I can hear you all groaning from here as I type this! Ok, ok, you all must get tired and infuriated every time you hear an artist in their tutorial mention the phrase 'gather references' and even I admit it, no way do I ever use references all the time, every artist is different but I feel that artistic license does come into play sometimes!
References come in very handy for when doing extensive dapples (especially dapple greys) and pinto colours. The colours that you may find difficult are also worth gathering references for; it can prevent the wrong colours being applied to the model and it helps the paintwork and everything stay on track!
Of course, now with the advances of internet and computers, one easy way to gather references is online.
If you see any references you like, simply save them into relevant folders on your computer. Even if you are just browsing the internet and not specifically looking, if you see a picture that you think might come in handy then just save it! I have a mini net book laptop, so sometimes if I find an extensive colour I wish to use as a guide I can easily carry it with me to my studio.
Magazines are also a brilliant way to gather references - it is fun to create collages and they are easier to transport with you. When I was younger I used to always create collages out of images, ranging from my Christmas list to just spending time with my friends cutting out cute animals from magazines we used to read!
Before I continue, a thanks goes out to Liz Hibberd in the UK for these magazines, I did have a collection of horsey mags from years back but I think they all got recycled and I didn't have them anymore... So there is a lesson learnt, keep your magazines for future reference if you want to do art work!
The paper/card I have there is A3 sized and I simply cut out the images I like, and stick them down!
Before you know it, a pretty decent collection of nice patterns that can be used is built up.
References aren't just for colours of horses, though. They can also be for resculpting, certain poses or windswept manes/tails, certain breeds of horse such as Arabians, anything you can think of - even tack!
The way I think about references - if you are sketching something in art, it is proven that artists do a much better job of a lifelike sketch if the object or image is in front of them; without it, they are relying on their conscious thoughts of what they are trying to achieve. If aiming for realism, it is much better and ideal to have what you want to draw right in front of you so you can literally 'copy' what you see, allowing for some artistic license too for shading/highlighting effects and what generally looks more pleasing to the eye on paper. References may not be the most fun topic but I hope I have tried to make it fun and demonstrated that there is a purpose to them. When I frist started out customising and read tutorials online on how to pastel that perfecrt chestnut, or create a stablemate scaled saddle, the artist in question would mention to get lots of references and I had no idea why. Now, especially after getting into sculpture, I know why.
I now have a reference colder I generated from these images and it will now live in my studio space with my other horsey books that I have. I just need to be on the hunt for more magazines now!