Is it ok to trace?

Home Forums Critique Is it ok to trace?

This topic contains 23 replies, has 21 voices, and was last updated by Hcameron08 2 years ago.

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    Yes and no if you trace to break it into forms but then do a study on your own comparing the reference image and your trace breakdown I think is okay, but you will not learn if you are only tracing. the good thing about them is I see nice confident strokes, but I would break away from that practice. You can do it! I trace forms usually to understand anatomy with forshortening.

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    I am no expert, please do not read this as unquestionable truth.

    Love the dynamic. These drawings are strong. Proportions seem very good.

    About tracing, it might hold you back, your hand should be able to draw what you think, not what you see :)


    I would say that it is a great method to learn proportions, maybe line quality too since you can be confident with your strokes. That said the only issue that the art community has with tracing is when people trace over others work be it a photo or worse another illustration and then don't credit the original artist. It's more of an issue with not crediting the original artist than it being a bad way of learning. It should be fine in this instance because these photos are meant to be learning tools.



    Well, I'm gonna be the spoilsport here but no, completely useless as far as I am concerned. Progressing in Art is long, difficult and tedious. Learning to deal with frustration and accept that to do great things you'll have to spend hours on end doing shitty stuffs is part of the journey.

    Confidence is not born from doing pretty things, it's born from doing shitty things day after day after day for years and seeing the improvement as you go along.

    If you start trying to take shortcuts at this point just to "feel good", how are you gonna deal with what's ahead? There's colors and lights and complex perpective and composition to learn as well. Are you gonna use an eyedropper tool everytime you try to work on a reference instead of training your eyes to gauge the colors? I know somebody who did just that, and she's been doing the same thing for over 10 years. Since she works in photo manipulation, that's ok for her professionnaly but these past two years, she's been trying to really improve her drawing and painting skill and she's not moving forward. Obviously when you've got a full time job, studying on the side is tough and dealing with frustration is way more difficult than somebody who's learning full time. And she never truly dealt with how frustrating line drawing can be, so she sort of stays in her area of comfort, not regressing, but not truly moving forward as fast as she could if she could just accept that sucking is part of the deal if you want to become an artist.

    Anyway bottom line, I'm no expert in anatomy, but I've been working on it on my own for a couple of years now (You can see part of my imaginative poses without references on deviantart: ) and it's long even if with experience, I can tell I didn't suck as much as I thought I did when I started (though I've still got a long way to go and I'm planning to take extra classes this year).

    Finally, I wanted to show you one particular illustration I'm currently working on:

    This one was done using a photo reference (obviously the photo didn't have clothes nor the shovel). The position I decided to draw is slightly different than what was on the photo originally.
    But what I want to show you is THIS

    As I said, this was done using a reference ( not tracing the lines obviously). The picture in black is the relatively final sketch ( I still made some changes after), the sketch in blue is the original one, the sketch in red is the first revised version and the second revised version and relatively final is the black one.

    As you can see, the differences are small, but only a trained eye can see why a position works and why another doesn't. I originally didn't see what was wrong, a professional pointed me that my perspective was wrong initially... But it was obvious to me it wasn't that because I sort of had followed the original picture I had seen... BUT I must have had done something that made that professionnal see the problem... and it's because I'm used to REALLY observe and draw shitty stuffs that I finally figured out what I could slighty modify to get something correct (actually there are more changes that should have been made but it involved much more work so I settled for correct instead of good). The changes are subtle but only hours of training can give you the eye to discern what changes needed to be done.

    Even with a reference, you can make mistakes so nope, want to progress? Accept that there's absolutely no shortcuts. What's hard today will be easy tomorrow, or the day after, but if you start using shortcuts just to "feel good", it will remain hard. Plus, what's your end goal? Feel good? Or improve?

    Doesn't mean that you can't relax from time to time with tracing if you like it... But consider those recreations not learning times.

    Good luck on you artististic journey!


    I was always taught to never ever trace.

    As an adult I know that professional artists do sometimes trace, for a WIDE variety of reasons. I also don't know any professional artist who would tell a beginner to trace over doing their best with their own stick figures first. The workflow they use is they make a series of small sketches (often thumbnail size) without using reference, to see what ideas they can come up with on their own (this is only possible due to the sheer amount of life drawing they've already done). Then they pick the best couple, they shoot photo reference. They do some more polished work based on the reference they shot. The art director picks one to continue with towards a final. There's often notes back and forth on the final design. Fine art work with a gallery and agents is often quite similar in method to art that might seem more commercial.

    Most of the work we do here is the life drawing part of the process, so the practice before the sketches. No tracing there, just you, your drawing surface and whatever tool you are wrestling with. If you look at a pro artist's life drawings, yes, they're better than yours. But you'll also see that if they haven't regularly been doing life drawing, they get better when they set up a regular studio time with friends and start practicing. So not fair. But also, I see in my own art that I have gotten loads better as I have practiced over the last 5 years. Practice is available to us all.

    I do not recommend using tracing just because it looks better, and DEFINTELY not for life drawing. As you learn more about art, you'll learn there's spots where pros use tracing or transfer methods, and it is good to try those methods for yourself in the appropriate context. Out of context tho, you don't learn much, if anything.


    I will add to the quorum against tracing. Its a very counter productive way of learning how to draw because you dont actually learn anything from it: you dont train muscle memory because your muscles are not moving freely and unconsciously, you dont train eye-hand coordination because you are not really visualizing the subject, you dont train your memory because you are not relying on it. I can imagine some situations where tracing would be helpfull, but not for learning.


    Tracing can get your hands used to drawing certain shapes and help with the flow of your drawings when you go to draw later on. While you shouldnt ALWAYS trace your references tracing to get the feel and flow of a drawing can be really helpful! Especially something that you might be uncomfortable with, tracing can help you grow and allow you to be more comfortable with drawing things free hand in the future.


    Tracing is not optimal compared to drawing what you observe. Tracing may give you insights to some things, but I think you only recognize them when you've been drawing from observation regularly. Not only that, but observation gives you the skills to draw figures more spontaneously, such as a person sitting across the room from you.

    I wouldn't say never trace again ever, but observational drawings will help you so much more in the future.

    That said, I like your lines of action, and I think you have an eye for finding some of the more basic shapes of the figure. Take that and try your hand at drawing observationally. The results may not look as polished at first, but with hard work, you will improve, and so will your drawings!

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