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Did I convince you that tracing is an awesome tool last week? Are you ready to try it? Today I’m going to give you tips for when and how to incorporate it into your art lessons. Next week I’ll focus on the six methods of tracing and have a handy Tracing Quick Reference Sheet, summarizing all three posts about tracing, available for download.

When to Incorporating Tracing

You could use tracing in many different art projects with children, but I really love using it as a time saver or skill-gap-filler. So, for example, if I’m trying to condense an art lesson into a 30 minutes time slot, I often use tracing to help the students move along faster. As another example, if my students are likely to be frustrated trying to draw something, I’ll use tracing to give them a quick win.

If you have a set of students for an extended period of time like at a summer art camp, try having them trace one thing (maybe their favorite animal) several times. Then have them try drawing it on a blank piece of paper. What did they remember? Have them trace it again and then draw it again. Aren’t you amazed at what they’re now able to draw?

This is how we’ve started doing our geography tracing at home. I’ve noticed my 3rd grader can do 10 traced maps in about one minute, so I started having him draw the map on a dry erase board after he finished his tracing. He’s excited about how much he remembers and he’s tracing his maps a little more carefully. (As an aside, he strongly prefers to draw on a dry erase board because it is easy to erase and it feels like less pressure when it’s obviously not permanent. It’s another great thing to try in your art class.)

Tracing geography

Here’s the most important thing: Learn to be mindful while tracing! When you’re having students trace, give them the following tips to help them trace mindfully, not mindlessly.

How to Trace Mindfully

Help your students keep their minds engaged with these questions:

  • Is this a curved or straight line?
  • Is it moving closer to the line next to it or further away?
  • At what angle is this line moving? Is it closer to horizontal or closer to vertical?
  • How big is this part of my drawing relative to the rest of my drawing? (For example, if you were drawing a face you might notice how big the eyes are relative to the ears, nose and mouth)
  • Where is this part of my drawing relative to the rest of my drawing? (For example, if you were drawing a face you might notice where the eyes are relative to the ears and mouth)


The “Don’ts” of Tracing

Now you’re ready to start tracing! However, I want to throw out a few more pieces of advice before you get started:

1. Don’t hide that you traced

Be open with people about your process. If they ask, tell them you traced the whole thing or that you traced the outline. Encourage your students to do the same. If you’re honest about where you are as an artist, you’ll feel happier with what you’re doing and get to enjoy drawing. You may even encourage others to try improving their own drawing when you talking about tracing!

2. Don’t plagiarize

Don’t trace someone else’ drawings and try to sell it as your own creative work. In fact, don’t free-hand draw someone else’s drawings and try to sell it either! Use tracing as a tool, enjoy the process and enjoy your own work. However, if you want to sell your work, be honest that you traced it and make sure you have permission from the original artist/photographer, and give credit to the original artist/photographer. (Photographers ARE artists! I name them separately here just to call attention to the fact that drawing their photo is a form of plagiarism!)

If you’re just drawing for yourself, no worries- do whatever you want. However, if you’d like to sell your traced art, your best bet is to take your own photos, trace them, and be honest about your own process.

3. Don’t assume tracing has the same emotional value as drawing.

Many people find that drawing is a relaxing activity while tracing is not. So don’t give up on art if you find tracing to be hard work. Think of it more like a drill.  It’s a lot like the basketball player that practices hundreds of free throw shots, or the pianist that plays a few tricky measures over and over again. They do it so that it flows naturally in the game or the performance.

I hope tracing becomes a helpful tool for you and all your art students!


Save for Later - CLICK HERE to download this post as a PDF.

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