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How to Trace Then Paint

Trace an image, then add paint to make it your own.
photo paintbrush image by Aleksandar Radovanovic from Fotolia.com

Tracing images can be its own art form, with limitless creative possibilities. When you learn the basic skills to trace then paint, any image can inspire a painting or a series of paintings that is completely yours. You can turn photographs of pets into expressive wall art; make your own cartoons by transferring drawings of your characters into a variety of backgrounds; or take a surreal approach and render a realistic seven-headed version of your favorite brother growing from a cactus. When you think of tracing and painting as an art form, you can create an inimitable masterpiece using the simplest of tools.

Trace an image, then add paint to make it your own.
photo paintbrush image by Aleksandar Radovanovic from Fotolia.com

Things You'll Need:

  • Tracing Paper
  • Spray Gloss Medium Or Other Fixative (Optional)
  • Paintbrush
  • Light Box (Optional)
  • Pencil (2B Or Hb)
  • Paint
  • Heavy Paper
  • Tape

Trace the Image

Tape the source image to a flat work surface such as a drawing table or a light box. Use a window if you don't have a light box and you want to be certain to see all of the detail of the image through the tracing paper.

Tape the tracing paper over the image.

Draw the image onto the tracing paper, transferring its lines with the pencil. Select which lines you want to trace carefully, considering how closely you want to imitate the original. Use a mixture of thick and thin lines or make new lines using the source image as inspiration to put your own impression on the tracing.

Remove the tape from the tracing.

Flip the tracing over so the reverse side is facing flat on the work surface. Do this on a flat work surface, such as a table, as you do not need the light-transferring capabilities of a window or light box.

Go over the lines of the tracing on the reverse side with an HB or 2B pencil. Using this type of soft-leaded pencil allows the ink to transfer easily onto the heavyweight paper.

Tape the heavyweight painting paper to the work surface.

Center the tracing right side up on top of the heavyweight paper and tape it to the work surface.

Go over the lines on the tracing again with the pencil to transfer the image to the heavyweight paper. Omit any lines that you don't want to include in the painted version of the image.

Paint the Image

Remove the tracing from the heavyweight paper.

Paint the image using the pencil rubbing as a guide. Consult the source image for color choices or invent color combinations that appeal to you. Experiment with types of paint and the thickness of your paint application, knowing you can always transfer the traced image onto another sheet of paper if you are not satisfied with the results.

Finish the painting with a fixative, such as a spray gloss medium, if desired.


Trace then paint your own drawings to make a pattern for wallpaper, gift wrap or stationery.

Make traced paintings of a family member or friend for a quirky gift, such as a deck of playing cards or personalized calling cards.


  • Avoid tracing copyrighted material if you intend to use your traced painting for commercial purposes or you risk breaking the law.
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