First off, yes, one definition of a morgue is a place where dead bodies are stored. That's not the kind of morgue we're talking about here. So calm down. There are no dead things, I promise. The kind of morgue we're interested in is also known as a morgue file or an artist's morgue. It's basically a collection of resources one uses as reference material as well as to pull inspiration from. When you get down to it, it's just a nice, fancy way of saying that artists tend to be pack rats.
Most of us artists are lucky, our morgues can be easily contained on shelves, in boxes, even on the computer. But some artists work in bigger mediums and their morgues, well, tend to take over their studios. If you live with an artistic person and they have a room that looks like this...
... you're better off just closing the door and leaving it alone. Seriously, don't touch it. That jumble of chaos - or as Rarity called it, her "inspiration room" - is a morgue.
Now, some artists are like me. I don't mind sharing the contents of my morgue. I also don't mind people going through my morgue as long as at the end of the day all the pieces are accounted for and undamaged. Nor do I mind if my morgue gets messed up, moved around, or tidied-up. If I don't like where something's been moved to, I'll simply move it back. End of story. If you do something like duct-tape books to the ceiling, I'm probably going to duct-tape you up there with them, but other than that, it's all good.
It's important to remember that not everyone is like this. Other artists will have a completely different reaction to someone messing with their special stuff.
It's always best to ask first. In fact, you should really ask before looking through an artist's morgue. The reason is, morgues are unique and special to each artists. They reflect that artist's personality and interests. And, some of these interests may be a little... intimate.
Hell, let's stop dancing around the subject... I'm talking porn / erotica here, people. The fact of the matter is, if you want to learn human anatomy, you're going to be looking at nudes. Want to learn it on the cheap? Then pick up a Playboy / Playgirl. When you're done with those, grab some Alberto Vargas, Olivia DeBerardinis, and Dan DeCarlo art books. Even your basic anatomy books will show you boobs. Some will even show you a penis. The thing is, some artists are shy people who fear being ridiculed by others. The last thing they want you to find out is that they look at nudes now and then.
Then again, there are people like Rarity who don't want their stuff moved or messed with, especially by relatives. It's their stuff, after all. Can we say 'sibling rivalry' and 'privacy issues'? Sure we can. Anyone who has siblings or nosy parents understands that. Most of us have been there. So just ask first. It's the polite thing to do, after all.
Because I know at least one person reading this is probably curious... no, I don't have any Playboy / Playgirl issues. I do have a copy of 50 Years of the Playboy Bunny though. I also have my eye on Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds and love Vargas and DeCarlo. Unfortunately, I don't have any books of Olivia's art. They're a little pricey for the size. Hey, just because I don't draw adult content doesn't mean I don't need to know what the human body looks like naked. Besides, the women are lovely.
Anyway, now that the whole 'how to avoid drama from messing with an artist's morgue' has been covered, let's talk a little more about what goes into a morgue. Since inspiration can be found just about anywhere, just about anything can go into a morgue. Some common items are...
books...the list goes on.
photos (physical and digital)
movies / cartoons / documentaries / sitcoms
found objects (stones, hunks of wood, whatever)
One of the things I do is keep copies of every CN:H issue / trade that's been printed.
Vain and egotistical? Maybe. But, it's helpful when I need to reference how a character who hasn't popped up in a while looks. Yeah, I could bounce through the site, but this is much quicker.
As I mentioned before, I use Breyer horses as models. Trade magazines like Sketch and The Comics Journal are useful for info on the industry, but I also keep copies of Harper's Bazaar as well as store catalogs like Dover Saddlery and Ikea. What it comes down to is, if it sparks your interest, it's a good thing to keep.
This has gone on longer than I planned, so I'm going to end it now with a quick note. It's important to look over resources before adding them to your morgue. The reason is, you don't want to pick up a book that's too much for you to handle. I know that probably sounds mean, but hear me out. What I mean is, if you stock your morgue with references too far beyond your current abilities, you run the risk of intimidating yourself. Your morgue is for inspiration and growth. It's there to encourage you and make you happy. You don't want it to do the opposite. For example, if you're just starting to learn anatomy, picking up any of Burne Hogarth's books is probably a bad idea. While his books are wonderful, they're very complex and can be terrifying when you're just starting out. Find what works for you now and add to your collection as you grow.
Building your morgue is like the process of learning to draw itself, it's a lifetime effort. You won't build it in a weekend. Take your time, explore, and have fun.
"I must see new things and investigate them. I want to taste dark water and see crackling trees and wild winds."
-- Egon Schiele