As you can see, I’ve advanced my latest drawing, Liar, liar, liar, a little further with the addition of a chalice. There are still many more small stones to be added!


My post “Tracing: what’s your view?”, is ranked number 3 on my list of most read and not surprisingly, received numerous comments.

My own views on this subject have not changed. To be honest I’ve become more anti-tracing than ever. I cringe whenever I see that a drawing has been ‘created’ on drafting film. Why would you ever use this support if you didn’t want to trace? The only exception would be if you wanted to transfer a sketch, but as drafting film apparently, readily accepts erasers, why would you use  this support?

The problems with tracing are:

Tracing doesn’t teach you how to draw, it teaches you how to copy.

Tracing doesn’t allow an artist to develop or show their own particular style.

Tracing quality varies from person to person for a variety of physical, emotional and intellectual reasons, but it’s still copying. Some do it a lot better than others.

Tracing is quite acceptable in craftwork, but we are talking about fine art which should be personal and original.

The unique way each artist interprets their art is the greatest characteristic that fine art possesses.

On the credit side, tracing is a good teaching tool and a confidence-builder, but it can be habit-forming and there’s a time to let go and reveal the way YOU express yourself through YOUR art.

Tracing seems quite popular with some coloured pencil artists, but it’s not just confined to this medium. Some painters work from slides projected onto their work and there’s overhead transparencies. The problem with the need to trace is that it’s driven by the need for photographic accuracy. Why is there this need to compete with the camera?

Freehand practice is what should be celebrated!

Tomorrow: Is using a grid the same as tracing?



About artkleko

artist, art curator, art teacher, art judge, art critic
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10 Responses to TRACING

  1. Lorraine McNeair says:

    Oh Richard, I think for an artist to trace and produce a work from this is being dishonest. I have heard about people projecting images, and it fills me with disgust, to be honest. Oh, I hope I have not upset anyone. Forgive me if I have. It is just a personal view.

  2. I agree Lorraine with your comments. It does happen and it always will. I really appreciate truly individual artwork, that’s personal, a little quirky perhaps, but most important, it’s intriguing to the viewer.

  3. Belinda says:

    Hi Richard,

    Oh don’t knock drafting film, using drafting film doesn’t mean you trace its lovely to work on both sides of the film you use this support because it receives the pencils differently than other supports you get such a lovely smooth layers and layers is different on film than on paper, it takes less layers so you get lovely effects.

    I know your views on tracing that’s fine but don’t assume all work is traced on film its a lovely support 🙂

  4. It’s good to know Belinda, that drafting film is not just for tracing. Thank you for your comments.

  5. Dors says:

    I am using drafting film at the moment for the first time. I have not traced my image and didn’t think to. Like Belinda says, it’s a great support for color pencils and you can erases easily.
    I have to admit I don’t know how drafting films stand up to being framed over a long period.
    I am just experimenting with it as I have heard many artists say it’s a great support for both CP and Graphite.
    Having said all that….I think that accuracy is needed for some work like human portraits I have done freehand portraits and projected. There is little difference in the end except it takes much longer to draw freehand. and who gets paid for every hour spent tediously measuring and re measuring to get that perfect photo realism. I have reached the decision I will refuse to do human portrait commissions as I don’t think I would be far wrong in saying that freehand portraits …I would probably earn about 50cents per hour. Who in the world these days would work for that. I am a perfectionist I know.. and work to give the very best I can do.

    I am not convinced in my mind that photo realism is worth all the pain and stress to get that perfect look. If i was not an artist and wanted a perfect photo realistic portrait of my dog…I am sorry to say I would just frame a photo.

    I am striving to create my own personal style of art.

    I know you have done that Richard… I would know your style anywhere.

    There is so much competition out there in the art world and we can’t all be masters… Art is about enjoying and creating.

  6. Gillian says:

    Ah – the thorny subject of photo-realism! I have been guilty of tracing from a photo but I didn’t like the soul-less result.
    I wouldn’t say it was wrong – especially for beginners who maybe enjoy the painting part more than the drawing – but nothing quite beats discovering and creating your own style.
    As you know, I shrank back from attempting photo-realism. For some reason doing colour pencil work led me down that path, even though it left me cold emotionally.
    Art is a very broad canvas and I feel it’s better to try, with whatever method, than to do nothing and live with regrets.
    Showing us another way is what you do so well, Richard.

    • artkleko says:

      Good comments Gillian. I have wondered why there is an obsession with photo-realism using coloured pencils. Maybe it’s because they are so accurate to work with which in turn encourages some to trace.

  7. Janet says:

    Richard, I’m afraid I have to disagree with just about all the points you made against tracing. I agree that if you trace every little line slavishly from a photo and you try to replicate a photo exactly then of course you are not developing your own drawing skills and you may as well just have the photo as the ‘artwork’. However, I don’t think you can dismiss tracing outright on those grounds.

    I think Dors made a very good point (above) about human portraits and tracing. I’ve found that tracing a portrait from a photo, for example, is definitely not a cop-out! Firstly, you can only hope to trace the outline and features very roughly – there are no hard lines! – the real work starts once that very rough ‘map’ of the face is down on the support. Secondly,you are choosing and applying colours, you are observing and interpreting the contours and shapes very carefully and you are (at least I am!) adjusting, honing and modifying the picture as you work. The result is an interpretation of the photo, the face – in short, your own unique ‘style’ and creativity is being brought to bear on the picture. Furthermore, if several artists were to copy a single photo – no two pictures would look the same. Is that not individuality?

    Finally, I’d also like to point out that if you are working from your own photograph then the photo itself is an integral part of your artistic endeavour. It is your photo and your own interpretation of that photo.

    I’d like to challenge you to go against your own instincts and try it! Do a trace from a photo and work up the picture in the way I’ve described. Only then can you truly make any worthwhile judgements on the matter. In the end, it comes down to personal preferences. It isn’t yours but that doesn’t mean that beautiful art can only be produced if you draw freehand.

    • artkleko says:

      Thank you Janet for your comments, I appreciate your response. If three artists traced the same photo, they would still be copying, albeit in their own way. A freehand interpretation would be a more accurate way of revealing one’s artistic style.

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