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Jack @SourCherryJack

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Tracing, References, the Art Portal and YOU!

Posted by SourCherryJack - July 2nd, 2020

The Art Portal has had a noticeable uptick in artists being scouted with traced art, and filtered photos in their galleries. Collage and use of pictures in art isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it must be transformative and recontextualized in some way. I'm gonna use this post to clear up some uncertainty in what constitutes a heavily referenced drawing from a traced drawing; as well as what constitutes a transformative work from one that is just using images you don't own and calling it your art.


In the event that a submitted drawing is a one to one match with an existing image in its silhouette, and major details, it is traced. If I can stick it in photoshop and put a transparent image over it and all of the lines up perfectly, it is traced, there's no argument, the submission will be deleted, and there's a good chance the uploader will be unscouted from the Art Portal.

How can we tell?

There are a variety of red flags that arouse suspicion from Art Mods, one is post history. If a week ago the rest of a user's submissions had wonky proportions, no grasp of the fundamentals of art: spacial awareness color theory, anatomy, balance etc, and then suddenly they make a wild jump in quality and artistic knowledge; there's a good chance there is some funny business going on. An extension of this is if a user comes out of nowhere, with no icon and a bunch of professional grade looking art all uploaded in a short span of time.

Another red flag is if the technique appears automated; posterize tools and live trace tools in art programs create a very specific type of geometry in the way it breaks up colors and shadows, that artists, frankly, are not likely to do, it's not impossible that a person did it, but unlikely.

The last and possibly most significant is user history. If a user has a past of stealing art, or tracing, we're a lot more likely to believe its happening again and less likely to give the benefit of the doubt.

These are the main red flags we look for, then from those suspicions we go to google images and keyword search to see what comes up.

Don't trace, and don't use filters or art program tools that are basically tracing.


Using references is great and an absolutely necessary tool for any artist to be successful in learning to draw something. I strongly recommend every artist use references in their work and studies. Chances are most use of references, unless you are overlaying to get the broad strokes (still tracing), won't be a problem in the portal. But the best way to use a reference is to look at the example image and try to draw what you see as close as possible while using artistic license to fit what you want into your composition. If you're drawing a character like darth vader for example, use posemaniacs, or another more generic body reference and then work out from there and add the armor to the blank body you've drawn. This way you have a completely original darth vader with no question that its your's.

References are good, use them, but don't trace them, learn from them.

If you end up super close to your reference, you might also want to link your reference in the description, art mods are people too, and if we spend ten minutes hunting through google images trying to find your reference piece to check if it is traced we might be in a bad mood and make the call that it is too close and mark it as traced. Being straight forward does go a long way (for me personally at least).

Filters and Collage

This is probably the grayest area, but even then there are some clear lines.

  • Don't use images that you do not have the rights to, stick to photos you've taken, and photos clearly in the public domain
  • Don't just post a filtered image, that is not significantly altered, and it is just photography
  • The photograph should be a relatively small component of the piece as a whole, a sunset with a little stick man drawn on the floor isn't gonna cut it.

So what use of photographs are allowed?

In short; significantly altered photos. This can extend to painting scenes over photos in a way that is clearly distinct, photoshopping more trees into an orchard isn't what we're talking about, maybe inking black and white fantastical trees or trolls or something like that would be cool though.

Cutting out scraps and collage making on painted backgrounds is alright. (@yurgenburgen is a great example of how to transform and recontextualize photos in a way that suits the Portal)

Another acceptable way to transform, I forgot the user, but a while ago in the art forum an artist used an image of a Sea Doo and cut it up in photoshop and created a mech from the cut up image.

These are what we mean by transformative uses of photography.

Filtered photographs as backgrounds in general is tricky game to play and its acceptance is a bit sketchy all around, the way I personally police it is if the background pulls away significantly from the original work on display, it is not okay to use in the portal. What that means by its nature is so vague and difficult to explain, I understand it can be frustrating, but that's the nature of the beast, there's no clean answer to this and it is overall better for the drawing if the artist draws their own background.

To try and explain this: If you have a picture of a mountain range in the far off horizon of a drawing with a foreground and middle ground you yourself drew that's probably alright, but again, its sketchy and other mods can have different approaches. Character drawings with a heavily filtered background might also get a pass, but again, it brings down the quality as a whole and you're better off drawing your own background. It's a case by case basis, and again, sorry no clean answer here.

I can't speak for all of the art mods, but this is how I moderate the portal when it comes to traces/references/photomanipulations.

If you feel your work has been unfairly deleted for any reason you can pm me and I can probably give you a reason why, or failing that, find out from the mod who did delete it why.

We aren't here to punish people or crush hopes and dreams, we're just trying to keep the work in the art portal original, as intended.


Comments (2)

Yoo, you got a twich acct, list it in your left sidebar thingie. Followed you anyway, hope to catch ya soon!

Oh wait, it's there, just under your old name lol, nevermind

Hey man thanks for checking it out! also thanks for pointing out my unupdated links. A few sites have slipped through the cracks with the rebranding