Why Tracing Paper is your Best Friend and Why Tracing isn’t Cheating!

I am a bit of a butterfly of late with several projects on the go. I teach art workshops – or rather I did before lock down – and I illustrate. I have a particular enthusiasm for mad cap ideas. So today I thought I would tell you about my most recent mad cap idea and how she, Ella, comes into being. Like a lot of my work Ella has a therapeutic component and like a lot of people I was (am) feeling a bit sad and overwhelmed by the state of the world at present. Enter Ella, the all round smile maker. 

Ella begins with a VERY rough sketch – a messy sketch really. Mess is not to be avoided in the creative process. At this stage she is just a spark of an idea and as with all new ideas I like to allow them to settle in my mind for a while – to percolate.

Next I do a second sketch, this one is more defined and I take more care with detail and proportion and the message that the sketch will send. 

The sketching stage is followed by some wonderful text banter <cough> I mean brainstorming, with my dear friend and collaborator, Amanda Hufford @kiteandtether whose ability to take ridiculousness to extremes is one of her many excellent qualities.  Here is the picture of Amanda that inspired this particular Ella sketch. 

The brainstorming is distilled into a strap line of sorts and then I get my tracing paper out. Within a a few drafts Ella’s composition will be fully formed and perfectly imperfect.

Ella then gets photographed and imported into my graphics software where I clean up the image so that she becomes a clean clear black and white image, giving her some polish so that she is properly – or improperly – presentable. 

The point of this story is that the tracing paper stage is absolutely key. (If you are working in an all digital environment then ‘layering’ is an equivalent concept.) This is why I love tracing paper – when you trace an image you are learning motor control and hand eye co-ordination. It takes practice to get a smooth clear line and tracing paper (or layering) gives you the scope to practice within a framework that you have already set for yourself. Frequently, designers will do many iterations of their work on many sheets of tracing paper (or digital layers). In my previous career as an architect it would not be unusual to have a hundred or more layers of trace. Often piling up on the floor next to my workspace as I refined and refined. 

Why am I telling you this?

At school there is a myth that tracing is somehow cheating. That it’s stealing an idea. Well, no it’s not, it’s an important step in learning to think through drawing and learning line control when manoeuvring a pen, pencil or stylus. Maybe not unlike learning to play tennis when you practice that serve over and over again from that giant container of tennis balls until you have cracked the prefect serve. 

So my message is use tracing to build your confidence in your line work. Use it to think and to refine ideas or use it to play. But most of all use it! Tracing paper (or digital layering) is your best friend! And please do let me know how you get on.

Heres what I do

I create characters and illustrations for businesses and individuals. For individuals this might be a unique and personal gift for a loved one while for a business a humorous character can be an eye catching part of your marketing plan creating warmth and personality for your business.  Please do get in touch if you would like to know more.  Contact illustrationsbyglenda@gmail.com 

Grab it with Two Hands

My name is Kay Bailey and I work for Keebles LLP a solicitors firm in Sheffield.

Glenda kindly agreed to run a water colouring course for any members of staff that may be interested.  

I have never done any form of art since school (I’m now well into my forties!) and cannot recall ever having done any water colouring, but I thought why not give it a go.

I am so glad that I did!  I found the lessons very therapeutic, relaxing and enjoyable.  I learnt a little about myself as the weeks went on and realised that I wasn’t quite as bad at art as I thought, and took a great deal of pleasure at learning about colours and the interplay between them.

Glenda was very patient, constructive and complimentary whilst providing practical guidance and pointers as we went along.

My daughter is a very keen artist and since the classes it has been great to be able to sit down with her and ‘dabble’ with paints together.

Just before Christmas my son was admitted to hospital and was diagnosed with T1 Diabetes, he was extremely ill at the outset and as I stayed in hospital with him I decided to try some pencil drawing to pass the time.  As Harry improved we did some ‘doodling’ together.  I genuinely do not think I would have thought to do this had it not been for the course with Glenda.

I have no doubt I will continue to draw and paint in the future, with both my children, and on my own.  Art has been a complete eye opener for me and one which allows me to centre my head and achieve some relaxed quite time amidst the day to day challenges and I cannot thank Glenda enough.

I strongly recommend that anyone thinking of taking a course, grab it with two hands and run with it, you will not believe the pleasure and mental wellbeing you will find.

Kay Bailey

A note from Glenda:

Such lovely words from Kay above. It was a delight to work with this group and introduce to them just how much fun you can have with loose watercolour painting. To my delight, the group have carried on painting once a week during their lunch times as a great digital detox clearing their minds for an afternoon of focussed work. Below are examples from Kay and the group. Look out for my upcoming family friendly workshops at Silver Web Holistic Centre Saturday 8 Feb, 14 March and 11 April, from 2pm to 4pm. Find out more here and tickets are available here on Eventbrite.

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Rose coloured sunglasses and why you should paint

Why should you paint? I prefer to say ‘why not?” It’s and excellent way to spend time peacefully. You do not need to be super healthy or a certain age. You could be three or a hundred and three.

Sadly, art has the unhelpful image of people having to be brilliant at it. Let me dispel that myth right now. The benefits of art practice come in the doing, long before they come in the end result. We are all naturally makers and ‘do-ers’ – whether it is  cooking, sports, home decoration or (substitute your favourite activity here).

Painting……

  • is fun
  • is relaxing (let me point out here that some people find it stressful but that is because they set their expectations on the outcome instead of the process or the ‘doing’.)
  • is exciting
  • provides stress relief
  • restores a sense of control and purpose
  • can enable you to help others – for example, giving a painting can cheer someone up
  • forms friendship when painting in a group setting
  • has a ripple effect – the happiness you get from it effects those around you
  • provides solace – you are never really alone when you paint
  • provides a form of escape, when things go badly in life you can leap into this private world of comfort
  • is mood changing – think of the yellow of a sandy beach or a deep stormy sky

Now I’ll tell you a story. This Autumn I’ve been leading an art club at my local Primary School having fun with children aged between eight and ten years old. On a handful of occasions some children became very tearful because they had decided that their art was “not good enough”. I could see beautiful art work and they couldn’t. It felt very poignant watching these beautiful little souls being so hard on themselves as they are too young to be deciding what is or isn’t good enough. A lot of us have said this to ourselves at some point in time. This experience reinforced in me my mission to make art accessible to everyone and create that safe place where the inner artist can come into the daylight to learn and grow. Those rose coloured sunglasses need to go back on.

Just playing with colour alone can be really satisfying. These pictures are examples of simple colour flow exercises that I teach in my workshops.  Notice that there is no specific subject. Instead we adopt a position of wonder – “what will this colour do”? I’ve called these Waterfall and Obstacles. 

So why not paint? Consider coming along to my watercolour workshops every Thursday this January. Also available as a Christmas gift voucher for that special someone who needs those rose coloured sunglasses.

Want to know more but can’t make my workshops? The ideas mentioned here come from a fabulous book called ‘Paint Yourself Calm’ by Jean Haines which I can highly recommend. 

My name is Glenda Strong and my business is Illustrating Interiors.