the whole stealing part is for people that copy the exact character! Say, if someone were to draw my dragon and claim it as his, I'd be really damn pissed! However, if he just use the pose or the dragons anatomy, I'd not mind it. It only counts if they draw another person's character without permission.
So... are you changing your opinion? Because you just said that copying a picture as a reference is stealing art.
Everything we learn in life is based off of references in effect. For example, how do I learn biology? Well I pick up a book (a biology reference) written by somebody and I learn what the author has written by essentially going over and mimicing his understanding by what he has wrote so that I can have that same understanding. If he has written crap then I learn crap, similar to references. You are using a picture drawn by somebody that knows what they are doing to learn yourself.
Back to the biology example, if I was to use that information I had just learnt in a debate then would that be 'copying'? No it wouldn't, it would be me applying what I learnt for a logical use and also going over that information to further remember it, just like when referencing in art so I can begin to learn techniques or how the body is in different positions. However if I were to then say, all that information I worked out independantly and using my own inginuity. That would then be stealing, as the information was not researched or discovered by me.
I can't think of any better way to say that there is a large difference between copying/stealing and using it to improve. That should also show that everything involved in a learning process involves using references and mimicing somebody else's knowledge, whether that is from a book, the Internet or even a picture.
yeah I know. it kinda went out of track there xD
So we can finish this and get back on track, copying becomes stealing when one of two things happen:
1. The artists copies an original drawing and claims the idea as their own, without givin any credit to the original (not sure if it's illegal, but if discovered it ruins the copier's reputation).
2. Someone makes any drawing of a copyrighted image AND sells it for profit or uses it in any sort of commercial manner (definitely illegal).
Just wanted to clarify.
Artists have gotten into the habit of copying pictures to the tee without citing the fact that they used a reference. Don't do that. By doing that you are taking credit for a level of skill you do not possess.
Aside from that, feel free to use references. Photomashing is also good practice. A lot of concept artists photomash a bunch of different, yet related objects to create a larger image. Like throwing together engine and train parts to create a mech. I might make a photomashing tutorial.
Relating to the above