Tracing Outlines of Famous Art Works

Van Gogh picture "Starry Night"

I have often made outline drawings of our art work for art appreciation lessons.  The Van Gogh picture  “Starry Night”  is one of the most popular downloads!   You can find all my other art activities and free downloads here.

Using ear buds to create pointillism

It is a simple, really easy and frugal method to create a picture to colour, apply techniques and make your own version of the art masterpiece.

A reader asked for a simple explanation of how I create outline drawings, so here is a ~

Simple tutorial:

  1. You need a tracing pad/ tracing paper (available fairly cheap at stationary or at large department stores) and a photocopier or printer and prints of art works (postcards, calendars, books, prints).
  2. Select the picture you want to trace.  Size doesn’t really matter.  You can enlarge any small picture on your printer.  If the picture is larger than your tracing paper, just section off the picture and trace each section separately.
  3. Trace the main lines and shapes and outlines with a black pen or fineliner.  (Pencil prints out too faint) You can include major shadows or sketch or paint lines that feature strongly in the painting.)
  4. Draw a frame around the picture and write the artist’s name and the title of the work at the bottom. (I always try give reference and honor to the original artist.)
  5. Place your tracing paper on the printer face down.
  6. Print a copy.  Viola!
  7. Of course, you can enlarge your small tracing to fit the page.  Just experiment with about 120% or more and see if it needs to be made bigger/smaller.
  8. Make several copies for each child or family member.
  9. Have fun on your paper copy!

Why do we use tracings?

  • Create a reference to a famous work and add it to written biographies and narrations.
  • Apply techniques famous artists use
  • Learn to mix colours, do colour washes and paint in layers with details last
  • Make the art work “your own”
  • Focus on the original for clues and details
  • Use the original for some more contemporary art techniques (like a collage/ a mural/ coasters/place mats/ quilt designs/ build a 3D landscape, etc.)
  • Although many adults consider this just “colouring in”,  I encourage them to give it a try!  It is MUCH more difficult than it seems!🙂

Hope this helps you create fun and easy art appreciation lessons for your family!

Update:  I found an easy tutorial at quotidianmoments.blogspot where Willa shares how to make coloring  pages tutorial using Picnik



45 thoughts on “Tracing Outlines of Famous Art Works

  1. I am so excited to learn that a body can buy a pad of tracing paper. I had tracing coloring books when I was a kid & I loved them. The way you use tracing paper… such a great idea! Thank you, thank you!


  2. Wow, Nadene, wow! As so many others likely share with you, I absolutely adore what you do here! I actually added you as a homeschool resource in my curriculum blog post this year!
    Thank you-thank you-thank you!!


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  5. This is an awesome idea! Thanks to you for putting this together and thanks to “Tara” who posted this on the FaceBook wall of “Christian Homeschooling Moms” today. I re-posted the link on the wall for our little homeschool group. Hope you have a wonderful day & keep up the good work!


  6. This is a faaaabulous idea. I can’t wait to try them. Thank you so much for sharing your efforts with us. I homeschool and was just thinking you could do this same idea in Photoshop/GIMP/Illustrator by creating a transparent layer over your art work and then tracing it with the brush tools. My older children are fiddling with these programs. I think I’ll use this as an assignment to help them experiment with the program tools. Again thank you so much for the ideas and the


  7. Tracing an artwork was an important learning piece as a 1st year art student for me. You can learn a lot about how an artist divides space and what he or she finds important as you trace.

    A great resource for art study that I’ve found is Dover publishing’s free samples. They often have coloring book pages of artists’ works in their samples to download at their website. While you don’t get the value of tracing it yourself, you do get the original to pair it with. They also have other lovely art inspiration with pattern motifs and floral/botanicals.


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  9. Rather than using tracing paper, I use regular paper or even water color paper when I trace things. I use a light box. It’s amazing that I can see through even the thicker water color paper this way.


    • Ooo! I have a light box! Great idea! For those of you who don’t Tracing with your papers taped to a verry sunny window also works. Also, maybe you could trace on tracing paper and print out on watercolor paper.


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  13. Tracings or coloring sheets of masterpieces are also excellent for art criticism – and for really getting to know a piece and the artist’s style (as someone else also mentioned in a post above).
    But there is more – when you draw, make a general outline, or color in a coloring sheet of a piece- it is like going to lunch and talking to someone to develop intimacy and a bond. Drawing or coloring in the sheet helps you to feel the lines and feel the space use – and it allows certain parts of the picture to become more intimate.
    Nadene, thanks so much for this wonderful blog and for your generous sharing! you are blessed and a blessing to so many!


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  15. Thank you so much for sharing this! I look forward to doing this project with my kids today….and I added it to my pinterest board to be able to find it again, and again!


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  18. Thank you so much for this! I teach Kindergarten and one of our centers is art. Often then look at a work of art and do a project to go with it. Often it is way too difficult for them and they get frustrated. This will be a great tool for them to feel successful!


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  23. Nadene – HI – do you have more of these pencil tracings of artist’s work that you would be willing to share? I think my son would love these. He recently did a project with our state flag and it is hanging up in his ‘art corner’ in our house!

    thanks – j


  24. Thanks so much Nadene!!! This will be so fun – thinking of going to a local garden that has a fish pond and painting the fish painting!:)


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  29. Hi! just stopped by your site (found via Pinterest for your night sky outline) and found you have the same style sheet as my own blog, and a very similar topic (I’m over at – ‘learnt’ is the Australian version of the US ‘learned’). I was home schooled myself and went on to do Fine Arts at University, so loved what you have going on here. Thought I’d say Hi, and thanks for the link, I look forward to reading more about your blog later!


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