Why do you stick so close to references? You obviously have the skill to invent, even when using references. You sometimes draw wings on your characters or add other surreal elements, your backgrounds are genius, and you have the best grasp of color theory I've ever seen. Point is, the skill is there. But most of your portraits are (for lack of better wording) you copying a photo. Is it intentional? It seems like a lot of effort for a lesser goal when most artists would strive for the opposite.
I think… you might be coming at it from the wrong direction.
I’m not an illustrator.
So instead of thinking down that road, and oh hey there’s Drew Struzan, and there’s James Hance and Phil Noto and Michael Whelan and Ralph McQuarrie, etc. All these guys who do exactly what you’re talking about…
I think it will make way more sense if you ignore the realism. And ignore the string of famous male illustrators whose work has obviously had a big impact on what you think art is supposed to look like and how references are supposed to be used
and instead come at my art as if you’re looking at a teenage girl’s locker, and the art is the magazine pictures she’s hung in there.
If it wasn’t for the realism and the technical skill, you wouldn’t care at all about whether or not I’m wasting my time or how closely I’m copying photos. You’d just see the girl and her locker. If it was novice art, you wouldn’t care.
But when the girl is putting Rembrandt in her locker, suddenly it’s worth your time and questions.
So my “[greater] effort for a lesser goal” is the point. My art is a fangirl Rube Goldberg Machine (for lack of better wording) designed to dazzle your stupid ass.