Okay three things first:

  1. It is the hardest part of drawing.
  2. Tracing will actually set you back unless you do it the right way.
  3. You don’t have to be accurate to make good art.

I grabbed a random screencap to show you how I do it (keep in mind that I’ve made thousands of drawings at this point in my life, so a lot of this is stuff I don’t even stop to think about anymore, so I apologize if any of my advice sounds muddy or confusing):

The first thing I do is note the positive and negative spaces and distances between them (marked in pink and blue below):

I reversed the colors so you only see the spaces for what they are. Look at the black space in particular because that’s the barrier between the two major halves of the entire space.

I also note the angles of things:

And then I start to sketch.

First I break up the space and mark out the major axis of the figure (a good rule of thumb with figures is to draw where their spine would be, and perhaps where their shoulders are as well—you don’t have to do it this way of course but if you’re having trouble seeing an axis, it can be helpful):

Then I start to mark out the major shapes, using each previous set of marks to help me refine things. Some people use circles or scribbles or even whole chunks of light and dark. There are an infinite ways to block out a drawing, but I’ve found that angles and lines work best for me:

You’ll see above that I made a cross for his face the same way I made a cross for his body to marke the center line and where his eyes would be. If you want to practice these angles, something like a fashion magazine works great. Get some paper and just flip through each face and try to copy the angles you see.

Anyway, so then I slowly refine details using the lines and angles to help me see how things are shaped. I can build the shapes of fabric and muscle over the angles as if they were a wire skeleton:

And that’s basically it!

Now, to address tracing…

There are two ways you can use tracing to help you. The first is to pinpoint landmarks, like the corner of a shoulder or the eyes. You can do this by making a dot—and only make as many dots as you absolutely need. Too many, and tracing becomes a crutch, and you want to help yourself learn, not skip over learning. I don’t recommend tracing any lines.

You can also use tracing to repair what you’ve done.

Here’s my sketch overlaid onto the screencap:

It’s pretty good! I don’t have to fix it if I don’t want to, but if I want, I can use tracing to mark the places where things are a little off:

And then I can go back and adjust.

This trick is really useful for helping you see the mistakes you keep making so that you can work at correcting them. For example, I tend to make eyes too big and shoulders too wide. I don’t always need to fix that, but this method helps. 

The idea isn’t to make drawing easier but to make learning easier, you know? That’s why you want to be careful with tools like tracing (or even gridwork) because you’ll find that you’re not giving yourself enough of a chance to learn. That’s also why tracing can’t replace skill.

Anyway, like I said, you don’t have be accurate or mechanically perfect to make good art. These are just some tips to help you see in observational art and to be more confident. But remember that sometimes the best and most beautiful art is a mechanical mess.

Here’s Van Gogh’s room as proof:

Good luck! <3

A few of you have asked to see this and the recent color tutorial I did again, so I dug them up for you. <3