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Old 03-10-2002, 04:01 PM   #1
Karin Wells Karin Wells is offline
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idea Tracing to learn - fast




Beginners SHOULD trace in order to learn. Life is short - so why suffer when you are learning to draw? Art is supposed to be fun.

OK...so shoot me....I hate to see people suffer and fail. My advice for all beginners who think they might have a little talent and want to "jump into" art and learn to draw in as short a time as possible is to TRACE.

It is a little like "training wheels." Beginners should trace the drawings (and sometimes the paintings) of the Old Masters. After all, you might as well learn from the best. I can't think of a better way to learn how to draw (fast, easy and accurate).

Drawing is basically just training the hand to accurately respond to what the eye can see. The more you do it, the better you get. If you trace the old masters, you will get a feel for their greatness.

Tracing gives you positive results. Making all your old mistakes over and over again teaches you nothing, is frustrating and makes for giving up too soon.

For example, a person who is learning to play the piano isn't asked to invent music in order to learn...they are given exercises and asked to follow the music written by those masters who have gone before. Oftentimes, playing this music is simply enough to give them pleasure and is all the farther they will go with it. But sometimes, a student has a little "extra special something" and goes on to compose his or her own beautiful music.

Learning to draw is both time consuming and expensive (i.e., model fees, classes, etc.) and if you didn't go to art school as a youth, you probably missed the opportunity of spending a few years learning to draw the hard way. I contend that tracing is an inexpensive and fast teacher...my students learn to draw much faster this way than I did the hard way.

I am NOT suggesting that if one traces, they fib and claim the resulting work as original. I do NOT suggest that tracing a photograph (most especially a bad one) is a good way to learn much of anything.

At some point, tracing becomes a bore and when the sudent has had enough of it, drawing on their own becomes much faster, easier and a joy. This is the time to start drawing that which is in front of you.

I encourage every beginner (and those who may be classified as "mediocre" and want to improve) to consider this unorthodox method. Whoever reads this and wants to learn to draw, I say TRACE....but be careful who you tell. The purists are harsh judges. They will say that you cheated, and they will be very angry that you didn't "suffer enough" and do it the hard way. (Some of those "purists" still can't draw very well - even when they have suffered mightily for years and paid their dues by doing it "the right way"). Sometimes I wonder if they just don't want others to get ahead of them...

Also...painting is simply drawing with a brush....it gets really easy when you know how to draw. Good luck guys...the world needs more good artists.
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Old 03-10-2002, 09:08 PM   #2
David Dowbyhuz David Dowbyhuz is offline
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thumbs up

When I read your music-analogy, I smiled. During the time I was copying other artist's work (not Old Masters, mind you), I would sometimes trot out this same analogy. Ultimately, I became resentful of occasions that called for me to "explain myself" and simply stopped (explaining myself).

Allow me a moment of contradiction. In a previous, similarly themed post I said I advocated "no short-cuts", and here is Karin, advocating short-cuts. Hmmm. In my view, those who profit from such short-cuts likely need them. As Karin said, if you didn't have the exposure during your school-days, when your top worry was the number of zits brewing, not making the mortage, you may not have the luxury of the "long and winding road". Are you going to miss out driving the express-way? Sure you are. Will you end up at the same destination? Not necessarily, not even likely, but if you enjoy where you are, that may be enough.

The lure of the easy path is seductive, and I fear too many will be lulled enough that they'll lose the impetus to strive beyond the limits such paths place of your development. I don't know if I'd actually "teach" tracing, but I can see the validity of it's use in an ongoing evolution, providing you DO evolve.
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Old 03-12-2002, 03:35 AM   #3
Lon Haverly Lon Haverly is offline
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Tracers Annonymous

My name is Lon Haverly and I am a tracer. It started when I was a child. As I got older I became ashamed of tracing. I would only do it when I was alone and no one was watching. I worried about what people would think. Now, thanks to Karin, I can come out!!! I AM NOT A CROOK!!! I trace, I erase, and I'm in your face!

I trace, or use transfer methods. But the end result is my style which makes it unique.

When we learned the alphabet, we traced each letter, then drew it without tracing. Eventually, after learning cursive, and years of practice, we developed a signature all our own. So it is with drawing. You copy the shapes, or trace them. Then you develop line techniques. After much practice, you develope a style all your own.

Tracing is fine for the layout, or for painting. But for drawing, it is the quality of lines and the line technique that makes the drawing. You can have perfect shape and form, but if your lines are skimpy and your technique is weak, your drawing will be weak, no matter how "accurate" it is. I would rather see beautiful lines drawn in an expressive style than a perfect drawing with no line quality. The line is the thing. Form is good, but the art of it comes when your line is beautiful. Each line. That is why it behooves the serious art student to study the line qualities of the masters, copy them and discover why they are good. If each line is good, your drawing will be good.
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Old 03-12-2002, 10:38 AM   #4
Karin Wells Karin Wells is offline
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Here are the kind of drawings I am talking about. Even doing a convincing tracing/copy isn'that easy. But if you try, you could learn things like:

Anatomy

Composition

Lessons in drawing drapery

Sensitivity of line

The principles of the general division of light and shadow with the importance of the unity of patterns in each.

Something about the principles of warm and cool colors.

You can also see the beauty of working on a toned surface...and not just using an ordinary pencil on white paper...

And here's how to do it...find a picture in a book that you like. Choose to learn from the best. Go get a colored Xerox blow up so you can see it and copy/trace/grid it...or whatever. You can be your own critic...if your rendering doesn't look like the original...try again until you "get it right."

Note: If you try this and it just doesn't work for you...stop immediately and take somebody else's advice.
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Old 03-13-2002, 02:02 AM   #5
Jacqueline Dunster Jacqueline Dunster is offline
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You didn't think I'd miss this thread, did you?

Quote:
The lure of the easy path is seductive, and I fear too many will be lulled enough that they'll lose the impetus to strive beyond the limits such paths place of your development. I don't know if I'd actually "teach" tracing, but I can see the validity of it's use in an ongoing evolution, providing you DO evolve.
That's it EXACTLY. To trace to learn, and only that, is one thing. It may have great validity. But I have met more than a few artists who have been "lulled" into thinking that the attractive results they achieved are theirs, and they never go beyond that. They don't evolve. And when they are confronted with this (not by me, or other artists, mind you, but confronted by their own limitations) they become angry and defensive, and more fixed in their resolve that they don't need to evolve.

I am one of those "purists" who learned how to draw young. Drawing isn't that painful. I don't really understand all this emphasis on "struggle" and "suffering". I'm not saying that there isn't an element of frustration to learning any new skill, but drawing and painting is a joy. I don't want to spend less time with it, I want to spend more time with it. I don't want to take "short cuts", I want to draw. The more I draw, the faster I get, and the more accurate I get. I don't see how tracing would have helped me in this process.

I noticed that I usually finish my projects in art class faster than the students who traced. I don't think that was because I was more "talented", I just practiced more. Their tracing didn't give them any edge in speed. That's because they didn't practice drawing - they didn't have a sketchbook with them wherever they went. They didn't LOVE it enough. It was a chore, and they wanted to get out of it.

I learned by freehand drawing faces that I tend to make the noses too short, the mouths too wide, and the jaws too broad. I learned to correct this tendency. I think I had a better chance of learning to correct the tendency by drawing instead of tracing. But I guess that's not the area that tracing is supposedly helpful in. I'm not sure.

I attended many an art class with "older" people who were sort of "newbies". Under the right instruction, they progressed well without tracing. It is all about practice, practice, practice. I don't see how any of us can get out of that.

(I know this is long-winded. And I want to emphasize, I am not really contradicting the usefulness of tracing for certain people. But I personally am not a fan!)
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Old 03-13-2002, 03:41 AM   #6
Steven Sweeney Steven Sweeney is offline
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Perhaps, Jacqueline, a gift you could present to yourself is permission now to let those other folks proceed along the paths they've chosen, while you continue to enjoy and enhance your experience with the pleasures that your training and talent have provided. You have substantial energy directed toward what others are doing, thinking and saying, energy that could be redirected now to such productive use in your own work.

I did a still-life painting last year that included a background in which was depicted, quite loosely, a famous Chinese brush painting, very simple (a plum branch, a bird), very beautiful and perfectly suited to my composition. When I showed the original of my work to my Mandarin language tutor in the U.S., I felt obliged to explain that I had sort of tried to represent but not really copy the painting . . . and she was quite confused by my "admission", because in the Chinese art tradition, the hallowed regimen IS copying the masters, and until you can accurately replicate the ancient drawings and paintings, you haven't done the training. I also learned from the same woman a good deal of Chinese calligraphy, doubtless some of the most beautiful artwork one can do (entire exhibitions exist that are composed of scrolls of calligraphy). Every stationery store in the Orient is rife with the standard calligraphy workbooks for schoolchildren, dotted outlines of the characters that are filled in, white silhouettes of characters on dark backgrounds that you "trace" with your inked brush (ink ground every session from soot sticks and water), and so on, until you're ready to execute the strokes freehand. With somewhat cultural irony, it would be considered arrogant in this tradition to represent oneself as an artist until mastery of what had been accomplished before you had been demonstrated. In the West, we tend to admire and revere the Radical, the Upstart, and yes, the Drip Painter (of whom one, in another forum and not entirely with agreement, I've expressed some admiration.)

There is tracing that is skipping work, and there is tracing that is doing work. I was never trained to trace, but I was certainly trained to copy masterworks, in the course of which, even in a "simple" line drawing, I had to consider the length, angle, quality, width, and, yes, even velocity, of line, and try to duplicate it. The number of erasures required in the first starts always exceeded the paper's tolerance for ignorance. Eventually I got smarter, just barely, than paper. But that's no small pleasure.

We're all on our own, here, eventually. Many of us reach a point of complete hopelessness, and then we start working to reclaim hope. Sometimes, the effort leads to very satisfying artistic expression. Even the Prince of Wales is an avid watercolourist, completely enamored of it. Isn't it lovely that even Windsor can't resist the call?

As public TV veteran Alwyn Crawshaw ends his painting videos, "It's easier than you think. Why not give it a go?

Steven
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Old 03-13-2002, 03:56 AM   #7
Lon Haverly Lon Haverly is offline
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smile

Me thinks she doth protest too much.
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Old 03-13-2002, 04:46 AM   #8
Jacqueline Dunster Jacqueline Dunster is offline
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Quote:
Steven Sweeney wrote: Perhaps, Jacqueline, a gift you could present to yourself is permission now to let those other folks proceed along the paths they've chosen, while you continue to enjoy and enhance your experience with the pleasures that your training and talent have provided. You have substantial energy directed toward what others are doing, thinking and saying, energy that could be redirected now to such productive use in your own work.
Is this your polite and poetic way of telling me that you think I worry too much about what other people are doing? Perhaps, but you will note that I didn't question the efficacy of tracing (as described in the original post) as long as it is a path to growth. I am just advocating the position that drawing isn't a "chore".
Quote:
Me thinks she protests too much.
What exactly does this mean, pray tell? Do you think that I am a "closet tracer"? What?
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Old 03-13-2002, 08:52 AM   #9
Stanka Kordic Stanka Kordic is offline
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How about keeping a sketchbook?

Practice is key to drawing. Drawing ANYTHING. A sketchbook small enough to keep with you to pull out anytime there's a free 30 seconds to do a gesture drawing or contour would provide invaluable experience. The beauty is, no one needs to see them and judge.

The bonus is, tracing becomes a tool, and drawing becomes second nature.

My two cents..
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Old 03-13-2002, 11:00 AM   #10
Karin Wells Karin Wells is offline
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Let your workings remain a mystery. Just show people the results. (Tao te Ching) *

I began to seriously draw with the Old Masters in 1994. I never painted a portrait or worked in oils before 1995. But by 1997, I had won first prize at an ASOPA competition for (my first) original oil portrait. So many people ask me "how I learned to draw and paint" so quickly....I tell 'em, but they don't really hear me. So I keep repeating it...

If you SERIOUSLY wish to become a pro, I urge you to set yourself a course of study....COPY and if necessary TRACE(exactly) the Old Masters in all literalness, leaving nothing out and putting nothing in.

Primarily, drawing (and painting) is a CRAFT that must be mastered. Drawing (and painting) is all about light and its manipulation. Copying and tracing the "big boys" will help you build a vast store of well-organized and useful information at a much deeper level than "reading" or "talking" about it.

"Making things up" is a natural step that comes only AFTER you have mastered the tools of expression.

Do not expect that making a "serious copy" of an old masterwork (even when traced) to be a breeze. It could take many weeks (or months) of hard work to do one and thus learn what that particular work has to teach you.

I know that it is difficult to muster the self-discipline to study in isolation. The results always come more slowly than you wish...but they do come in direct proportion to the time and effort you are willing to put in.

Life classes may not be available in your area. It would be wonderful to be able to find a living teacher, but don't hold your breath...there is a shortage.

So many of us need a "quick and dirty" way to learn (most especially if we are older and feel that we don't have that much productive time left).

In the beginning, I TRACED the Old Master drawings until I learned what they could teach me.

Now I TRACE (or GRID) MY OWN drawings onto canvas before I begin to paint...and yes, I do work from photographs for my reference.

Now I choose to earn my living by being a full time pro and considering my backlog of work, studio shortcuts make a lot of sense to me - for both financial and mental health considerations.

I love my work...but I don't love to make extra work for myself. I enjoy time outside my studio too. Suffering isn't for everyone and personally, I decided to give it up years ago.

I do not object if someone wishes to do things the hard way as that is clearly a personal choice...but I do not think that "the easy way" should be judged any less noble.

* Steven Sweeny, thanks for the quote.
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