It’s my opinion that tracing is generally something that kids or unskilled drawers do.
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So, in other words, a true artist (and the viewer also), sees ONLY a spot of an object (about the size of a silver dollar) which is then called the “Central Focal Point”— with complete CLARITY, FOCUS, SHARPNESS & high DETAILS. The next is “impressionism that is kind of foggy/blurry, and seeing mainly differ shapes, forms. Then finally abstractionism—where everyting far away from the CFP (Central Focal Point) is the magician’s (artist’s) trick, and you “think” you see with clarity, all the strainds of hair, the ‘other pupil of the eye, the illusuion of a nose’s outline, and other bentcreases blemishes, curves, other odd shapes/sizes with blendings of colours, that are there thus creating a depth/3D high definition on a flat 2 dimential surface.
I would call it copying or drawing from observation (as opposed to drawing from construction) but only the latter is distinct from tracing since tracing is a form of copying. You might call it freehand, but I think that encompasses a lot more types of drawing than just copying an image by eye. Drawing from observation is a bit more restrictive although it still encompass copying/drawing from life.
Looking at a picture and drawing what you see is called “Drawing from Reference.”
Some people – science fiction illustrators leap to mind – use a collection of references to create completely original paintings.
Drawing freehand only means that you are drawing without guiding measurements or instruments.
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Tracing for me is a dead end as you’ll never improve your drawing if you rely solely on it, plus you’re limited to working from photos as if someone wants to sit for you but you can only trace them what do you do? Working from life improves everything, drawing, color perception etc. it’s not a quick process but it does pay off in the end 😀 In the end you do what feels right for you, if you’re happy tracing then do it, no one needs to know that you traced anything anyway. “One judges by the result”
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Any other type of artist I am pretty sure don’t trace. So maybe we can say that tracing is not art, because you’re not creating anything of your own, you are replicating existing work.
Many of the other answers make assumptions about what photos you are using and what the purpose of your drawing is.
Anatomy Practice – I often grab pictures of models and try to trace the muscles on to them to see if I can find them.General Practice – If I’m practicing something like faces which depend heavily on proportions and I’m struggling I will trace the image quickly to understand what’s going wrong.
The act of tracing it reveals a lot more to me than just overlaying my initial attempt.Inking Practice – I have sometimes practiced inking a copy of a piece many times to help test different styles and also train my hand to make a steady line.
Save Time – Sometimes I’m not in the mood or don’t have the time to copy a picture by eye so I trace the major outlines. This, contrary to popular belief, does not paint the image for me. Like I said you can usually tell when an artist is using tracing excursively because their other skills aren’t up to par.
With more experienced artists you can’t distinguish paintings they traced and those they didn’t.Transfer an Image – Sometimes a piece requires many test drawings to organize the figures, etc. This is especially true for paintings from imagination.
Once you have the final piece, again you don’t want to waste time drawing a grid or something to transfer it, you’d just project it or trace it.Just Because – Maybe you’re painting just for fun.
You don’t care about improvement. So long as you’re honest, who cares really? It’s not a crime.
Drawing from Reference, photo observational drawing, possibly photorealism if it’s extremely accurate…take your pick.
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It’s not a type of art; it’s a skill. It simply means that you understand what is occurring in the picture in order to create the illusion of depth, and other dynamics, and are able to recreate it.
You could also be just referencing an image and only taking away parts of it which requires both the skills to draw from observation and construction.
Sketching can be done from life, from reference, or from the imagination.
You ARE trying NOT to COPY, but to place a foundation for your unique take on the subject with an individualistic flair! Be it drawing, oil/acrylic/tempera painting, or other types of media, NOT to copy “things”. A mechanical device (camera) does just that and can be manipulated (or woman-nipulated) so there’s ever nook/cranny with superb detail, colour, sharpness, all-arounf the square inch of the picture.
Also although tracing doesn’t really exercise many skills, I still think it can be useful so long as you don’t rely on it exclusively. Some people think real artists don’t trace but I think it’s more that people don’t know they do because it doesn’t have that beginner’s traced look (where the outline is right but the value and color is off).
Plein air artist Michelle Dunaway put it in this interesting way: “The way the human eye sees is like a game of darts. The focal point — the bull’s eye — is realism, the next circle out is impressionism, the next abstraction.”
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I don’t think professional or serious artists trace. I’ve never see one do it. I think, however there is an application if tracing in comic book production (see the movie Chasing Amy, there’s a funny scene about that) but I don’t know enough to tell you exactly how.
Speaking of which it is not immediately plagiarism or copyright infringement if you trace as a different answer implies. If you take the photos yourself you can do anything you want. And there’s plenty of Creative Commons licensed photos that let you do whatever you want to long as you credit, or you can use morguefile where no credit is required (though I usually make the effort to credit anyways). Not a lawyer but so far as I know legally there is no different between copying through tracing or doing it through observation.
It’s really a subjective thing, I’ve seen many working artists that trace work and many that don’t. The artists that trace work tend to be realists as they want complete accuracy, it’s understandable that they would trace a portrait or still life as they need proportions to be perfect and if the drawing is spot on they can focus on painting. Myself I feel that the basis of painting is good drawing, I’ve produced many bad paintings and drawings over the years but it’s part of learning, it can be massively annoying though when you can’t capture someone’s likeness but “you mustn’t be afraid to paint bad pictures”.
Many artists take their own reference photos for use in their drawings. Chuck Close for example is never accused of copying his own photographs.
The Mona Lisa, for example, has been drawn and redrawn uncounted times. Depending on the quality and the purpose of those drawings, they could be studies, interpretations, homages, or forgeries, etc. “Copying” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Some of those “copies” are famous in their own way and are different enough that they can even be sold.
“Free hand” drawing, or sketching. a rough sketch. Tracing CAN be used as a TOOL for transfer a drawing onto another surface, such as a canvas before a painting is made. I can be used to LEARN proportions, accurcy, positive/negative outlines, etc. It makes for a guide for a “study” in drawing. But free-hand trains the mind for a much better hand/eye/brain cordination, and to basically, LEARN NOT to ‘COPY’, BUT to produce a subject that is 3 dimensional with depth to a 2 dimentional surface albeit good proportions, outlines, light/shadow effects, shading and, plus subtle grayationof values/”delicate”fine lines to make the ILLUSION that seems ‘it’s realistic”!