A simple enough question. What does the denizens of ConceptArt.org think of "tracing" as a method of learning?

Gocke posed this question in the forum, and noted three ways to look at "tracing"

  • I read that tracing an image teaches you a lot more than simply referring to the image by looking at it. 
  • Others claim it will hinder your progress and will not really teach you anything about drawing.
the_jos pointed out the uses of tracing:

"First of all is learning your mind that things ain't off when doing foreshortening. I did a foreshortened beak of a bird of prey a couple of weeks ago and my mind complained a lot about stuff being off. It's only at the end that things fell into place and turned out to be ok. When making various partial traces of such an object it's possible to learn your brain that those 'odd' lines are actually ok.

The second usage is for quick setup of things.
If I want to practice values, shading and rendering I could trace the same image a couple of times to try different things.

Last and not to be underestimated. Tracing can learn you to make steady single lines. Doesn't matter on sketches, but when you are going to ink something you might want to have a steady hand..."

Arshes Nei pointed out the possibility of confusion with the subject:

"I refer to what you're talking about "Eyeballing"

Tracing is well actually going over the lines. If I for example, made some pencils and wanted to ink them, I'd get my lightboard and trace over the image. Does that count as cheating?

I want to make that distinction because it tracing and eyeballing are two different things in my opinion. It's one thing to trace over an image using a projector or light board, it's completely different to learn how to see spacial relationships to learn better control through observation and eyeballing.

I think you'll learn better this way..?

It also irks me because n00bs will interchange the term when I'm saying "ok gotta trace this" and I'm referring to my own works and they scream "cheating" when I have to explain to them. No, I'm inking, and I want to keep the original pencils around in case I mess up."

joyproject simply states:

"Tracing is fine for learning, but don't end up using it as a crutch."

OmenSpirits concurs:

With tracing, one can learn about the landmarks on the body.

The rest more or less said its cheating. Still, you can read more at http://conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=154586 or http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=113058 which is an older thread on the same topic.

My thoughts
So what do I think of tracing? Is it good or bad for an artist's development? Let me put it this way... it... depends.

Many artists believe that anyone caught tracing a reference photo shouldn't even be called artists. That this whole tracing business should be left to kids. Not so for the legendary DC/Marvel artist Neal Adams, who believes tracing is one of the keys to better looking art. According to a section in Neal Adam's webpage, he was quoted saying that "...if they really want to learn to draw better. The first thing you need to do is get yourself a tracing pad and some solid and clear photos from magazines and anywhere you can get them. Trace, trace, trace. Trace some more. Make it a regular part of your drawing process. You will learn more by tracing than anything else. When people hear this their immediate reaction is 'I'm not gonna trace, that is cheating.' It is not. This is how you will learn."

So like I said... It depends.


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