In oil painting, is it cheating to trace an image?


My current project is a painting of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup. I have a rough drawing of the winning horse, Catholic Boy. The horse and definitely the rider (LOL) aren’t quite right but I will fix them as I paint. The painting will be blurred.

by cheri sabraw

I’ve been called naive before.

And it was with such naivety in all things painting–painting sales, galleries, the art world, art contests, juries, and more that I returned to a childhood hobby three years ago. Since that time I have learned the subjective nature of art contests, of gallery owners, and of art collectors.

Strangely, I thought all realistic oil or acrylic painters drew their own subjects from either raw talent or from their photographic references.

When I started my painting hobby, I began drawing on a sketch pad and took a class from old-timer Ned Jacob in the Superstition Mountains through the Scottsdale Artists’ School last December, which focused on drawing and then painting horses in a plein air setting for five days.

I found standing around a corral and holding a sketch pad hard work but more challenging was the act of replicating with some emotion and accuracy an animal difficult to draw.

Since that time, I continue to draw all of my animals before I attempt to put them to canvas.

On Instagram, I follow a number of artists whose styles I admire.

In considering an art class taught by an accomplished artist¬† whose work is of the highest quality, I followed a thread on his website to the materials list he had posted for his prospective students. And there I saw it on the list–tracing paper!


Perhaps his students have never drawn a horse or a dog, so he invites them to trace their photographs right onto their canvases. Maybe he, himself, does this.

I remember my disappointment¬† upon seeing the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer,” in which Tim Jenison makes a case for Vermeer’s use of the camera obscura.¬†

You mean the Dutch Masters and all who followed didn’t necessarily draw their own subjects?

What is painterly? What does an artist’s signature on a canvas mean?