probably looks like the one in the image below!





The light gray lines are our grid, and this is a fine grid set-up for, say, laying out text or lining up large things, but not so good for drawing off of! The grid boxes are so small that most people might go crazy trying to keep them straight when using them as a guide to draw from! So we’re going to use the Grid Settings to make the boxes larger.

We can find these settings by again clicking “View” and then clicking on “Grid Settings.”





Once we’ve clicked this option, the Grid Settings options will show on the screen. The option we are interested in changing is called the “Gap”, and it is highlighted in the screenshot below.





This was set to “100” by default. I changed it to 500 to make the grid lines much larger. Make sure you remember whatever number you set the Gap to, because we’ll need to make the same adjustment on our blank file that we’ll be drawing in!

After adjusting the Grid Settings, the grid on the reference image was large enough to allow me to focus on the details inside each square without being overwhelmed, so I followed the same steps on the blank image file to set up the grid there. How large or small you make your grid will be based really on your personal preference, so feel free to play around with the settings until it “feels right”.


Viewing Two Files In One Workspace


If you are blessed enough to have a computer workstation with more than one monitor, then I’m sure you know how wonderful it is to have your references open on one monitor while you work on a drawing in the other monitor! I do this often when “mashing up” multiple reference images. But for those of us who don’t have fancy double-monitor set-ups, being able to view two files at one time can be extremely helpful when using reference.

The process of viewing two images side-by-side in Clip Studio Paint is an easy one. Remember the Tabs that we talked about earlier? Now that we have our grids set on each of our files, let’s turn our attention back to those tabs.

I’m left-handed, so I want the file I’m doing my drawing in to be on the left side while my reference image is on the right. To do this, I simply click on the Tab of my reference image and, while still holding down the button on my mouse, I drag that tab to the right side of my Clip Studio Paint workspace. While you are dragging interface items around in CSP to change their position, a bright red line will appear wherever the item will be “dropped” if you release your mouse button at that moment. So, I dragged my tab over until I had a vertical red line to the direct right of my drawing file, as shown in the following image. (You can even see the “ghost” of the reference image file along the right side of the screenshot, too!)





Once the reference image tab is where you want it, release the mouse button. Now our blank file that we’ll be sketching in and our reference image are side by side, and we can click back and forth between the two while still seeing the other one.


Rough Sketching Time!


I like to start out my images by doing a very rough, basic sketch to get the pose and positioning right before I start adding any details. Using the grid lines, I drew the rough outlines of the reference image’s pose into my blank file. By using the grid lines as “goal posts”, you can really keep things lined up right. For instance, I noted while sketching that the heel of the front leg in the image hits right on a line of the grid. The bend of the toes on the back leg are almost exactly at the intersection of two grid lines.

The screenshot below shows my rough sketch next to the reference image.





Note: I use two pencil tools made by Ray Frenden for all my sketching. The one I use for rough sketches and layouts is the “Pencil - Layout Blue” that automatically draws in a light blue color. The other is a regular pencil tool that uses whatever color I currently have selected in CSP for its drawing color. If you don’t have a blue pencil tool in Clip Studio Paint, that’s okay! You can use any pencil tool you like and simply choose a light color to sketch in, or hang around for another moment and I’ll show you how to make your entire layer blue!

Once I get the very rough general pose down, I create a new layer over the rough sketch layer and go over it again with a different color, refining the details and fixing any errors. I’m not going for exactly replicating the reference image, but I want to get the anatomy as close as possible before I stylize it for the final sketch!

The screenshot below shows the refined sketch over the rough draft.





The Final Touches


Now that the bulk of the pose is hammered out, I want to change the resolution of the drawing so that it’s larger. I find larger documents easier to work on, personally (I don’t tend to draw small!), and you need at least 300dpi for your file to look good in print.

At this point, I put the Reference image tab back to its original position so that it wasn’t taking up screen space, but it was still open if I needed to click back to look at it again. Now, with my drawing file active, I changed the Image Resolution by clicking on “Edit” and then “Change Image Resolution” in the file menu. The screenshot below shows the new settings for my drawing file.





Now, I want to add some character to this generic pose! In the Layers window, I hid my rough draft layer. I want my second pass of sketching to now be a light blue color so I can go over it one more time and add the final touches to my drawing, so now it’s time to use the Layer Color options!

The Layer Color options are in the “Layer Property” window. By default, this is open above the Layers palette in the CSP interface, but you may need to bring it back up if it’s been closed. If you can’t locate the layer property window, then in the File menu click on “Window” and “Layer Property” and the options should reappear on your screen somewhere.

You will see a few icons in the Layer Property options under the heading “Effect”. These are different effects we can add to our currently selected layer, but the one we’re interested in for this tutorial is the one to the far right, that looks like a blue square laid over a white square. This option is highlighted in the screenshot below.





By clicking on this option, our currently selected layer will be turned to whatever color shows up in the “Layer Color” box of the Layer Property window. By default, this is a light blue color similar to the non-photo blue pencils used by artists in the past. If you don’t like the blue color, simply click on the triangle to the right of the Layer color box and choose any color you want from the color picker options.

I find the light blue to be easy on my eyes, so I’m going to keep it! Now, we can create a new layer over the sketch and give it one more pass to add details, clothes, and hair to make whatever character we desire.

The screenshot below shows my final sketch next to the reference image we began with.





If you look closely, you can see the light blue lines of my second sketch still underneath the lines of my final drawing. For a fairly tricky pose, I think the sketch turned out pretty good!


Using the Subview Palette to Save References


So, drawing using a grid on a reference image is all well and good if you’re trying to replicate a difficult pose, but what about if you have multiple reference images that you just want to look off of but not duplicate? Or, say, you have character model sheets that you need to have on hand to look at regularly, like for a comic or animation project?

It’s extremely inconvenient to have to open often used references every time you go to use CSP, or to have to go back and forth to reference them. Thankfully, Clip Studio has a handy little window worked into the interface that can store your often used reference images right in the user interface and make it easy to get to them without having to stop to open a brand new file!

This handy little window is, by default, nestled with the Navigator window in the top right of the CSP interface. The Subview icon is indicated in the screenshot below.





When you first click into this handy little window, you may be confused about its purpose. It shows up initially as a blank box with just a few icons at the bottom. But once you learn how to use it, you may find it one of the most useful parts of the Clip Studio interface. At least, I think it’s one of the best things ever put into a digital art program!

The image below shows the default view of the Subview window.





The only icon currently active is the one in the lower right corner that looks like an opening folder. Clicking on this icon brings up a file navigator, just like the one that appears when opening an image in the main Clip Studio interface. The difference is that when opening an image this way, it will stay within the SubView window.

The screenshot below shows the reference image we worked from in the previous section, now loaded into the SubView window.





Now that we have an image in this handy little window, the other icons light up! The row of icons directly underneath the image allow us to zoom in and out of the image. In this same row, all the way to the right, is an eyedropper tool that allows us to select colors directly from the image in the SubView window. If this eyedropper tool is clicked on again, the default cursor icon over the image will be a hand, which you can then use to move the image around in the window.

The second row of icons control the rotation of the current image, including flipping horizontally and vertically.

Clicking the “Open” icon again allows us to add another image into the SubView, but the image that is already loaded will stay in the window! If multiple images are loaded into the SubView, they can be “paged through” with the left and right arrow icons in the second row of controls. To delete the currently displayed image from the window, simply click on the trash can icon. This will delete the image from the Sub View window, but not delete it from your computer.

While I was working on my web-comic, I loaded all of my character reference sheets into the Sub View so that I could just page through them when I needed to remember how to draw that character or reference what their outfit looked like. Any images loaded into the Sub View stay there even after the program is closed, so they will still be in the window when Clip Studio Paint is loaded again. This makes the Sub View a very useful tool for anyone working on a long-term project who needs to reference the same images over and over again!




Wow, that was a lot of talk about different ways to use reference images in Clip Studio Paint! I hope you learned something new about the tools that CSP has to offer. Thanks for reading!




Thank you, this is very smart and helpful! CSP rules!

notmarktwain @ 2020-06-01 08:04:44 -0700