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Thread: To Trace Or Not To Trace. Whether Tis More Practical To. . .

  1. #11
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    An interesting and highly amusing discussion.

    From my perspective coming from traditional, when first dabbling in digital art (using ArtRage) I just produced a portrait as I normally would. I tended to sketch the face in charcoal loosely, firstly a line for the eyes, to achieve the right angle, then a line for the nose, for proportion and then angle. The outline of the face would generally come next, and then the difficult bit, which I still struggle with to this day (or have to pay extra attention to) which is the positioning of the mouth!.

    If the mouth is just slightly out, the jawline can look off, which sometimes can lead to redrawing the jaw, then the nose is the wrong size, then the eyes are out of proportion. It can lead to portrait madness.

    My technique has changed somewhat since using ArtRage in that I now jump straight to the oil brush to colour fill the main shapes of the face and then thumbnail by zooming out to check that the proportions are correct. Then the fun can begin!. I seem to be having less issues these days of getting the proportions correct using this technique which is so important when getting a portrait to look lifelike.

    I have experimented quite a bit using tracing, and for a couple of portraits have traced the block filling first part of the painting and generally this has worked pretty well and has given me a fast starting point. I find myself uncomfortable in using this as it does feel a little like cheating, but I am adding the rest of the detail myself. However the painting is just for me, it is my hobby and I find it fun to add the detail and see the painting come together.

    This may however lead to another question, that of originality and style. If at the end of a portrait I get to a point where I am just noodling, I decide the picture is finished, there are always parts that I notice I could produce more accurately, but if the portrait is identifiable then I am generally happy. So my style would be the filter that my eyes and brain had applied to the painting which would include tiny imperfections, which I feel maybe lost if tracing was employed more extensively throughout the process.

  2. #12
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    Yep, an interesting discussion and a subject of which I'm not quite sure how I feel about.

    Personally, I'd class tracing as a sort of cop out and I think I'd be upset with myself if I resorted to an out and out tracing in my pictures. I can understand it from a commercial point of view. I've recently been reading 'Fantasy Art Techniques' by Boris Vallejo who quite openly admits to tracing projected images as a means to get the painting done quicker and therefore improve his income by being able to do more work. I don't suppose you can begrudge anyone for that.

    After all the old Master were known to use optical tools to aid them:
    David Hockney's Secret Knowledge - Part One

    The thing is, he learnt how to draw before that. He already had the knowledge and skill to draw well if required. The problem I think have with tracing is that I doubt it will help a budding artist improve at core drawing skills at the same rate as slowly learning how to measure, observe and reassess your work. The result will look good more immediately but it becomes a crutch, something harder to overcome without the core skills.

    Personally, I think using grids is probably a better place to start as it helps you break areas down but still gets you used to looking at angles, shapes, blocks of tone etc without having to resort to tracing.

    That said, each has their own approach and one must find their own way. Who am I to judge.

    When I see something like this, I can't help but feel a little uneasy though:
    Corel Painter Intro

  3. #13
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    Yes, I am very uneasy about this video too.

  4. #14
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    That stuff is in the world I'm afraid and has been since they've been making plug-ins and filters and programs had layers. And when an artistic look is so easy to come by, then it comes down to 2 things -- making it interesting for ourselves and/or making the end product interesting or useful.

    That video is a really strong argument for getting selective, I must admit. But it is also something of a challenge to rise above. It raises the bar for those interested in being an artist. Unless one is working for someone else, it really does have to be fun and I guess we make that part based on what interests us.

    As to markets for artists, an area photographers can't touch in a competitive way is the freedom artists have at visualizing things that do not exist but they can bring it into an image for all to see. This is really useful in movie making and product design and visualization, graphic novels and all that stuff that would be otherwise cost prohibitive to set up to photograph or it couldn't possibly exist in the world. Art can create a platform for communication that is less tied to things already in existence. Because we labor over every inch of a painting and we can own the whole image, art can delve deeper inside the artist to bring a personal voice to something. And art carries traditional connotations that photography doesn't, no matter how much it's pulled into the art side of things through 'post production' effects. Let us not forget the other big dog on the block -- there's the world of 3D models that sort of bridge the two areas - but it's dependent on a whole lot of mechanical work ahead of time.

    They're all tools and as such it's about the person using the tools to make it art based on their own criteria.
    Last edited by D Akey; 09-04-2014 at 01:59 AM.
    "Not a bit is wasted and the best is yet to come. . ." -- remembered from a dream

  5. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by D Akey View Post
    There are those, like myself, who appreciated the art done for those trifling girly pin-ups like Elvgren and Vargas and that lot. And it's always a treat to see into the working methods of really great technicians. So here's a video somebody put together showing side by side shots of the photo reference and the final pic. You can see where they got the models as close as they could and then did some things to lift it out of the realm of the mundane and place it squarely in the realm of idealized, fanciful celebrations of female allure in all kinds of settings -- like creating the best vacation scene ever. . . They used photos, yes they did. And they projected or traced, and also improved on the photos to bring it up to their levels of artistry.

    Have some fun. I sure did when I stumbled over this YouTube video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRJAu_br7YM
    Great find....many thanks for sharing....

  6. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by D Akey View Post
    That stuff is in the world I'm afraid and has been since they've been making plug-ins and filters and programs had layers. And when an artistic look is so easy to come by, then it comes down to 2 things -- making it interesting for ourselves and/or making the end product interesting or useful.

    That video is a really strong argument for getting selective, I must admit. But it is also something of a challenge to rise above. It raises the bar for those interested in being an artist. Unless one is working for someone else, it really does have to be fun and I guess we make that part based on what interests us.

    As to markets for artists, an area photographers can't touch in a competitive way is the freedom artists have at visualizing things that do not exist but they can bring it into an image for all to see. This is really useful in movie making and product design and visualization, graphic novels and all that stuff that would be otherwise cost prohibitive to set up to photograph or it couldn't possibly exist in the world. Art can create a platform for communication that is less tied to things already in existence. Because we labor over every inch of a painting and we can own the whole image, art can delve deeper inside the artist to bring a personal voice to something. And art carries traditional connotations that photography doesn't, no matter how much it's pulled into the art side of things through 'post production' effects. Let us not forget the other big dog on the block -- there's the world of 3D models that sort of bridge the two areas - but it's dependent on a whole lot of mechanical work ahead of time.

    They're all tools and as such it's about the person using the tools to make it art based on their own criteria.
    Interesting. Matte painter Dylan Cole uses freehand drawing, photographs and 3D models to create some of his matte paintings....

    For those of you not familiar with Dylan Cole.... http://www.dylancolestudio.com/

    James Gurney posted about Elvgren's use of photo references on his blog...
    http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.ca/201...reference.html

    This article claims Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish did the same....

    http://thebakersanimationcartoons.bl...s-cheater.html
    Last edited by kenmo; 09-04-2014 at 05:36 AM.

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bertrude View Post
    ... Boris Vallejo who quite openly admits to tracing projected images as a means to get the painting done quicker ...
    Even VerMeer used projections. To be honest, I couldn't afford a real projector so I bought an old overhead projector (this is where people shudder at the memory) for $5 and bought some transparency sheets on Ebay. I traced the outline of my dog
    Name:  Akira_cr.jpg
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    Then I projected that onto a canvas and traced the outline. I had some guilty feelings at first then I decided that since I'm not an expert it would be ok. When I read that other real artists did it I didn't feel so villainous.

    The last time I kept an open mind,
    my brain fell out and the dog grabbed it.
    Now it's full of dirt, toothmarks, and dog slobber.
    No more open minds or dogs for me.www.gms9810.com/

  8. #18
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    to twace or not to twace

    I had an interesting conversation with a group of artists (professional) and it was their opinion that if you could not draw, then you could not trace. The idea being that if you don't have the idea to begin with that no amount of aid is going to hide that fact.

    I have, for years, seen the argument bounce back and forth over at wetcanvas and artpapa along with the old chestnut "digital is not REAL art". Well on the latter if you scan it and upload it, you have created digital art so get over that one.

    Tracing is more complex---i have seen some people just brazenly copy something by tracing but for me, where's the fun it that--also, i will draw an object over and over to get it right (i have three volumes of sketchbooks that are nothing but top hats done during my infatuation with the French impressionism period)---I will trace a drawing of mine to transfer it to a canvas and if I can't get a thumb (hands truly suck for me) right, I might trace an outline to put me on the right track.

    But in the end, if you trace something and don't attempt to make it your own, you might as well just head over to the church and rub a tombstone. A tracing can be the first step in a really cool journey.

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedSaucers View Post
    and then the difficult bit, which I still struggle with to this day (or have to pay extra attention to) which is the positioning of the mouth!.
    True for me too. I'm doing a self-portrait (trad acrylics) - the eyes and nose are really good, but that mouth? *rolleyes* lol..

  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayd View Post
    I had an interesting conversation with a group of artists (professional) and it was their opinion that if you could not draw, then you could not trace. The idea being that if you don't have the idea to begin with that no amount of aid is going to hide that fact.

    I have, for years, seen the argument bounce back and forth over at wetcanvas and artpapa along with the old chestnut "digital is not REAL art". Well on the latter if you scan it and upload it, you have created digital art so get over that one.

    Tracing is more complex---i have seen some people just brazenly copy something by tracing but for me, where's the fun it that--also, i will draw an object over and over to get it right (i have three volumes of sketchbooks that are nothing but top hats done during my infatuation with the French impressionism period)---I will trace a drawing of mine to transfer it to a canvas and if I can't get a thumb (hands truly suck for me) right, I might trace an outline to put me on the right track.

    But in the end, if you trace something and don't attempt to make it your own, you might as well just head over to the church and rub a tombstone. A tracing can be the first step in a really cool journey.
    I'm mostly referring to the point about the professional artists talking about tracing that you mentioned. This is a most interesting topic and your points are very good.

    There are lots of ways to trace from exact literal to it being a starting point and far looser or distorted depending on the end the artist is after. You can pivot their joints and move things about for composition, you can composite lots of elements, you can use it as something to later work over as a starting point, or they can use tracing in the manner a photo retoucher might, where they start far later in the process over a photo and enhance or manipulate an image that's closer to a finish.

    I pretty much agree that if one can't draw or doesn't know structure they can only safely be literal when tracing the drawing down, and if they're really new at art, they may not know which end of the pencil to hold, but that green state doesn't last forever.

    But tracing has its place. It's only one little step in the evolution of a picture.

    I've used it most of my career when realism was what the end product was. I wasn't a fine artist. While I could draw well (even taught drawing classes for a while) tracing was faster and I wasn't out to prove I could draw. I knew where I was going and just went straight there using my familiar working methods. I was selling a service giving the client what they wanted in the most efficient way I could manage. I did and do experiment from time to time, but not so much when I'm doing a job.

    In my free times, all bets are off because when I'm doing something new I'm not necessarily an expert until I get mileage in that direction. And that process of doing something new reflects back on people who don't yet know how to draw doing tracing. I personally am of the opinion that people who trace a lot learn how things should look and over time acquire those skills.

    I also believe that if you get a tracing that it's merely step one. And one can also be learning anatomy and how to create volume and work with color and texture through the painting stages. And there's a universe of things to learn and play with after the drawing is in place. If someone is in the painting stage over a poor tracing, they will find it out in the paint phase when the eyes are cockeyed or whatever. So there's a sort of drawing going to happen along the way even after the original tracing is no longer visible.

    So hanging in there will grow skill because one's art will naturally evolve into its own form, and doing things in a non-logical way could be frustrating to the max or it could help the artist come up with a unique style. We have to assume that most (not all) people who are motivated enough to keep at doing art will also be in the world looking through the eyes of an artist (which happens far earlier than becoming expert) and will learn by observing both things around them and looking at other people's work with an eye to assimilate tricks and techniques.

    So not knowing how to draw is only a temporary condition if people stick with it. So I'm thinking what the professional artists are talking about when they say you have to know how to draw to be able to trace is true if the criteria is managing a professional look right then and there. But I also suspect that they would have to agree that people grow any time they have a pencil in hand and are motivated. Taking classes and knowing the tried and true methods (learning to draw etc) does help to shorten the learning curve though.
    Last edited by D Akey; 09-05-2014 at 03:19 AM.
    "Not a bit is wasted and the best is yet to come. . ." -- remembered from a dream

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