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Mastering Realistic Watercolor Painting: 4 Great Benefits of Tracing

Do you trace your reference photos?

And feel a little bit ashamed about it? Maybe like it´s cheating, and not real art?

This is a topic I have wanted to write about for a while – a technique that so often divides opinions in the art community:


When I began painting with watercolors ages ago I started out by drawing all my subjects by hand. I had been drawing all my life, and was really skilled at it, and I genuinely thought tracing was cheating.

But once I had started my art business it soon became obvious to me that if I traced some of my reference photos it could save me a huge amount of time. Tracing meant I could go faster and get paid more per hour, especially when it came to my art commission work for companies.

To Grow as an Artist

After a while I also noticed that even though I already had advanced drawing skills I still could grow as a watercolor artist even though I traced. This opened my eyes and made me re-think, and today I consider tracing to be an effective tool for all watercolor artists – beginner to advanced.

Don´t get me wrong – I wholeheartedly believe and know that practicing drawing will help you in your realistic watercolor painting journey. And it doesn´t have to be long sessions. Just a 15 minute sketch in front of the TV once or twice a week will go a long way.

But you know what? It is not necessary to be good at drawing in order to learn how to paint realistic animals, wildlife and nature with watercolors.

Tracing in Watercolor Art

Tracing, in the realm of watercolor art, is often considered a controversial subject. Some argue that it diminishes the authenticity of a piece, while others view it as a valuable learning tool.

But I´m here to tell you that tracing can indeed be a helpful stepping stone on your path to mastering the art of realistic watercolor painting. Especially when it comes to capturing the details of animals, wildlife, and nature. There are a lot of features and shapes that need to be in the right place to achieve a realistic look. And that´s when tracing can be really helpful.

“You don´t need to know how to draw, in order to learn how to paint”

-Jessica Bolander

Room and Time

In my opinion, tracing gives beginner artists ROOM TO FOCUS on the painting process, and more advanced artists TIME TO FOCUS on the painting process.

And there are even more benefits ↓

4 Great Benefits of Tracing

1. Building Confidence

Tracing allows watercolor beginners to gain confidence in their drawing abilities.
By starting with a traced outline, you can focus on honing your watercolor techniques without the pressure of perfecting the initial sketch. It’s like having training wheels on your artistic bicycle, giving you stability as you develop your skills.

2. Drawing Skills

Tracing can actually help you to develop your drawing skills as well. Not as fast as practicing drawing, but it can help you develop your hand-eye coordination. It builds your hand and muscle memory and trains your artist´s eye, and eventually it will also help you move on beyond painting tutorials.

3. Preserving Accuracy

When it comes to realistic wildlife, animal and nature art, accuracy is important. Tracing ensures that your subject’s proportions and details are correct before you start painting. It acts as a reliable roadmap, guiding you through the various steps of the painting process. It also helps you stay on track and achieve an accurate representation of your subject.

4. Time Efficiency

Realistic watercolor paintings often require meticulous attention to detail, which can be time-consuming. Even though I encourage you to not hurry and start enjoying the slow and mindful process of realistic painting, tracing can be a time-saving technique, allowing you to jump straight into painting without spending hours on preliminary sketches. This is perfect for more advanced watercolor artists who want to speed up their workflow, and prefer to spend more time on the details of the painting than the drawing.

“Tracing gives watercolor artists ROOM and TIME to focus on the painting process” ~ Jessica Bolander

And you can quote me on that!😄

This gorgeous red fox is a masterclass in my upcoming watercolor membership.
Join the waitlist to be sure to not miss out when I open the doors.
I always provide a reference photo and a line drawing for easy tracing in my watercolor masterclasses and tutorials.

A Valuable Tool

My opinion as an experienced artist is that in the world of realistic watercolor painting, tracing is a valuable tool that can help you bring your art to life. It’s a stepping stone towards mastering the details of your subjects while building your confidence as an artist.

“Tracing is a valuable tool that can help bring your art to life”

-Jessica Bolander

Even though I always would recommend making time for short drawing sessions, I encourage you to embrace tracing as a time-saving and confidence building learning tool. Use it as a helpful guide to create beautiful watercolor art that captures the wonders of animals, wildlife, and nature.

I believe in you.

I believe in you and your artistic potential. You’ve got this.