Reference Is Everything

Reference Is Everything
INTERVIEW WITH Adam Fitzpatrick

Concept Artist Adam Fitzpatrick shows us what he learned about effective references as he breaks down his work from Drawing & Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design.


My name is Adam Fitzpatrick. I’m an American artist currently living in Singapore. I currently work as a concept artist for Omens Studios – an animation company that creates children’s shows. I’ve always enjoyed art and design. I became most interested in art from comics and animation and wanted to be involved in the process of telling stories. In my spare time, I work on comic book projects. I took Drawing and Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design because I really admire the work of the instructor, Michal Kus, and really wanted to study the subject matter.

Introduction to Hardware Design

Mastery over perspective is a huge benefit to any subset of concept art (characters, environments, props, etc…), but in the case of the vehicle and mechanical design, it comes across as less of a benefit and more of a must-have. Vehicles are fully grounded in space and are built up by connecting various forms together within that space. Understanding the perspective and using that understanding to slowly combine simple forms into complex forms is a fundamental skill. It’s hard to learn (at least it was for me!) but it’s honestly a game-changer when you “get it.”

Using Effective Reference

How to use references was one of the biggest takeaways from the class for me. Effective use of reference is key to a great design. The more diverse the well of inspiration you’re pulling from,  the higher the chance that you’ll make something unique. While your imagination is a great place to start exploring ideas, there will always be gaps in your imagination and that’s where the effective reference can fill in or expand. The assignment this week was to come up with a design that has a unique influence from nature but still has recognizable manmade forms like hardware or vehicles. The animal I chose was a grasshopper and praying mantis. I did some sheets of studying their forms.

Michal’s demos were very easy to follow and the class felt structured well. I think his demo on how to use reference was one of the most influential things I had seen up to that point. I had been taught to “use reference but don’t copy it” before, but the way Michal explained it and demonstrated it finally made that statement make sense to me.


I render in a very similar style to Michal, so his teaching really resonated with me. I don’t use many layers, and constantly merge down my layers when I do. One of the huge things that Michal helped me with was pushing my contrast of colors and value, as well as the overall execution of the piece. I think it’s a common problem to not be as dynamic as possible with your values or colors, out of fear that it’ll be “too much.” However, often times your “too much” is someone else’s “not enough.” Michal was never satisfied! It’s a good thing to learn, though. You can always polish things more.

Final Project

I really love Asian culture and architecture. I was talking to my neighbor at the time, who was a cobbler, and I was telling him about my plan to have a mobile merchant store. He wanted me to make it a moving shoe store. Unfortunately, that didn’t come through too much in the design at the end, but I did take a lot of inspiration from his storefront and it helped kickstart my idea.

I’d say I had the most trouble with making the mechanics more complex, while retaining beauty. I’m sometimes a pretty impatient guy, so I tend to go with my first answer to things. I’ve had to learn to continue to explore and, through iteration, expand upon my initial ideas. This class was really helpful for showing me how you can further develop simple ideas into more complex ones.

I’m probably most happy with my final week 8 design. Looking back on it now, there’s a lot of stuff that I’d change and work on further, but for my current skill at the time, it was a big step forward for me. I think the most fun assignment for me was the roadsters that I designed. I gathered references of insects and did studies of their form language. I then tried to incorporate some of these aspects into my design. I didn’t nail it perfectly, but it was one of the first times I had been intentionally trying to inject a specific formula into my design, so I had a really great time trying it out.

Adam Fitzpatrck portfolio: