So, do you trace or not – that is the question; and it has has to be one of the most frequently asked questions. So, can we trace an image or do we have to draw it out freehand? Here are a few of my thoughts.
One thing I do feel is important is to practice your drawing skills, this is a good way to hone your eye and to see the details, shapes, angles and size relations within a picture you are creating. The more you practice the more you will improve. As with painting it takes time to ‘get your eye in’, but focusing on just the outline and any significant lines is a good way to really ‘look’ at an object, or in our case an animal, bird, our favourite pet or a tiny insect!
When you look back at art history there have been a range of methods used to get a composition onto paper. Some are still popular today, I can remember being taught to use the grid system to upscale an image and this is still a skill I teach. Other methods have included dividers to get the measurements correct and camera obscuras. In more modern times we can use light boxes and projectors, the latter favoured by artists who are working on extremely large projects.
It is important to remember that freehand drawing is actually another skill altogether. Some artists simply draw and this is all they do. People who really enjoy the painting process may not be confident in drawing or even want to draw out an outline for a painting freehand. Indeed, many professional artists, simply do not have the time to freehand draw! For nearly all of my paintings I will use tracedown/ graphite backed paper to get the outline onto my watercolour paper. It is extremely quick, is always accurate and my subject is in proportion with eyes, ears and nose all in the right places! I can then get straight to the painting process!
So is tracing cheating? I personally don’t think so, I see it as a way of getting to the painting process much quicker and making the best use of my time. I see graphite paper as another tool; one that can be used to give everyone the confidence to have a go at painting whether they can draw or not. Everyone can start with an accurate outline drawing and to be honest this is probably one of the most critical stages when painting realistically. There are many people who want to learn to paint, they don’t want to learn to draw! They want to learn how to hold a brush, mix and apply paint, work with colours, washes and detail. Tracing an outline also removes the need to erase drawing errors, watercolour paper can be easily damaged and those errors will show as soon as you start to add washes – no one wants that. In my opinion tools are there to be used and graphite paper is simply a really good tool. 😉
At the end of the day, the decision is up to you; we all have control of our own painting journey and we do what feels right and works for us. Why not have a go at both, draw your image freehand and also trace it, paint one or both of your outline drawings and see which method you found the most enjoyable and rewarding?
Now you know my thoughts, what are your feelings about this subject – post a comment below, I would love to know.
Keep those brushes wet,
P.S. If you’ve only just found me and have stumbled upon this page, both these robins are available as PDF downloads here on my website and the one above is available as a FREE real time video tutorial over on my Patreon channel. Have fun. 😉