There are 3 schools of thought on tracing or projecting an image.
- It’s a sin
- It’s a timesaver
- Sometime it’s OK and other times not
Let me go through the 3 thoughts.
Starting with “It’s a sin”:
When you trace you aren’t really learning to draw and you can become very reliant on tracing or projecting. Drawing freehand is hard. It’s a lot nicer to have something that looks like it’s supposed to. When you trace you are giving the impression that you can draw because you have a relatively accurate image, but in reality you may not be able to draw as well as the tracing. So, in essence, you are giving a false impression, unless you fess up.
Another challenge to tracing is that if you do it a lot, any free-hand drawing is going to look ‘bad’ to you. This starts a cycle of only drawing when you can trace or project without learning how to translate what you are seeing in 3-D to 2-D. It’s a very false economy.
“It’s a Timesaver”
There is no doubt that tracing saves time in getting work onto a canvas or paper. If you goal is to work on a particular technique (other than drawing), this might be a good way to go as it allows you to get right to the exercise allowing you to focus on that. It is a great timesaver which lets you get right to the job you need to do. One thing to know about tracing….You can still lose your drawing. There is also a tendency to stay between the lines keeping your drawing tight. The trace should be guide only.
“Sometimes it’s OK and other times not”
From the two previous pros and cons you can see when it might be useful and when it’s not. I have a class I’m teaching where I am allowing my students to trace because I’m teaching them about color and I want them to have confidence in their start. But they’ve already also had a lot of drawing classes with me. Interestingly most have decided to draw freehand instead of tracing.
When I was in school I never traced as I knew drawing was essential to my understanding. When you take the time to draw you are actually learning about the thing you are drawing. Every time you draw it, or a section of it, you gain a deeper knowledge that you wouldn’t have by tracing.
On the other hand, if you are keeping the scale at the same size as what the tracing would be, it’s nice to be able to lay a piece of tracing paper over your work to see where you’ve gone off the rails. In this instance you are using tracing as a learning tool.
Tracing and projecting is a tool. Just as you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to tighten a bolt (you would use a wrench) it’s still helpful to have a screwdriver in your toolkit. I consider tracing and projecting part of my tool kit. I just use it very judiciously.