A practice that can directly effect our artistic growth is tracing projections from a photograph. No other issue in the field of painting stimulates as much passion, anger, finger-pointing and self-justification as that of tracing a projected image before painting.
We hear arguments that tracing is just one of the many tools available to us, that it saves time and energy, that the grand masters of the
past used similar available methods, that many artists trace but won't admit it--all these in favor of projections. Those against such tracings argue it's not honest, it's deceiving the viewer by representing skills the artist does not own, that it's not professional.
My own experience has taught me that drawing enables me to seek out and discover surprises which can greatly contribute to the quality of my
painting. Sometimes these come when, while drawing, I realize that if I shift a shape or alter it slightly, I can give the work an additional strength or change the total nuance of the scene. But most often, the drawing allows me to give the painting a visual coherence by helping me relate more intimately with the subject before committing it to paint
For example, working with the two photos below, while drawing I discovered a possibility which I plotted in a notan composition, an idea for a
painting. There's no way I would have found that relationship had I simply projected either of these photos onto my canvas and traced them.
From my own viewpoint, working through the drawing gets my adrenaline going, makes me excited about the subject's potential. Who cares about
saving time for the painting when the time spent with the drawing can give such richness to the experience. And why sacrifice an unknown discovery for the sake of accuracy of shapes?
No, I am no fan of tracing. It's not that I'm passing judgment or being an elitist. Rather, it's because I know that the artist doesn't know
what she/he doesn't know. What good is it just to make another picture if, as artist, I fail to take every opportunity to make that picture my own voice.
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