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Tracing vs referencing

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, Nov. 15, 2019

Screencap taken from video referenced below.

There’s been some controversy going around about tracing vs referencing and it gave me pause for thought. And, of course, after some time, I thought it would be an interesting topic to talk about for this week.

In comics, particularly when it comes to backgrounds or things I haven’t drawn before, I use references a lot. Referencing allows me to understand how a particular scene, plant, background, car and/or animal is constructed. My main objective is to get it right.

Recently I have been drawing cats and as much as I love them, I am not that great when it comes to their anatomy. This is when I will pull a real life reference. The comic panel was created using this image as a reference so that I could get all the parts in the right place. I think that this is ok. In fact I encourage using references like this because not only does it save you time, you are studying how something is put together and, in time, you will develop skills to help you draw without needing them as often.

So when does it become tracing?
When doing research on the topic, I came across this video which succinctly demonstrates what crosses the line from referencing to tracing. Nawnii, the video’s creator, explains that tracing is when you go over the drawing, almost line-for-line, taking on the artist’s style rather than creating a framework you can build upon. It becomes even more egregious when the tracer claims credit for said artwork.

At the end of the day, tracing isn’t inherently wrong when it is done for the sake of a study. But when that work is placed online and credit is claimed, in my opinion, that is where they’ve crossed the threshold.

What are your thoughts on tracing? Do you think people should trace at all? Let us know in the comment section below! And join us on Sunday evening for our Quackchat at 5:30PM(EST)!

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cdmalcolm1 at 4:48PM, Nov. 18, 2019

I trace if I want to learn a form of art quickly. I will keep at it until it becomes my own where I can then add my own twist and mold some of my style into it. I reference a lot for work for hire or commissions. If I need to trace to get it right, I will do it. I know many would not agree with me but I do tell new artist trying to become better to trace others artwork and photos. At some point the artist will learn something to move on in style & techniques. The only thing about tracing i don’t like is IF the artist traces everything from the time they started claiming they did it. Practice without reference or tracing can also lead to mistakes. When we draw faces we know the very basics, eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Drawing these without knowing where they correctly belong can lead to drawing them wrong even at a pro level. Learning to draw from life the first time around is difficult because our fingers & mind can’t handle strokes it has not practiced. just like learning to write.

ShaRose49 at 7:16PM, Nov. 15, 2019

I only trace for practice usually, but I definitely use references. Lately I’ve been taking my own reference photos of my siblings to use in the comic

hushicho at 1:49PM, Nov. 15, 2019

I tend to agree that just tracing without thought will not lead to any improvement. However, it's a completely different thing to use a reference, and I think most of the controversy was struck up by Y!Gallery being especially stupid with regards to what they viewed as "tracing"...which was generally "using any reference, no matter how altered your work is from that source." Frankly, it doesn't matter if you're doing your own version of even a famous work, the important part is that you're doing YOUR VERSION and learning from it. You certainly didn't come up with the Mona Lisa, but if you want to learn from imitating it, sure! Just call it what it is: practice. Most all artists have to use references for something, at some time. Essentially all of the artists that are regarded as masters used references and models all the time. So don't be afraid to use references...just have the imagination to apply to said reference!

Tantz_Aerine at 11:16AM, Nov. 15, 2019

Well put, I agree! I don't think any artwork should be traced (i.e. the line for line thing). It's the worst way of reverse engineering in my opinion AND it runs the risk of tracing (and learning) mistakes that the other artist might have made. I am ALL for references. Not using references is a time waster AND it is unrealistic- as if people come into the world fully aware of how things are put together and able to recreate them on a blank sheet of paper. Just not how it's done.

ozoneocean at 1:24AM, Nov. 15, 2019

I agree!

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