Tracing Art

Tracing in Art: Tools, Tips and Techniques

Tracing in art has been used as a technique for centuries. It can be a helpful way to quickly start with an accurate drawing. Plus, it’s even common for professional artists to use tracing as a technique to transfer the best lines of a drawing onto a canvas for a commission or final piece.

So before you dismiss tracing technique as mere cheating, let’s unmask the myths and uncover the truth behind its creative potential. In this blog post, we will delve into the etiquette of tracing, explore some of the benefits it offers, equip you with essential tools, and share valuable tips to help you elevate your drawing skills to new heights.

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Tracing tools and techniques

There are several approaches to tracing in art, each approach comes with a different method, different set of required tools and different different benefits.

Tracing Paper: The Key to Trace and Transfer Method

tracing paper

Tracing paper plays an essential role in the trace and transfer drawing method. This translucent, lightweight paper is a vital tool for artists who want to replicate a complex drawing or sketch with ease and precision. This type of paper allows light to pass through, enabling artists to see the lines of the original image beneath, thus simplifying the process of copying the details.

The trace and transfer method involving tracing paper works as follows. Firstly, the artist places the tracing paper over the original artwork and traces the key lines and contours. Once completed, the artist transfers the traced image onto the final drawing surface by placing the sheet face down and rubbing to transfer. Make sure to use graphite or charcoal to trace the image, so that the marks can be transferred onto the new surface.

Tracing using a Lightbox: Illuminated Precision

best lightbox

A lightbox is another invaluable tool that artists can use to trace their artworks. It consists of a flat box with a light source inside and a transparent top. This design illuminates the images placed on top of it, providing a perfect tracing environment.

To use a lightbox for tracing, you simply place your original sketch or image on the lightbox, then place a blank sheet of paper over it. The light shining up from the box illuminates the original image, making its lines visible through your blank paper. You can then trace these lines with a pencil or pen.

Using a lightbox for tracing offers a host of benefits. It grants artists the liberty to trace intricate designs with improved accuracy. Moreover, it is particularly useful when working with darker papers or denser materials through which light cannot easily pass. In these scenarios, tracing paper may not provide sufficient visibility, but a lightbox ensures you can clearly see the details of the original image.

The Artograph LightTracer Light Box

The Artograph LightTracer Light Box is a noteworthy tool that stands out amidst the sea of tracing equipment available in the market today. With a unique slanted surface, this lightbox caters to the comfort of the artist, preventing awkward wrist angles and reducing fatigue during prolonged use.

The illumination of the Artograph LightTracer is its standout feature. Equipped with adjustable brightness, it offers a wide range of luminosity from 14,000 to 5,000 lux. This feature ensures superior visibility of the underlying image, enabling artists to capture intricate details with high precision. It also provides the flexibility to accommodate various types of paper and materials, even those of denser quality.

Using the Artograph LightTracer Light Box is simple. Just place your drawing or image on the illuminated surface, cover it with a blank sheet of paper, and trace away. The adjustable brightness ensures that you always have just the right amount of light to see your original image clearly.

Enlarging Artworks with a Projector: Tracing on a Larger Scale

Projectors have established themselves as an exceptional tool for artists wishing to enlarge their artworks. By projecting the original image onto a larger canvas, wall, or other surfaces, the artist can trace the outlines with ease, creating a larger version of their work. This is particularly useful for muralists, theatre set designers, or any artist working on a grand scale.

The projected image serves as your guideline, allowing you to easily trace the outlines and major details onto your large surface. Remember to use light, erasable marks at this stage—the goal is to provide a guide, not the final lines.

Using a projector for tracing ensures accuracy in proportion when scaling up an artwork and saves substantial time that would otherwise be spent trying to manually enlarge the image. Yet, as always, it’s important to remember that the tool does not make the artist. Even with the outlines traced, you still bring your creativity and skill to the table by adding details, texture, and colour to bring the enlarged piece to life.

AKIYO Full HD Projector

The AKIYO Full HD 1080P Support, 5500 Lumens Phone Projector has revolutionised the art of tracing with its advanced high-tech features and user-friendly interface. This projector offers incredible value and is simple to set up and use.

Offering an impressive 1920×1080 resolution, this projector provides a crisp, bright image that retains the essential details of your original artwork, making it an ideal tool for artists who need to work on a larger scale.

What sets this projector apart is its 5500 Lumens brightness. Regardless of your workspace’s lighting conditions, the brightness ensures that images projected are vibrant and clear, making the tracing process more effortless than ever. The projector also benefits from its compatibility with smartphones, allowing artists to easily project their digital sketches or photos directly onto their canvas or wall.

In essence, the AKIYO projector makes the transition from small-scale sketches to large-scale murals a breeze. It’s a versatile investment for any artist, offering both quality and convenience, and easily bridges the gap between digital art and traditional art practices.

Tracing Tips

Regardless of the method used for tracing, here are a few tips to ensure that you achieve the best possible results.

  • Take your time to set up and adjust your equipment properly—having all the parameters in place ensures a precise tracing process.
  • Prepare your surfaces properly before you trace; make sure they are clean and smooth so that your marks come out sharp and clear.
  • Keep your pencils sharp so that the lines remain consistent across the tracing process.
  • When tracing on canvas, it’s a good idea to use a pencil as this will not smear when you add paint over it.
  • If using digital platforms for tracing, make sure to adjust the proper settings such as contrast, brightness, and opacity to get the desired effect.
  • Make sure that all tracing surfaces are well lit—this ensures better visibility of underlying images.
  • Have a variety of erasers prepared for erasing any unwanted lines or mistakes in your tracing process.

Is Tracing Cheating?

The perception of tracing as cheating stems primarily from the belief that art is an innate ability, a manifestation of an individual’s creativity that should not be influenced or aided by any external means. However, this viewpoint dismisses the fact that art, just like any other skill, can be nurtured and developed with practice.

Tracing is a tool that helps artists save time, perfect their techniques, and understand proportions and perspectives. As long as the artist understands and is clear with their buyers that they have used tracing as part of the process as an aid, there is no problem with using it as a technique.

Problems with tracing may begin to stem from artists tracing and essentially copying other artists’ or photographers work without the correct permissions, which could be considered as plagiarism.

Therefore, while it’s crucial to develop freehand drawing skills, tracing is not inherently cheating. It’s an effective method to learn and grow as an artist, especially when used responsibly. Tracing is merely a tool that assists in the preliminary stages of your artwork. The true artistry comes in how you take these initial lines and transform them into a finished piece that reflects your unique vision and talent.

The Etiquette of Tracing in Art

The etiquette of tracing in art revolves around respect for originality and honesty about the creative process. It’s vital not to trace or copy another artist’s work without their explicit permission, as this could be seen as plagiarism. This also extends to tracing copyrighted images or artwork. If you’re using someone else’s work as a reference or foundation for your tracing process, it’s always necessary to ensure that you have the rights to do so. It’s not plagiarism, provided that the artist has the copyrights to include elements of another artwork or photograph in their work. Many artists and photographers offer royalty-free images for this purpose, or you may choose to purchase the rights to use certain images.

Moreover, transparency plays a key role in the etiquette of tracing. While it’s not mandatory to disclose your methods, being open about the fact that you use tracing as part of your artistry can build trust with your audience and buyers. Lying about your techniques, such as claiming to have drawn something freehand when you’ve actually traced it, can damage your reputation and is generally seen as dishonest.

In summary, as long as you’re respectful of others’ work, obtain the necessary rights for the art you trace, and are honest about your tracing techniques, you can utilise tracing as a valuable tool in your artistic journey.

If you’re just getting started with your drawing practice, don’t feel bad about tracing! It can feel easier to trace some elements to make a drawing appear more complete or to use as a reference. However, if you develop your free hand drawing skills, observational skills and ability to measure the proportions of a reference by sight, then you can avoid using tracing as a crutch to create artworks.

The Use Cases of Tracing in Art

There are several specific use cases of tracing, that artists of all levels use. Tracing is most commonly used in the initial stages of creating an artwork or when an artist wishes to perfect a specific element of their work. Here are some more specific examples of how the technique can be used.

Check Your Proportions

If you’ve been teaching yourself to draw and using tracing as part of the process, you could aim to create a drawing partially by tracing and partially freehand.

You could do this by marking loosely with a dot or a series of lines, the placement of different features of the face. Then draw the contours of the features freehand. This will leave you to do 90% of the work, but you would still have your guides there.

Another way of approaching this exercise, is to draw freehand, or use the measuring technique to achieve your proportions, then check if they are correct by creating a traced version of the same reference. This way, you can cross reference the two drawings. Try to analyse and describe the differences between the two. It may show you how you can work on being more accurate next time.

Master Shading Techniques

Tracing can be an excellent tool to help artists focus more on mastering complex techniques such as shading, rather than getting bogged down with ensuring accurate proportions. It allows artists to begin with a correct outline of their subject, thereby eliminating any potential inaccuracies or distortion that may occur when drawing freehand. With the foundation set, the artist can then direct their attention and efforts to shading—a crucial skill that adds depth, defines form, and brings a sense of realism to the artwork. By using tracing to handle the proportions, artists can hone their shading techniques without the distraction of other elements, thereby facilitating a more focused and effective learning process.

Create a Final Piece

Another significant use case of tracing in art is refining an initial sketch or draft. Often, an artist creates a rough sketch of their intended piece, potentially filled with multiple lines, erasures, and corrections. Tracing over this preliminary sketch allows the artist to refine the composition, finalising the placement of lines and structure without the clutter of the original draft. This step makes it easier to focus on the finer details and embellishments in the final artwork. It’s a process of refinement that brings clarity to the artist’s vision, ensuring a clean, structured final piece that accurately reflects their artistic intent.

Tracing as a Tool for Creating Complex Scenes

Another creative use of tracing in art is in the creation of intricate and elaborate scenes. Artists often create complex compositions by combining multiple subjects or references, which can be a challenging process when drawing freehand. Tracing can be an invaluable tool in these instances. By tracing different elements from various reference images, artists can assemble them into a cohesive and harmonious scene with ease and precision.

This technique allows artists to focus on the overall composition and storytelling of their artwork, instead of getting distracted with the technical aspects of drawing each element accurately. It also offers the freedom to experiment with the placement and scale of different elements to achieve the desired visual impact. They can move around traced elements, try different arrangements, and adjust the sizes until they find the perfect balance and composition.

While this approach still requires a good understanding of perspective and light to ensure consistency throughout the scene, it simplifies the process of creating complex art pieces. It also opens up a world of possibilities for artists to create imaginative scenes that may not exist in real life.

Enlarging Artwork With Tracing

enlarging artwork tracing

For many artists, particularly those working on an extra-large scale like muralists, one of the most significant challenges is accurately enlarging a sketch or photograph. In these instances, an art projector can be an invaluable tool. This device works by projecting an image onto a desired surface, allowing the artist to trace the projected image directly onto their canvas, wall, or other work surfaces.

This process is relatively straightforward. Artists first place their original sketch or photo into the projector, which then magnifies and projects the image onto the chosen surface. The size of the projection can be easily adjusted to fit the artist’s specific needs, whether they’re creating a small canvas painting or a large-scale mural. Using the projected image as a guide, artists can then trace the outline with precision, ensuring that the enlarged artwork maintains accurate proportions and details.

Not only does this approach save time compared to manual grid enlargement techniques, but it also allows artists to focus more on the creative aspects of their work. Moreover, it provides an opportunity for artists to experiment with various scales of a single image, adding another layer of versatility to their artistic practice.

The Disadvantages of Tracing

We’ve talked a bit about the uses and advantages that tracing can have, but the main disadvantage it can have is in preventing you from developing your skills effectively.

If you rely on tracing all the time, while it may be beneficial to trace one of your own drawings for a commission, or scale it up so you can paint accurately on a large scale, you will miss out on practising how to accurately draw proportions.

This can lead to a lack of improvement in other areas, such as perspective, sighting and measuring.

Tracing also does not help you understand the subject matter you are drawing. If you are a figurative artist, it may be more helpful to invest your time in understanding anatomy, or going to a life drawing class to observe models in different lighting situations.

When overused, tracing can have the potential to lack the emotion and originality that comes with creating something from scratch. It might be useful to trace sometimes but try to limit it to when it is absolutely necessary.

Learning to Draw Freehand

While tracing is a technique to add to your drawing repertoire, it’s best used alongside a rounded drawing practice. We have many guides on how to improve at drawing, drawing techniques and drawing exercises, but here are some basic tips:

  1. Start with Basic Shapes: Every complex object can be broken down into simpler shapes like circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles. Start the drawing by identifying and sketching these basic shapes, and then gradually refine them into the more detailed final shape.
  2. Use Guidelines: Draw light guidelines to help place your features and ensure your proportions are correct. These lines can be erased later once the final lines are in place.
  3. Draw from Observation: Practice drawing things from your surroundings. This not only improves your skill but also helps develop your ability to see shapes, proportions, and shades.
  4. Practice Daily: Like any other skill, drawing requires regular practice. Don’t be disheartened if your initial attempts aren’t perfect. Keep practising and you’ll gradually see improvement.
  5. Use References: Using reference images is a great way to learn and understand your subject better. As you gain confidence, you can start reducing your dependency on references.
  6. Be Patient: Learning to draw freehand can be a slow process. It takes time to train your hand to make precise movements and your eyes to observe minute details.
  7. Experiment with Techniques: Try different drawing techniques like hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, and others to add texture and depth to your drawings.

Remember, the goal is not to create a perfect replica of your reference, but to understand structures and proportions, and to express them in your own unique style.