23 Free Reference Photo Websites for Artists in 2022

Reference Photo Websites for Artists

No one is born knowing how to draw. No one is born knowing how to create, however, we all draw when we are children. We all create. Obviously not masterpieces but we do our best to translate the images and forms in our heads into a piece of paper and crayons

Some of us grow up and take the leap as teens or adults, only to find out how difficult it is to meet our own expectations for art, suddenly all those concepts that had so much sense in our heads get lost in translation and we end up with a hazy version of what we envisioned.

For beginners, this is a real struggle.

Drawing or creating something from the imagination is impossible. Everything we create or draw has bits and pieces of what we have seen, experimented and felt. This concept seems to affect many artists, who believe that if their creation is not 100% from imagination then it’s not valid.

Especially beginners.

However, more experienced artists know that the process of creating something without proper REFERENCES is much more tedious and energy-consuming, sometimes demotivating and frustrating.

To take the images and concepts from our head and portray them into reality it’s always necessary for us to build a mental library with all the elements that relate to our vision. It’s necessary to study those elements and get comfortable with them. This is a great practice, yet is very time-consuming, and sometimes, especially in art is hard to have a mental library of everything.

That’s why REFERENCES exist.

We can take references from anywhere, from nature, life, animals, ourselves, other artists, etc. however not many have the time to go outside and take pictures or study a certain animal or flower that we want to draw.

The internet is a great place to take references from, images pop just after a simple search on google. Sites such as Pinterest, Dribbble, Juxtapost, or even google images are great for quick references and inspiration, however, most of the images there are protected by certain copyright laws and limit to some extent their use for creatives, especially graphic designers.

If what you’re looking for are inspiration and references then those are your sites to go!

However, the enormous quantity of images in these sites sometimes makes it a bit hard to search for specific reference images, there are also a lot of low quality and non-related images

And that’s what this guide is here for! Here you’ll find the best-recommended sites for artists on the internet.

We’re going to classify them according to the type of content they offer and guess what? We have some really good and FREE options for you to use!

Sources for Stock Images

Being a creative is hard. And let’s be honest, most stock image services make it even harder. With over-expensive stock prices, impossible to cancel subscriptions, and bad search engines, many creatives find looking for references on these sites a nightmare.

So here we present some totally free options where there are high-quality royalty-free images that we can use as we please.

Pexels, Pixabay and Unsplash

These three sites, in popularity and performance order, are the best free stock libraries of High-Quality images, videos, and audiovisual content, available for everybody. There’s no need for registration to get the images we want, however, there are some ADs of other paid stock services on top, so be careful of those.

The license is royalty-free and you can use these images however you want.

There’s a donate option to contribute to the original artist, nevertheless, it’s totally optional and you can use the images regardless.

We’d rate them as 10/10, 9/10, and 8/10 respectively.

Stocksnap, Freeimages, and Kaboompics

Also great stock libraries, not as good as the ones mentioned earlier, however still good places to find high-quality, royalty-free images that can be used commercially and non-commercially.

Kaboompics takes the lead due to its color that is a great help when working in graphic design and web development.

We’d rate them with a 7/10, 7/10, and 8/10 respectively.

Wikimedia Commons

Is a media file repository full of public domain and educational license media contents. It has a lot of royalty-free high-quality media, even though there are some images with barely restrictive licenses most of them can be used commercially and non commercially.

Each image has a description with its licenses and use, but usually, all that is needed is attribution to the author.

We give them a 6/10 due to the mix of professional and non-professional images there.

Morguefile

Even though Morguefile is also a stock service, the rules are completely different there. It’s an image-only stock service. It requires registration to access the images and the resolution is quite low. You can create derivative works of the images there and you can use them as reference but for commercial use such as prints, websites, etc you need the permission of the original author.

The community is quite lively and there are new materials every month, and it also has some courses to improve as a photographer and artist.

We give them a 5/10 rate due to the lower quality of the images compared to the services mentioned earlier.

Google Arts and Culture

Not quite a stock service but a free online art gallery where we can find artworks from all over the world.

Multiple eras, art movements, cultural works, and the best artists all in one platform that has a vision of gathering the art and culture of the world in an online and accessible art gallery.

 

So if you want to study the work of your favorite artist or want to learn how art was at a different time, then that’s the place to go.

Tips, Tutorials, and Resources

Let’s move onto our next category, which includes websites where you’ll be able to find classes and courses completely as well as visual resources and a growing community of artists.

CharacterDesignReferences.com

It’s a great site to go find information, tips, and references about character design and animation, it has also many resources for learning as well a strong community of artists that upload educational and reference material for their peers to use.

The site offers a totally optional subscription and there are art dynamics such as the “character design challenge” where artists and character designers decide on themes for each week and the community chooses a winner. Also, great to grow your audience and promote your art.

DrawMixPaint

For a more traditional-oriented audience, especially for oil painters, DrawMixPaint offers free very well structured short classes on how to paint with oils from scratch, along with youtube videos to guide you, presented by the artist Mark Carder, it’s an excellent option for those who want to start painting with oils. It also has a forum where artists all over the world share knowledge and their art, while also discussing traditional art themes and receiving feedback on their works.

DrawABox

A great place to learn the drawing fundamentals originally started as a subreddit with a small community, evolved to a website where we can find well-structured lessons along with homework and a big art community to support it. DrawABox is a great place to start learning the fundamentals of art. Even though many consider their lessons hard, it’s a safe way to learn how to draw anything from scratch.

The lessons are also available on YouTube for free and are accessible to everyone.

It also has a “support us on Patreon” option to remove ads, access to feedback and advanced lessons, plus the always growing discord server that is eager to share and discuss art topics.

Proko.com

I believe every artist has at least once heard about Proko. Stan Prokopenko is well known for his YouTube anatomy series, where he teaches about advanced human anatomy and gesture drawing. Their videos are quite complete and very well structured with homework and assignments that will take your anatomy drawing abilities to the next level.

His website has a paid option for more extended lessons and advanced topics but his free YouTube videos are perfect for the beginner artist that wants to learn how to draw the human body from an expert.

CtrlPaint

Now fory digital art peers, CtrlPaint is a great starting point, especially if you are feeling lost. Going from basic definitions, software use to digital brushes and painting techniques, CtrlPaint covers the very basics in short 5 minute videos. Their store has advanced paid lessons but they’re completely optional. They still release new videos every week so if digital art is your thing, it’s worth checking them up.

Quick Poses

This website,  besides being an amazing place for finding references, is also a great resource to practice! Timed drawings practices for gesture were the most difficult ones to attend for students and artists, so having a website dedicated to them is a great help. You can find nude poses, clothed poses, expressions, outfits and you can also select the time of every practice. Artists have been using it for a long time but mentioning it’s always helpful!

It offers as well landscape and architectural options for drawing practice and holds challenges for its members. After registering and achieving certain goals you get a certificate according to your amount of practice. It goes from Beginner (20 hours of practice) to Master (1000 hours of practice).

Line of Action

Same concept as its predecessor, but with a little more time for drawing (line of action allows timed practices up to 10 minutes) with the downhill of not offering landscape/architectural options.

Their forum is also a great place for artist-to-artist feedback and even though it doesn’t offer a certificate like Quick poses. It’s still a great site to practice and totally worth checking out.

Bodies in Motion

Even though a lot of the content on the platform is accessible through a subscription, the free assets are worth the mention.

Bodies in motion is a great place to learn and appreciate the movement of the body and its muscles. With photos taken by professionals, a nice interface, 3D rotating scans of the body, and amazing expression assets, Bodies in Motion is a strong platform that will for sure help all artists that are focusing on learning anatomy and gesture at the moment.

3D Resources and AI

Going along with technology, there are many sites where we can find 3D models of our desired subjects, and that is an advantage since the 3D models can be rotated and appreciated from all angles. The downhill is that most of it isn’t free.

Turbosquid

One of the biggest and more popular platforms for 3D models on the internet, TurboSquid has a great collection of assets and models that are most of the time behind a paywall but the free models make it worth the mention.

Even if you’re not a 3D modeler, or are in no way related to the 3D industry, Turbosquid is still a great place for references since most of their models have several view angles and lighting options.

X6UD

If you are learning how to draw animals and you can’t find enough references for your project, then this website will be your savior. By simply searching the name of the animal you want to draw, you’ll be provided with many high-quality reference pictures of it and it has a special function that allows you to see the 3D skull structure of it and rotate it as you want.

Generated Photos

An artificial intelligence image generator, that creates for you any face to use as a reference. You can filter the results by angle, ethnicity, sex, age, eye color, etc. though the options are limited, it’s still a great place to practice drawing faces

Remember, you can take reference of everything, your art won’t be “better” if we don’t use references and you’ll see a big difference and improve a lot by referencing pictures, life, and even other artist works, however, it’s important to know the use we can give to our referenced creations if it’s heavy referenced I’d advise you to credit the artist you’re taking reference from and always make sure to check the type of licenses even in free stock sites.

And that would conclude our list of the best reference websites for artists! There are lots of resources on the internet but sometimes, having them on a list is very useful, so save this article for when you’re having trouble creating something and you’re in need of a reference!

Thank you for reading this article and I hope it helped you a bit!