I don’t know where the myth originated from, but artists feel ‘dishonorable’ when using reference imagery. That looking at photos of your subject is ‘cheating’, and should be avoided at all costs. In my experience, the opposite is true - and all professional artists surround themselves with reference. As illustrators we’re tasked with drawing everything - it’s totally unreasonable that we’d be intimately familiar with every object on earth.
Without reference, it’s easy to revert to crude mental shortcuts. We envision the visual stereotype, or icon, which doesn’t include realistic details or nuance. In this episode of the fix list we’ll see how nearly any image can be improved by looking at reference photos. They’re your friend!