Tracing a subject is a widely used technique in the art and illustration world. I do not want to discuss the question whether tracing is a kind of “cheat”, as it can be done with less dexterity than a freehand drawing, or not. This post is about learning proportions in drawing. Once I got so fed up with my lack of depicting space when drawing architecture from life that I took a photograph of the scenery, went home and traced the subject to escape from what I considered poor drawing skills.
The process itself was boring, but I was surprised what an unexpected impact this excersie had on my perception and drawing skills. Suddenly by moving the drawing tool in correct (well as correct as a photograph can be)proportions along the lines of the photogrpah I recocknized all the strong foreshortenings, how dramatic the street was opening towards the viewer, how small those trees were in comparison in the background, how flat those roof angles were and so on. I could feel this in my hand.
The lesson I learned was not only on proportions and the way how to see things, but also the experience that a drawing is not only the result of processed observation translated to and expressed by the hand, but also a process of programming the brain through the moving hand. In other arts like dance it is completely natural to know and to use this process from body movement to brain, in drawing I have rarely even heard of it. Drawing stimulates our brain activity and imagination.
It can be very helpful to do a tracing exercise on difficult subjects for an initial re-write of perception and the way to see. It has to be tracing, to copy a photograph is something different.
The illustration above is a simple trace monotype: I put a layer of thinned oil color on the backside of a computer printed photograph. This tracing paper was put on a sheet of drawing paper. Then I followed the outlines of the tree trunks and branches with a ball pen. The pressure transfered the oil color to the drawing paper. I used this way of creating a drawing in oil colors on some of my Paraphrases after Piranesi.