I used to have a lot of trouble starting a new piece because I had a common misconception that I should be able to pull everything completely out of my head. I would have an idea for something I wanted to draw, but once I started sketching I couldn't get the pose or perspective right. I would spend hours drawing and redrawing (usually the pose would morph into something else entirely during this process), and then I would struggle to add the background as an afterthought, not knowing how things should look. Do you think you know what a classroom looks like? Once you start trying to draw it you will realize you don't. I usually managed to eek something out that looked somewhat like a space that could maybe exist in reality, but it lacked any interest or specificity. So we have this character, wearing generic pants and a t-shirt, whom we are supposed to believe is doing something really exciting while standing in front of a mostly blank wall.
As you can imagine, this was all very frustrating. I really felt like I just needed to make a few more illustrations and then I would somehow magically acquire the knowledge of a professional illustrator and the ability to slap down a perfectly believable and fully formed scene on a piece of paper at any given moment (this is where you are supposed to laugh).
During one of my monthly co-working days with Marsha (I like to refer to them as art therapy sessions), I mentioned that I really needed to practice drawing environments and I just wasn't good at it. She asked me what I meant by that and I pulled up one of my favorite illustrations by Kelly Murphy to show her. That's when she told me the big secret: the first R of Illustration is Research. Marsha proceeded to point out approximately twelve different things in the illustration that were the product of extensive research.
The image below is an example of what happened when I did not use research to inform the background of my piece. My fellow Puddle Jumper, the lovely Lynnor Bontigao, pointed out to me that the background I had painted for this piece (as an afterthought) could literally be a room anywhere. It needed to look like a science lab and in order for it to look like a science lab I needed to do research. So back to Google images I went in search of photos of laboratories and lab equipment from the early 1900s. You can see that the second image at the top of this page is MUCH better as a result of my research.
Using research has made all the difference in my work. You may have heard someone say, "Don't draw a car, draw THAT car." I now begin every new piece with lots of research and compile and organize all of my reference material (the second R!) on a Pinterest board. I try to anticipate every obstacle I might encounter while working on the piece. Does it have boats? What kind of boats are they? Will there be water? What about lighting and color? What would the characters be wearing in this specific time period? What is the weather like? If I can't find reference for a specific pose, I try to take my own.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? It is. In fact, it's so much work that sometimes I try to take "shortcuts," which actually end up costing me extra time in the long run. I am consistently noticing that the things I have to redraw in the late stages of painting are the exact things that I decided not to research or find reference for. This is where the third R comes in: Re-doing – because that's what you'll be doing if you don't research and use reference. :) :) :)