Where do you find photo references for your coloring projects?

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

I bet when you read this headline your immediate thought was “Google”. Was your next thought actually more like, “photo reference, what is that for”?

I was first exposed to the concept of using photo references when I enrolled in my first coloring class at Vanilla Arts, where the classes always include photo references.

Did I use them? Not really. Why? I didn’t understand how to use them or the value they provide in the coloring process.

And here’s yet another confession, I was drawn to these coloring classes based on the full colored class sample—so why did I need photo references since I was trying to recreate the colored class sample.

I know myself well enough to know that I don’t gain art related knowledge by simply reading about it or listening to instruction. I have to “do” the instruction until the lightbulb comes on. In the case of using photo references, that took me about three years to finally be able to embrace the use of this tool. I not only embrace photo references, now I can’t color without them.

It all changed for me when I started creating my own images to color. You see, I am not one that can draw. I can rough sketch something, but it will lack reality in terms of proportion and perspective. I have tried over the years, taken drawing classes, but that part of my brain just doesn’t engage with my hand. So instead I started looking for photos of what I wanted to color to use as a template. After I combine all the photos into a composition, I then trace over them to create my image.

All the research I did to find images that would fit my vision helped me to identify variations in my subjects that I wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of. So when I start coloring I refer back to the reference photos to remind myself which details caught my attention so I can incorporate them into my coloring project.

So the next time you take a coloring class I hope you will look at the photo references that accompany the class in a whole new way. Know that the artist created the image for us to color based on these photo references. Look at the photos included closely and you will discover clues about how to color the image. The photos will give you color cues too. You might not see things in the photo references that the artist did. That doesn’t matter as long as we don’t ignore the reference photos and still color what we observe in the photos.

I actually recommend you take the time to research reference photos on your own, even if they are included in your course materials. It will help you better understand what you are about to color. Or, it may just give you the inspiration to alter the coloring of the image just enough to put your own spin on it!

Reference photos are a blessing when you want to color a stamped image (rubber or digital) for which you have no idea how to color and no classroom instruction. You just need to do a little research for reference photos before you start coloring. I can’t even image the number of images available to us on the internet. And if I knew, between the time I am writing this and you are reading it, thousands more have probably been added by users like you and me.

Here are a few sites that I visit online when looking for inspiration and/or reference photos:


This is a website with a community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos (over 1.7 million). All content is safe to use without asking permission or giving credit to the artist - even for commercial use (as stated on their website under FAQ).


This website is described as a photo discovery platform for free to use, high-definition photos. All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and non commercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible (per their website).


Instagram is a free photo and video sharing app. Tip: Frankie posts a number of interesting snippets for the Practice Corner on Instagram. If you haven’t checked us out, there is a link here or below. Hey, better yet . . . follow us on Instagram today.


Pinterest is a visual search engine for finding ideas and inspiration. You type in a word or sentence of what you are wanting to see and pictures will pop up.

A nice feature of Pinterest is that you can save images you find to your own Pinterest board. Just like Instagram, did you know there is a Practice Corner account on Pinterest? If you haven’t checked it out, there is a link here or below. Check us out. Be sure you look through all our boards that we have created and organized by subject matter that is specifically related to coloring and/or the Practice Corner. Better yet . . . follow us today on Pinterest too!


Google is probably the best known text based search engine in the world. You type in a word or sentence of what you are wanting to see and text will appear. You read through to see if anything matches what you want or click on the “images” to see your results in photos.

Sometimes we forget about a great photo resource that doesn’t require going online, our own photos! That’s right, check our your own photo library. Or, go for a walk and take some new inspiration photos.

The more you look around, the more you see, the more see the more you will want to color!

Time for me to get back to my practice. I’m having a great time creating realistic glass month. It's never too late for you to practice too. Even after we move on to the next technique, you will be able to find the Practice Technique Pack for Glass here!

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for more inspiring stories and tips to help you keep practicing and finding new joys through your coloring.

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