Tuesday, June 8, 2010

To trace or not to trace?

Something that struck me whilst working on 'unforgiven' is the difference between my portraits where I have sketched the basic form freehand or where I have used a more scientific approach (grid or trace for me, I have no lightbox), what I notice is a much looser overall finish to the pieces that have been freehand throughout almost as if how the inital sketch of an image is executed colours the whole painting. I'm not aware of any conscious difference in how I continue a painting past that stage. Is this down the necessity of making small corrections to the form as the work progresses versus the fixed, accurate template that one works to if the initial sketch is known to be 100% correct? I have noticed a tendency in my work to elongate faces, particularly noticable in 'Mr Rochester', 'Goodbye Crow' and 'Unforgiven' (which is still in progress so it will be corrected to some extent). I can see the necessity of an accurate start with some media (I've learnt the hard way that with coloured pencils or crayons there's no room for major adjustment so they need to be dead right from the start), pastels however do give a great deal more freedom, discipline & accuracy vs freedom and creativity...interesting.

Pieces that were initially traced (or similar)

...and others that were done entirely freehand.

Hmm...perhaps there's nothing in it afterall in the results, just feel different somehow.


  1. I have the same question. I lack confidence in my drawing so when given a choice at school where we paint large and fast I welcome being able to project on the 4"x6" canvases. My last piece I did one large drawing on brown paper and used the projection to outline it. The smaller pieces I drew free hand and spent a lot of time correcting perspective. I learned a lot doing the free hand. I chose do one with foreshortening (old woman's hands embroidering) and one with an overhead view (bare feet in the grass). I spent a lot of time correcting the perspective but in the end I improved. My goal this summer is to draw more freehand. I did my husband's portrait using the tutorial at Empty Easel ( and it helped me to get the portions right. I tend to place the eyes too high so the face gets out of proportion.

    Good to know even artists who draw very well have the same question.

  2. With my I find it's overconfidence about my drawing skills, I just don't see the faults at the start. I'll do a premliminary sketch to work to and it'll look OK so I just crack on, once the colour and detail is there then I can see the errors in the initial drawing, my painting 'toddler' was freehand but in that one I took a lot of trouble getting the drawing right at the start, not a particularly good result in the end but the form did work in that one.

    I've not yet tried any large drawing or painting yet so it'll be interesting to see how that goes, just need my easel...roll on birthday!