Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tracing Paper, the artists friend

Above is a mandala I am semi working on. I started it a while ago, and have been working on it in fits and starts. One hold up is I haven't been able to decide on  the colors I want to use. Once I manage to do that I should make better progress. OK enough chat, the reason I am showing this unfinished work is because I can use it to demonstrate one use of Tracing paper. Before I took classes at my local community college I had no love for tracing paper, now it is a must have in my supply cabinet. It occurred to me that there may be others who are like I was, working on my own without training, who might find this information useful.

Why tracing paper you ask. First tracing paper is relatively inexpensive, 2nd you can see through it, and that is the part that makes it so useful. When an artist is working on a complex design it should really be worked up on inexpensive paper. Then when the drawing is finished you can transfer the main elements of the design to more expensive paper. Using inexpensive paper allows you to erase and start over without leaving marks that could ruin the final work on your expensive paper. There are other design decisions that are easier to make if you create the work first on inexpensive paper, like leaving out elements or cropping others to tighten the design. Of course working this way means you have to have a way to copy the design, tracing paper is one way there are others.

For my graphic design classes we always started new projects by working designs up on tracing paper. If you  have a  basic design you can trace those elements through the tracing paper and then work on variations. This is much faster then trying to draw everything over from scratch, and you can't just work on one drawing because you need to compare the various designs to see which works best.

But the way I most often use tracing paper now is to copy design elements from one location to another within a drawing. Take the drawing below. I developed a design to use in the corner and I need to repeat it in 3 other locations. I could draw the pattern free hand in each corner, but that will take me a while and may not be as accurate as I would like.

So the fastest, easiest way to copy the design is to use tracing paper. First I use a soft lead (2B) pencil to trace over the pattern onto the tracing paper. I include some locating marks.

For this pattern I don't care if I use a mirror image but with some designs you don't want to reverse them (text for instance). For those patterns that you don't want to reverse use a harder lead pencil for the original tracing (2H), flip the tracing paper over and go over the lines on the reversed side using a soft lead pencil (2B)

Next step is to move the tracing paper into position on your work, see photo below. Then using a hard lead pencil trace your drawn lines.

Once the lines are traced move the tracing paper away and you should see a faint image of your pattern on the artwork. If necessary you can darken or fill in lines with a pencil, but I usually get enough information that it isn't necessary. See the photo below showing the faint image in the corner.

In this case I copied the design 3 times flipping the tracing paper over after each trace, so 2 of my patterns are mirror images of the original design. If you need to make more copies or if you don't want a mirror image and don't want to spend the time tracing on the back of your tracing paper you can use carbon paper between your drawing and the tracing paper to transfer the design. The disadvantage of using carbon paper is that you can't see any markers drawn on your drawing sheet, but it is a faster way to transfer a complex image. For some type of work carbon paper leaves too dark an impression, in that case it can be lightened using a kneaded eraser. Just patting the lines with the eraser should be enough to lift off some carbon and lighten the lines. 

This isn't my usual style of post so I hope some of you find this information useful. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to post them. My next post will probably be photographs from tomorrows Art Fair.