Tracing photos to deliver sketches faster?


Hi all,
Ive been meditating on art cheats to deliver work faster.
Is tracing a drawing ever ethical, professional or just frowned upon? I read all the famous quotes about it, from sucessful artists. ‘whatever gets the job done’ or ‘client wont care how you do it, just as long as you do it’…
More true to photobash vs painting dilema.
Where we all know it takes a lot of lighting, perspective knowledge to make a photobash work. Won’t value and form knowledge have the same weight for tracing a photo in order to deliver faster sketches?

I reaally want to paint, I want to draw and design, take the project with a special care but I cant deliver as fast unless I use less glamorous methods, like photobash, 3d paintover of kitbashed models bought online.
Today I was making some figure drawing studies to use as a template and draw zombies on top, traditional drawings and I begun to wonder… Am I being an idiot for not tracing over these photos, draw on top of them and get the work done at light speed? Im thinking of doing this, use as many cheats as I can and devote a special hour or two for the day to practice and not forget about what I already know.


If you are tracing photos for your personal use, it’s ethically okay. But if you trace someone else’s photos and sold your tracing, that’s ethically not okay because of possible copyright infringement.

If you really want to become faster, you should learn the fundamentals before you learn the cheats. When you trace over a photo, you only learn how to copy the image as captured in the photo. But if you were asked to draw or paint the photo’s subject from a different angle… This is where knowledge of the fundamentals become handy. It will be slow at first as you learn, but once you have a firm grasp on the knowledge, it should become second nature, and you’ll be drawing or painting faster than tracing.

Photobashing, as used by Feng Zhu and Scott Robertson, is a great way of generating ideas tho. It’s like a Rorschach test for artists… Throw some photos together instead of an inkblot and ask yourself, “What do I see?”


The copyright issue exists whether using tracing or not, because it’s how much likeness to the original that’s the main issue, so even if you don’t trace and your artwork still has way too much similarity to the original, then it’s still considered infringement. Whether the original owner of the reference images will ever find out or care is a different story. The safest bet is to shoot your references, and it’s the best practice too, because you can actually direct the models to emote and pose exactly as you want, according to the narrative context of the image you’re working on. You cannot do that with other people’s images because you were not there during the shoot to direct the models, or to set up the lighting, or choose the camera angle, the focal length, the wardrobe, the hairstyle, etc.

As for ethics and artistic integrity and all that, commercial work is all about speed and efficiency, so do whatever to get the job done on time. If you lack the ability to draw proficiently without tracing, then you’ll know it and however that makes you feel, is your own business. If you can draw proficiently without tracing but do it to save time for commercial work, however that makes you feel is also your own business.


Interesting replies. I do draw from photos just okay, within 5- 10minutes, I have a bust that I’m pleased with, either realistic or stylized. If I don’t practice my drawing for some months, then it’s hard to get back into drawing these within only 5-10minutes, which is the genesis of the question here.
I don’t always get character design freelance work, sometimes I do environment for a while, so it’s hard to get back to one another. The employer won’t care for my personal growth and just want the art to be delivered asap, which is why I thought about just tracing it.

I think I won’t be doing that, except in some extreme cases of literally no time left.
There is an interesting question about copyrights by drawing someone’s photo in realistic terms, it’s still a copyright infrigement, I remember a very known, international artist to get in trouble for drawing someone elses portrait (no tracing), it went all over the news, from an artist perspective I didn’t understand the fuss, it’s not a copy paste or trace thing, but it’s still a thing.

Good stuff indeed, thanks for the replies.


When it comes to training, do whatever it takes to learn, trace, deconstruct, assemble etc.
When it comes to your own art, never trace others work.
When it comes to composition, in production, there will be situations where the fastest thing to do is trace and use the colorpicker. At that point it will be about image rights. Make sure that you have the rights to use the source material as you see fit.