Art For Kids Art Projects and Techniques

Tracing Isn’t Cheating

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Recently Fen has been into watching Avatar, the Last Airbender on Netflix. At some point she must have been so intrigued with the characters that she would pause the show, press a piece of paper up to the TV and trace their faces with pencil. Then she Sharpied over the pencil lines.

aang tracing


She made around 7-8 of these tracings and taped them to her wall. She wrote out each character’s name and colored in a few sets of lips and a pair of eyes.

last airbender tracings




At some point in my childhood I must have been taught that tracing equals cheating and therefore has no place in the world of art-making. I was rather impressionable and have been terrified of being labeled a “tracer” ever since. Oh! The stigma.

In any event, I think tracing can teach a child a great deal. Whenever your hand is moving a utensil across a piece of paper is, in its own right great practice. But then there’s the matter of learning composition, proportion, shape- and all by tracing a professional artists’ work. The brain will remember these movements and store them away for later.

Tracing gives them confidence because something they’ve done looks really good. It helps them to practice drawing- not all drawing has to be from observation. It helps them with getting a feel for the proportions of whatever they’re drawing. It’s open-ended, so they can add in color later or not.


You know what else? Tracing is just a whole lotta fun.

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  • Thanks for designing this art project just for my 8-year-old son. How good of you to read his mind and realize that he loves art, Avatar: The Last Airbender and drawing characters but gets extremely frustrated if they don’t look exactly like they are supposed to. Please continue to mind meld with my family. Kisses and hugs!

    • My pleasure. I hope he is my biggest fan now. And don’t worry about the TV, you can always just get another one if he punctures it, right? it’s all about the art.

  • These are so awesome! What a great idea! I completely agree that tracing teaches. Now I want to go do some Homeland tracings!

  • Do you remember (though you are most likely way too young) in the back of magazines way back in the 70s they’d have a “can you draw this” picture? You’d copy the drawing then send it in and amazingly (that right there is sarcasm) you’d be qualified to spend lots of money to take their course to learn to draw even better. My older sister did it and I was so mad that she got accepted into their course when all she did was trace their picture.
    In other news, she never took the course, yet is now an accomplished and talented artist.
    So, what do I know.

    • I so remember those. In fact, I was too nervous to send in my first 10 or so attempts at drawing the animals because I thought mine sucked. And then finally we got a phone call from a man who was from the school, inviting me to take the course! I was so excited and then my mom squashed my dreams when she told me it was a scam and they were just trying to make money. I think that was the beginning of my trust issues. Huh.

  • My son printed out Fen’s drawings and traced them using waxed paper. We don’t seem to have tracing paper lying around. He pulled the image off the post himself to print it. He was psyched to have Aang! Thanks Fen! No punctured TV for us!

  • I enjoyed this. In Sept I took an art class (painting on canvas) by a well known mixed media artist. Guess what? We traced on to the canvas the outlines of the birds and then learned how to fill them in and paint them. She said it wasn’t cheating, and that it would give us an idea of the shapes etc and we would get more confident after awhile. I loved my piece when I got home I felt like I accomplished something fabulous. Fen is a very smart one!

    • Oh, what a cool idea for a watercolor class- you can then focus on learning the painting techniques without being stressed about trying to draw something fabulous first! I love when art teachers break the rules! Thanks for sharing.

  • I sometimes use a projector to get noses right. I am terrible at noses. After “tracing” them a while I found that I could draw them much easier on my own. There is something to the brain storing the information.

  • Yay! Please tell her that she made my 8-year-old son’s day too! He loves Avatar too. We all had to pick our power. I choose earth bending. He chose to be Aang.

  • I completely agree with you about having tracing being a learning tool instead of cheating and the concept isn’t new. Artists apprentices used to copy their masters work with learning to paint.

  • 😀 I’ve watched the airbender 4 times so far since releasing to netflix.
    your girl did an awesome job! and how can tracing be cheating? how did we all learn to write letters? wasn’t it from tracing those dotted lines? it helped teach our brains and hands the movements. i remember i was 12 and still buying those barbie paper doll books so i can pop out the bodies and use them to draw dresses that were highly fashionable and proportioned perfectly. it wasnt the fact that i got the shape right that was important, it was the design that was important. and you can see how creative Fen is by the poses she chose to trace. not just any old pose, but poses that make you “feel” the character’s emotion. very well done. bravo!

    • Oh, another Airbender fan! Maybe you should be tracing the characters, too, then…. That is such a great point about tracing the alphabet; I didn’t even think about that, and that’s exactly how kids learn their letters. huh. I’ll tell Fen what you wrote, she’ll be thrilled!

  • I love the title! I SO agree: tracing is not cheating. So many parents judge tracing as a bad art practice. I spent years tracing gymnastic photos until drawing bodies became second nature to me. I ended up being a fashion illustrator, loving the female form. Tracing reinforces lines so well. Great post!

    • Hi Patty, I’m loving hearing everyone’s thoughts on tracing- I’ve only heard one negative comment so far, otherwise everyone is all for tracing! I think a lot of illustrators must start out tracing things they love but just can’t quite draw on their own yet. Thanks for the comment!