My children have taught me that tracing isn’t an art evil. As a kid, I thought tracing another artist’s work was cheating and meant you weren’t a real artist. Even copying a painting or drawing by sight felt very, very wrong. As a teenager, I had a friend who happily copied beautiful famous paintings and book illustrations, and I admired that, as well as her relaxed approach to imitation, but couldn’t make myself do it. I was a little tense, I think… Ha.
Even so, I’ve supplied my kids with tracing paper from the beginning, like any good art parent would despite her oddly placed principles (which I kept to myself). So, I expected them to trace their own drawings, for some legit purpose like slight alterations or recreating characters. No. Four years ago, my daughter took that tracing paper and got out my childhood copy of Lee J. Ames’ Draw 50 Animals—and then she went directly to the final, finished drawing, and traced it.
Wait. Is that allowed?!
Apparently, yes. She turned it into her own personal art form for months. Tracing animals, coloring them with markers in exotic ways, attaching yarn and hanging them from the ceiling to spin in the fan-breeze. It was beautiful. And I was humbled. Tracing isn’t so bad.
So a few months ago, when my 8-year-old son was struggling, near tears, over trying to draw Zita the Spacegirl just right, I suggested he trace Ben Hatke’s cover, to get a feel for the lines and angles. He was game and cheered right up. I’m glad to see I did not pass on my tracing-shame to them. Tracing doesn’t end original drawing, and it doesn’t kill creativity. If anything, the satisfaction from tracing can urge young artists forward, and even train their hand to make the shapes their minds are intending.
So he traced, and the sky didn’t fall. He also drew Zita on his own, and I joined him (sans tracing paper…). These are our sketches of Zita, his first and mine in progress:
This one he did freehand from Hatke’s back-o’-the-book sketches. The kid hated his version until about six hours later when the heat died down and he was able to see how great a job he did. Sometimes we all need a little time to cool off.