Drawings of everyday life

Is it allowed to trace?

Since I started to draw I noticed I have a lot of unwritten rules about drawing. For example: drawing from a photograph is not so good, tracing a drawing is unacceptable. I let go of the first rule rather quickly, when I joined Julia Kay’s Portrait Party I started to draw from photographs and I had a lot of fun. The last part of the rule is harder to break.

A few weeks ago I saw a beautiful view from the ferry when I crossed the river to the North of Amsterdam, I photographed it with the intention to draw it. Then I imported the photo in the Brushes app and I traced the photo on another layer. I was rather inhibited tracing the photo, I can’t help feeling ashamed about it. I’m not the only who has these strong emotions about tracing. Illustrator J.E. wrote about tracing: “I was born into a social and family environment with a certain artistic pretentiousness about it, and in this context it was considered quite unacceptable to copy or trace an image. Credit was only given to the ability to create interesting and original images using real life as inspiration as little as possible.”

Well…I traced this image and I’m showing this ‘lesser art’ to you anyway.

View from the ferry over the river IJ in Amsterdam

I found in the Flickr group Julia Kay’s Portrait Party an interesting discussion about tracing.


13 responses

  1. Marianne Nales-van Schoor

    Weer ERG mooi, Grietje!! Groeten, Marianne

    March 12, 2013 at 9:23 pm

  2. I know exactly how you feel. That is why, when I trace a photo while doing an iPad drawing I always mention that I traced as part of describing the app I used, etc. But, I always fiddle so much with it that it is never an exact copy and has “my” imprint on it. Also, I know I could have drawn the subject – I just didn’t want to take all day. Ha! I end up using hours anyway.

    March 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    • So as long as you tell it is traced and you own the copyrights traced photo, it would be legally ok. Still it feels as something which is not allowed, it is not allowed by my inner critic I guess.

      March 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      • Well, I’m not really thinking about legally. Usually it is my photo but when it is someone else’s I ALWAYS attribute that (person whose photo it is) inspired me. My iPad drawings change a lot from The first line put down to when I deem it finished. I have also asked the person if they mind if I post a drawing inspired by their photograph if I feel queasy about it being too obvious. Nobody has said no. It is more that I feel if I don’t say I traced a photo or worked on top of a photo I feel dishonest and don’t want people to think I did something that I didn’t do. If I refer to one of my photos I also mention that but don’t feel the same queasiness.

        March 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm

  3. I don’t trace but I remember going to a museum once and the knowledgeable docent said that photorealists would trace from photographs, perhaps by projecting the image on a canvas. That surprised me. I just looked up photorealism in wikipedia and the originators of the movement included the following points: The Photo-Realist uses a mechanical or semimechanical means to transfer the information to the canvas. AND THEN The Photo-Realist must have the technical ability to make the finished work appear photographic. So tracing wasn’t a problem although I suppose some folks used a grid and others may have drawn freehand or used some other procedure I don’t know about. It was the act of painting that had to be from the artist. I guess for the rest of us that aren’t photorealists, tracing is forbidden.

    March 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    • And did the knowledgeable teacher disapprove of the tracing and photorealism? Besides the copyright issue, there is the thing about skill: the real skillful artist can draw from life and not from a photo or trace a photo. My opinion about this is almost the same as EAGHL ‘s, she wrote in the above mentioned Flickr discussion: “Since my portraits and other marker work is about the colors, I am always tempted to trace the subject. However I haven’t done that yet because I love the strange images that I turn out by drawing free hand.” That’s also why I like drawing freehand, because of my UNskilfullness and the strange lines that appear on the paper (or ipad) and which do surprise me.

      March 13, 2013 at 10:11 pm

  4. Will

    I teach drawing at an alternative school. In one of our lessons we all go to the large windows and trace the shapes of what we see outside on the glass with erasable markers. It helps if you can close one eye and stand still. Try it at your own window. Just be sure you can erase the marker! It is a good way to understand how the flat shapes you make on a window (or paper) can make the illusion of something in three dimensions. After all in one sense a drawing is just an assemblage of shapes or marks or tones. Sometimes we have to stop naming things, a ship, a canal, etc. and investigate the shapes or lines or areas of dark and light that we see in them. I encourage my students to attempt to copy anything that they find interesting just to see how it can be visually put together. I believe that drawing can be a way of finding out about what we are seeing and the many ways we can represent it. It can be a way of solving puzzles. It can be a record of your learning. It does not always have to be an “original product”. Do musicians only play songs that they have composed? I enjoy your blog because it is such a great record of exploration. Please keep sending us notes of your journey.

    March 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    • What a fun exercise, to draw on the window. I like your remark that drawing can be a lot of things, among others “a record of your learning”. Learning to draw, has learned me a lot more then drawing alone. Thanks, Will, for your comment that this blog is a record of exploration, it’s a beautiful way of describing it.

      March 14, 2013 at 9:38 pm

  5. Will, your students are lucky to have you! and yes, if tracing helps a student see better, it’s a good exercise — like practicing scales on the piano! it just opens your mind to how shapes work and relate to one another. But we don’t present a traced image as if it were our own composition, and there’s the difference, I believe.

    March 15, 2013 at 3:46 pm

  6. nice one!

    March 15, 2013 at 6:18 pm

  7. Liz, you are certainly not the only one with this opinion. On my Facebook timeline Kate Barber wrote: “I do have a friend who painted from a photo taken from the internet, thinking that she had changed it enough that it was ok, but still recognizable. She entered the painting in a show and actually got a prize. However, someone recognized the photo in her painting and not only was the prize taken away, she could never enter that show again. And then there was the AWS Gold Metal winner who copied a painting without permission and caused a big stir when AWS found out.”

    March 18, 2013 at 2:34 pm

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