With that in mind, I try to think of painting as putting my personal impression on the canvas, rather than trying to copy reality.
This goes for painting from life, but also when I am constructing a composition for an illustration.
Studying perspective, color, light, anatomy, using different media all help to be able to translate your experience to marks on the canvas, that, hopefully, communicates my concept to the viewer.
I added some examples of some works of great artists and how they use their references. None of them just copies what's in front of them. They use it to absorb as much information about their subject as they can, in order to create their personal version of it.