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Thread: Tracing

  1. #1
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    Tracing

    So I read this article on Muddy Colors about tracing today and I was wondering what the general opinion is here?

    For myself the idea of tracing seems to beat the entire point of drawing. If you are going to trace you could just as well take a photocopy or scan the image and photoshop it in whatever way you want/need. Same reason why I'm not really fond of matte painting (not to disrespect any Matte painters, it's just not my thing).

    But on the other hand, if I were in the same position and under the same conditions (tight deadline, using it as a learning experience, taking the drawing beyond the reference, ...) I could see myself starting the trace things to make the image all it can and should be. I can even see that it could help understand certain shapes that you have issues with.

    Still it seems a slippery slope. I'd be afraid that I'd start fooling myself into thinking that I'm an awesome draftsman, while in fact I'm just tracing.

    So, do you trace?
    Would you ever trace? If so, under what conditions?

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  3. #2
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    For myself the idea of tracing seems to beat the entire point of drawing.
    about 8 months ago (maybe only 5) i would have agreed with you about that. but then ive been working on some projects a friend of mine been artdirecting, and he repeatedly told me to incorporate tracing in my workflow, which seemed so wrong at the time. due to time constraints though, i had to give that stance up... and let me tell you... tracing is not as easy as it looks.
    also gregs points 2-4 are particularly important there... dont stop to draw and design just because you got some underlaying guides.

    i still didnt like it though, because i still somewhat thought its wrong and i had a hard time to incorporate it, so it fit my drawings.

    2-3 weeks ago i decided to go into storyboards and keyvisuals for the ad industry again, and quite soon got a call if a wanted to do some frames for a car-spot. i didnt get the gig (fortunately?) because i had no car drawings to show, but i sat down and wanted to get able to do cars aswell. i doodled a whole evening using various photos from google, but they all turned out crap. i couldnt get the proportions and the designs right. next day i decided to trace a few quickly and this really made me much more aware of proportions and design, because i wouldnt spend my whole attention on getting ellipses and angles correct. took me a few runs to get out of the simply copying state, to investigating what the important parts are that make 1) a car look like a car and 2) a specific car design. needless to say the sketches i made after that without tracing turned out much stronger .

    if deadlines get really tight, i now feel much better suited to effectively use tracings (because they are not simply copied anymore), yet got a much better feeling, because im confident, that if time permits, i can aswell draw them from scratch.

    wow turned out to be much longer than what i aimed for. o.0

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    Re-read the Manchess piece. To trace successfully you have to be fully mentally engaged throughout the process. To paraphrase, "trace as though you're drawing, not as though you're tracing".

    "Three's so little room for error."--Elwell
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    If you can't draw, you can't trace.
    Also, scroll down to the bottom of the page and check out the "Similar Threads" links.

    Last edited by Elwell; July 27th, 2012 at 07:43 AM.

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    When these threads come up I always think of this quote from Loomis.

    "Without a knowledge of perspective and the lighting of the basic forms, or some idea of measuring and proportion, the artist becomes a slave to photostats, projectors, or any other mechanical means that will substitute for the knowledge he lacks. If he traces or projects photographs instead of drawing his subject, the result will show up in his work. Such an artist will seldom reach the front rank, unless his work has other qualities that somehow make it better than the work of other photograph copyists. If a drawing is to be individual and dynamic, the artist must use the camera only to provide something to draw from, as he would draw from a model. The camera does not see the same perspective or proportion as do the two human eyes. Being a slave to the camera usually leaves the stamp of the photographic on a man's work. If you use photographs, square them off and draw, but always draw, don't trace."

    "The whole point of practice is to do it until you can do it right." - dpaint

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    Dean Cornwell said much the same thing Loomis did before photography about people who were slaves to their models. He admonished people who could not draw the story character using the model only as a guide.

    Here is the quote

    I have known illustrators to lack imagination to the extent that they allow or depend on the model to give them an interpretation. Very rarely have I ever found a model that can get into a pose in spirit or drawing the way I would like it on canvas. You should know enough about drawing so that your action or posture is definitely established on your canvas before ever calling the model.

    I think the problem comes in when everyone sees Manchess or whoever paint that way and they ignore what he says about drawing and just go "well he traces" so the bar keeps dropping.

    It used to be whoever could draw the best from a real model in Cornwell's time (imagine if that was the standard now); then it was whoever could draw the best using photo-reference heavily; Now its whoever traces the best, pretty soon it will be whoever does the best paint-over of a photo or 3d models and who cares if you built them, just steal them or screen capture them, screw copyright.

    Of course no one is saying this is the golden age of illustration and I doubt it will be remembered well compared to the last 100 years. Of course some people will stand out because they had their own high standards and maintained them.

    Last edited by dpaint; July 27th, 2012 at 11:05 AM.
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    Well, Loomis is wrong, except maybe in the perfect, deadline-free world he inhabited. The history of illustration shows scores of successful artists who could both draw very well and, yes, traced. Again, go back to the Manchess piece on muddycolors.blogspot.com to read an excellent, living artist/illustrator's account of tracing in his process, note how he echoes Elwell's contention that you have to know how to draw to trace, and let's just let poor Andrew rest awhile.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cory Hinman View Post
    Well, Loomis is wrong, except maybe in the perfect, deadline-free world he inhabited.
    A little knowledge of art history will save you from making ignorant statements like this one.

    In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.

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    Thinking about this, the goal to me has always been to be able to draw whatever I want with just a pencil and paper, and nothing else. Its a completely unrealistic goal and I know I will never reach it but if you have a goal like that you can think of tracing and ask, is this bringing me closer to that goal or taking me further away?

    If you have to trace in order to meet a deadline then that's fine, but if that was me I would be asking myself what could I learn so that at some point I wouldn't need to trace to meet that deadline. Wouldn't that be a skill worth having?

    Maybe I'm just crazy.

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    "Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up."
    Wally Wood
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    Tristan Elwell
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    There is good tracing and bad tracing.

    I've come to the opinion that it's very obvious if you are one of the bad tracers...and it doesn't really matter if you do it then anyway.

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  20. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    A little knowledge of art history will save you from making ignorant statements like this one.

    In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.
    Loomis in this quote is categorical about tracing. "If you're tracing, you obviously can't draw". Whereas Elwell and Manchess maintain drawing ability is what allows you to trace. Am I wrong about the number of illustrators who have traced? Is "scores" over-stating?

    Elwell, I can't find it right now, but it seems to me I've seen the Wood quote end with the words, "because you probably can''t."

    "Three's so little room for error."--Elwell
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cory Hinman View Post
    Re-read the Manchess piece. To trace successfully you have to be fully mentally engaged throughout the process. To paraphrase, "trace as though you're drawing, not as though you're tracing".
    One way to do this is to trace lightly, treating the original as a rough guide, and then remove the original and finish the drawing without tracing...

    This is essentially what I do when I transfer a drawing To canvas... First I project it, and trace the basic shapes from the projection lightly with a pastel pencil. Then I turn off the projector and go over the drawing with brown paint to solidify it and add details. This gives me a chance to check everything one more time and make last-minute edits and refinements.

    (Okay, that example is based on tracing my own drawing, but you could do similar with a reference...)

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