Is tracing really a good method of learning to draw?

I’m posting this here because I posted this in the wrong section.
Some people say tracing is a good method of learning to draw. I think it is just mindlessly moving your pencil around a paper. People say you have to pay attention to the shape so you will learn it. Does this have any truth to it? I usually draw the shapes that make up what I am drawing and then gradually add detail. But is tracing really a good study method or a waste of time. I want to know because I was wondering if it would help me learn the shapes a little better before I wasted my time…

Some suggest that drawing subjects up side down divorces you from misconceptions of their structure. Why waste time tracing when you can just take a photo anyway? I guess then at least you get a say in composition.

Learn to abstract your subject. Try to think it as bigger elements. Then study the proportions and composition of the elements. Basic elements used include standard shapes such as boxes, cones, cylinders and spheres. Once you grasp the subject using such primitives, it isn’t that hard to add detail anymore.

There are certain basic rules that can help in discovering proportions. Search information about Da Vinci’s or Michelangelo’s methods. One commonly used proportion is phi, so called divine proportion. It’s something found in surprisingly many places. In fact Fibonacci’s numbers contain it. And as you may well know many natural constructs are based on Fibonacci sequence.

Learning to draw and measure freehand is extremely important. It can be tough at first but it will get easier as you draw more. Don’t be afraid to draw temporary constructs such as rectangles that help you to understand proportions better.

Tracing is a terrible way to learn to draw. To learn to draw you must learn to recreate subjects from life. Tracing is mindless, and results only in a duplicate of a drawing. To draw you must duplicate subjects, not duplicate drawings. You’re the camera, not the photocopier.

Tracing is a bad idea. If you want to learn to draw there are a lot of resources that may help you.

One of the nicest is Andrew Loomis “Fun with a pencil”. You may find it elsewere online. Some other Loomis books can be browsed online on

Also you can try the tutorials on

Tracing is really a bad method of learning to draw.

A good part of learning to draw is learning to observe so you can translate what you see into two dimensional line or forms… Tracing does absolutely nothing to help with that.


Tracing is only good if you are really, really new to drawing (we’re talking “never tried it before”). You should rather sit back and try copy-drawing a picture from looking at it. As soon as possible, expand this to drawing actual things. Drawing from looking at a picture gives you basic depth, proportion and curve perception to build on with real objects.

And yes, I draw. Pretty well, in fact :wink:


feel free to trace once you are already happy with your drawing skills,
but its no way to learn drawing techniques.

We seem to have reached a consensus.

Yes, we have…

Now that I think about it, I’ve never really traced anything (and I’ve been drawing since I was 4).

Search ‘drawing on the right side of the brain’ by the way.

There is tracing then there is tracing. (Tracing is a tool, not an outcome)

When someone first told me to trace (famous designer of movie props) i didn’t actually understand what he meant, it seemed stupid and took me ages/ was a waste of time.

It was only in the last 2-3 years that I actually worked out what he meant.

Tracing is a fluid and very fast way to build a framework for your own creation. Tracing enables you to quickly get perspective and proportion for you to create your own drawings on top of. It need not be a detail focused exercise, nor does it need to be uncreative.

Tracings have lead me to some fast innovative concepts over my years.


Did any of you actually read the first post. I said if you paid attention to the shape and copied pictures from several different angles if it would help you realize the true shape.
Most of what you guys said was already referenced in my first post. So please make sure you read it. You may have read my post but it did not seem like you did. It seemed as if you only read the topic…
Also, no one commented on my method of drawing that I had referenced in the post. I was wondering what is the best way to improve…

yeah it is waist of time, but it is better to put an object in front of you and keep drawing it and erasing parts that don’t look right. if you practice enough you be able to draw people’s faces withing a month, maybe longer depending on how much you practice.

I can already draw the heads really well… It is just the torso that I need to work on mainly…

I don’t want to trace, I want to create original works. I just want to improve by learning the shape of things…
Also I can draw pictures from life perfectly, even copy other pictures without tracing them without turning them upside down. When I draw from life I can focus on a certain section of the picture and draw the line, not the object… As I draw I use the lines I have already drawn to help determine where everything else will go. (Example: This line starts at the length of this curve from this curve and turns this much in ratio to… etc…) But if I can draw pictures from life mindlessly I’m not really learning the shape of anything… I can just mindlessly copy stuff… Thus you become a human photo copy, and that is not the way to make original works… And drawing upside down won’t help you learn the shape either because you are drawing lines not shapes or objects. If that makes cents.
How would you learn the actual shape of things and then apply it by drawing original pictures. Say I already know what the shape of a vase is, but drawing it in different forms can some times be difficult (maybe not a vase but this is an example). Where should you start.
I believe you should start with guide lines. The guide lines I would use would be actual shapes (Spheres, cylinders, stretched/squashed shapes, etc…) Once you get the guidelines set up; the picture can then be drawn with ease.
But learning the shapes that make up a character, and where they go, and perportions, and how they deform, and how they move, how they react, how they etc… could be hard… How would you learn the shape of things?

But learning the shapes that make up a character, and where they go, and perportions, and how they deform, and how they move, how they react, how they etc… could be hard… How would you learn the shape of things?

Study anatomy, and learn from that the muscle and bone structure.

Copying a photo by eye can’t beat actually drawing from life, but it’s still worlds better than tracing. If you have stock photos by all means draw from them, so long as you don’t trace them. If you can afford it you might also consider taking a figure drawing class.

I’d have to disagree with half the ppl here. From the time I was 6 to about 13 I did absolutely nothing but trace straight out of comic books. I’m talking every panel. At 13 was when I started blowing the covers of my favorite comics books up to wall size morals. I dare to say without tracing, I’d have never been able to do that…as I took no time to do anything else besides trace. After blowing the covers up I started drawing freestyle from my head. And what do you know I was good at that too.

I’m not saying its the best idea to learn how to draw. I’m just now sitting down and reading books like the illusion of life. So yes, there are def better ways to learn, like going to school. But it is nowhere near as bad as some here are saying it is. They’re saying it because they were taught that was a bad idea. None of them did it themselves in order to confirm that, and if they did they stopped before they learned something from it. That opinion, unfortunately is what I would like to call a half truth.

Then why ask the question. You already know if it will benefit you. I can do this as well too lol. You are ready Luke. But if you need a def opinion from me one way or the other. When I teach my son to draw (he’s only 3) I will make him trace, trace, trace, and then trace some more. Just from my experiences with it.

edit you know what I’m a retard I never traced like you guys are talking. I put paper besides the comic book and i guess “recreated it again” would be a better way to say it.

So with that in mind. I have my doubts on tracing straight off of a piece of paper. You seem more like a blind copy machine than someone learning anything.

Yes i agree with HouseArrest.

Tracing can build understanding of how to draw. It can help you learn about proportion of bodies. An inquisitive mind is what transfers the act of tracing into an understanding of “what you are tracing”. You can trace the human body all day, but eventually you will be so familiar with it that you understand what makes up the human body.

Life drawing and other types of study are also valuable, everything has its place and there is no one way to do it.

Tracing to build structure / proportion (as i discussed earlier) allows you to progress your creative drawing quickly.

I think its neither good nor bad to trace. in fact nothing in life is good nor bad. Variety of experiences is the spice of life.