I’m currently illustrating Poems from the Night Watch by Arliss Ryan, a forthcoming poetry collection about the constellations. Sagittarius’s poem describes his attempt to master the bow and arrow, thinking he’ll be a natural at first and then surprised at how much hard work it takes to become an effortless archer.
In a similar bout of life-imitating-art arrogance, I thought I could knock this one out of the park fairly easily. After all, I was a horse-crazy little girl once and my first drawing book was called How to Draw Horses. All I needed to do was find some good reference photos of archers and basically graft one on to the top of a horse. Easy, right? Wrong! Turns out centaurs are really, really, really weird. If either creature’s torso is too long or too short, too large or too small, it just Won’t Work.
I started with very wild, feral-looking centaurs to distinguish Sagittarius as a non-human hunter, but that didn’t fit the poem. My search history filled up with Fresian stallions and shirtless male archers until I found the right pair to Photoshop together for a reference image, and only then could I draw the right blend of man and horse.
A friend once expressed a wish that he could draw like I do, “without using reference.” In fact, I use reference just about all the time, and when I try to skip that step, my work is poorer for it.