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Readers Respond: Is it Possible to Cheat at Art?

Responses: 88


Do you think that some of the things people do when painting are cheating? Such as tracing a photo or using a projector? Do you believe artists should not use photos at all, but ought to paint from real life? Or do you think anything goes, that it's the end result that matters not how you got there or what you used? Share your views on cheating at art here.

Not at all

There is no "cheating" in art. Art does not come with a set of rules. You can do whatever you want. It's not like Math or English. Art is what you want it to be. Of course, there are certain "directions" you have to follow if you want to make your art look realistic, but those aren't "rules." Rules are something you have to do. Directions are more like suggestions. That being said, I do not think that "tracing" is cheating. Painting is different than sketching. Tracing is just a faster way to sketch out your painting. You can't trace a whole painting, only the outlines. People may say "Well, you're cheating yourself because you are preventing yourself from improving." I strongly disagree with this. Tracing has helped me see what face shapes look like, and what features look like in shapes. Although I don't plan on tracing my whole life, I can now see things differently and that has helped my drawing skills. The only bad thing is if someone said they didn't trace, when they did.
—Guest jessie

Cheating at Art

It seems odd that people who feel tracing your own photo so you can paint it is cheating. But these same people will take a photograph with a camera that adjust the exposure, sharpens the image ,sets the color saturation for them, etc,etc and let someone think they did it all when all they did was point it and shoot. It's called using technology. But then some think using a ruler to make a straight line is cheating. Maybe thats why so many people never get started on their dream to paint because they feel they have to be perfect from the start with drawing skills,etc. Do what you have to do to get started but get started. We're not all born with talent but that doesn't mean we can't participate in our way and enjoy art.

If it's your work you are not cheatimg

If your sources are your work, photos, sketches and you trace or project to enlarge it that is not cheating. The masters used cartoons with little holes punched in the outlines to transfer a drawing onto a wall.
—Guest DM Parker

No it is not cheating

Sometimes I use photography references as a base for extremely large paintings or so I don't have to repeatedly go out during the same lighting conditions on a daily basis for months at a time. I have done it the hard way many times, but in some cases bringing your camera and snapping a picture is the best solution. The key here is you take the reference yourself. If you use a picture someone else took that is plagiarism and not ok. When I use a photo reference I do not trace but instead use the general structure as a guide to get the feel of various textures and compositional structure. I then alter the composition as needed. On a painting that takes several hundred hours this can save you a lot of time! If you already have done it the hard way many times, you don't really have anything to prove by making things harder on yourself.
—Guest meep


Cheating at art? Art has always been an inspiration, never a technique. The better question is how much work you put into making this "art", did you for instance take the photo yourself? You did and traced it? Good then you did all the work with your own hands.
—Guest Spirit

Why Not Mention It?

The perception of a finished artwork is that the artist simply drew it, without tracing or using tools other than their eyes and their pencil or brush. Otherwise, why don't they note in their descriptions, the use of tracing paper, dividers, projectors or "sketch-a-graphs"? Is it because they want the viewer to believe they just did it all by eye? I still believe there is a level of dishonesty using these aids.
—Guest Wayne

Creation of the Sun and Moon

On the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo used a nail and string to make the perfect orbs. Doubtless, he could have drawn a pretty good circle. (Source: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling by Ross King)

If it is someones else's work YES

Tracing can be a great tool, and save you much time, especially when you make a great composition but put it on the wrong medium etc and so need to transfer it BUT tracing photos by others is WRONG because it implies that YOU drew it or came up with it all on your own, when in fact, you did not. I would not recommend tracing things just because you have trouble drawing them, as practice will make you better and truly be 'your' art- there is room for interpretation. But tracing another artists work and using it as if it is yours is plagiarism.
—Guest Fae

Not cheating...

I use a projector sometimes to help me get the outline of something, then I add my own touch to the art. I do not consider this cheating, because it's not a full on copy. It's helping me. Tattoo artist do it all the time to get the picture someone wants perfect and a certain size, then they tattoo it and it's still called art. Why would it be any different from painting? You are still putting the brush to it. Still putting details and time into it. Therefore it is ART. Not cheating.
—Guest Sun

Cheating is stealing!

Whether you're competing for a job, a scholarship, a customer or respect, any artist misrepresenting himself is a cheater and a thief. If someone pays thousands of dollars for what he thinks is a hand drawn masterpiece and it's really a traced photograph, he's getting ripped off -- obviously. And, I've never seen a traced photograph listed as such in the credits. Comparing freehand art to tracings of photographs is like comparing an actual singer to a lip-synch artist, yet their work is judged side by side in competition as though they're in the same category. Stop making excuses. Put in the time and learn how to draw or be honest about what you're doing.
—Guest John

Tracing, Projectors, Cameras

Using so-called "cheats" to produce art is so common now. The reason is simple: photographic quality awes the casual observer. Photographic quality is equated with skill. There is a great amount of mechanical skill and patience involved in copying photos -- I know, I started out in this manner. I was told by many folks how "good" I was. Then I began formal drawing classes (still life, portraiture, figure) and I floundered. I was lost when relying on my own eyes to create "in the moment". I found over time that others have made this discovery. Truly "seeing" means putting away all the devices except your pencil or skewer, and draw/paint from real life. To me, this CREATIVITY is what Art really is!
—Guest wes

Developing Your Skills

I think an artist should never trace. Every time you trace or use methods that subordinate the mind's interpretation and the hand's coordination then you lose another opportunity to improve.

It's a Matter of Perspective

In my opinion art is an abstract as an idea, no good or bad, no right or wrong. Saying that, even if admire some of the art that is produced by stencils or tracing, I consider it an aided approach to art. Yes you can say similarly at some extend are reference photos, grid transfer, even tube paint. If I could I would make my own paint, but unfortunately I can’t. But as any other aspect of creating in life, the more of YOUR abilities are in a process the biggest value it has to you. And the biggest critic is yourself. I like to take –whenever possible- my own reference photos, sketch in pencil , sometimes use a grid transfer, and then sometimes trace my sketch to my final surface. The more of my abilities are on the process the happier I am. A lot more people can today get an image to a photo manipulating software and at some extend make a pleasant result and then trace it or directly print it in a canvas that can actually hold a brush. Where does art stops being an aided process?
—Guest Andreas

Tracing Is Not Honest

When someone looks at an artwork they are hopefully impressed by the whole work, including the artist's control of proportion. Its part of it. Tracing takes a degree of skill from it... makes it easier. I think its cheating because I doubt that many who trace can draw their subject otherwise, but they won't admit it. Many claim to draw by eye, but if the work is superimposed over the reference photo and everything lines up "perfectly" it's very, very doubtful. The artists may receive claim for their accuracy in detail... but its not honest... to me anyway.
—Guest Wayne A

Rules Need to be There to Break Them

Claiming it was done freehand when it was traced would be cheating. Claiming a work was painted from memory when you had a reference image would be cheating. Cheating is breaking rule(s), so if no one (artist or other) imposes rules, you can't break them, so you can't cheat. Where do you draw the line otherwise? Using a ruler to draw a straight line could be cheating, buying premade paints in uniform guaranteed hues instead of mixing your own, studying techniques used by other artists and trying to employ them, breaking a figure down into basic shapes instead of "just drawing" it, using an eraser,... you could gone on forever.
—Guest siege eh

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