Tracing and Reference Marks for Portrait Drawings

Previously I talked about the necessity of drawing from references. This time I want to push it even further and suggest that you trace as well. I am not suggesting to flat out trace something when you are still in school or just learning to draw. I mean to use tracing in order to speed up your drawing process when you are already able to draw by eye. This applies mostly to portrait drawings.

Say you want to do a portrait drawing of someone. Obviously you would want your drawing to LOOK like the person you are drawing. And most artist would tell you how difficult that is. The face is extremely complex and if you have enough of their proportions wrong it won’t look like that person. You can start sketching by eye and eventually get to a point where you think the proportions and features are all in the right places. Then you spend hours shading only to realized that something is off. Now you are screwed. A more efficient way is to trace and make some reference points for the main features at the beginning.

Making reference points will ensure that you have the correct proportions to begin with. Now you can draw in the rest and feel SAFE that it will look like that person if you shade it correctly. You can trace as much of the features as you like. People generally do not care if you have traced it or not. But they will care if it does not look like the person you are drawing. So spend the time making the drawing look and feel the way you want it to, not hours on getting the proportions correct.

Lastly, most people do not look like Charlize Theron or supermodels, so take some liberty with the features and make the person you are drawing Prettier!

The Tracing Process
Since most of my portrait drawings are from digital photos, I will make a simple black and white printout of the face. This usually takes several tries as I need to scale the image to the exact size that I want to draw at. Then once I have that printout with the correct size, I will trace and make some reference points with my lightbox. My lightbox is only about 9 x 11″, but it is big enough as I just need some very simple reference points for the corner of the eyes, nose and mouth. Most of the features I can fill in. Just some simple points and it saves me about half an hour of going back and forth with the proportions. I don’t do this often as most of my portraits drawings, like the Model 1 drawing, are just for fun so I don’t need great accuracies. But when I do need it, that is what I do.

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