Illustrators are primary movers in bringing technology in for the purpose of saving time when producing original art. With stiff deadlines, and your competitors finding time-saving methods, it’s an almost never-ending escalation of time-shavers.
I mentioned elsewhere one very common type of hybrid that you will encounter these days: printed underdrawing with paint over it. Back in the old days (as in, a decade ago or so), it was still normal for me and for many illustrators to do a final full-sized drawing directly on the painting surface sometimes. The advantage: your true drawing is there to paint over, with all its accuracy. Drawback: you will paint over your drawing and it will be gone forever, the graphite or charcoal probably binding to the paint over time.
This was the first problem that artists tried to solve. Even back in Michelangelo’s day you had “pouncing,” a method of preserving your drawing apart from the final work. He would create a life-sized drawing, perhaps back in his studio and bring it to a wall to be frescoed. By perforating the drawing (you can do it by poking small holes along the outlines of a figure, for instance, or using a tool like a pizza cutter that pokes small holes as you roll it, at regular intervals) and then rubbing some sort of dry pigment through it or retracing the line with a soft chalk, the chalk goes through the holes, onto the wall the drawing is affixed to. When you remove the drawing, voila, you have a fairly accurate, if generalized copy of your drawing made of lots of little dots.
Other common and less time-consuming methods included the one that Normal Rockwell favored: He’d do gorgeous full-sized charcoal drawings for each canvas. This most typical of transfer techniques involves rubbing graphite or charcoal on the back of the paper, affixing the paper to your painting surface, then retracing the lines you need. Removing the paper leaves behind a carbon copy. This is the exact method that carbon paper made cleaner, since now the backs of your drawings could stay clean.
Another method came with the introduction of the lightbox. Called the “camera obscura” way back when, it allowed you to redirect an image onto a plate that you could draw, or trace on. In modern times the overhead projector and other such devices have been popularly used. I used to use one even in high school to blow up drawings. Do your drawing small (to save time), and blow it up using a machine like this.
All the above methods suffer from the same drawback of resulting in a traced-looking image that lacks the vitality of a finished drawing. Inaccuracies crop up in delicate areas, like eyes, that need to be corrected again. You keep your drawing, but you have to fight your tracing a bit in the paint. Correcting or fighting those differences takes precious time, as does the tracing process.
So eventually the good ol’ copy machine was brought into the fray. Entirely mechanical reproduction was finally possible cheaply and quickly. The benefits were obvious: you could scale your art up or down (within paper limitations) and get most of the vitality from your original drawings too. In modern times, this is done with even greater accuracy by scanning a drawing and printing it on a home printer. The final printed drawing is so close to the original that all the prior-methods’ drawbacks can now be done away with, especially on smaller works.
However, it was the first time that mechanization entered original artwork: yes, the artist had done the work of creating a drawing, but the thing he was going to paint on was not put there by him anymore. This was a small but significant turning point. Granted, by the time the piece is done, you’re likely looking at only paint—the drawing is probably completely obscured, resulting in a pure painting, and so you have a completely hand-made final image. However, for techniques that allow the pencils to show through, you’re already getting into this weird grey zone where what you are actually looking at amounts to a tinted photocopy. Huh. It may be sold as “original art” but the actual drawing resides elsewhere, and in this example, the “drawing” you’re seeing is actually a print with some thin paint on it. Does this negate any of the value of this type of original art? Would you know what you were looking at? These days, the answer is: not easily. Given the great quality of home printers, a drawing can be reproduced on good drawing paper, in colors that mimic graphite. Short of being able to smudge the lines to test, I don’t know how people could tell the difference. I wouldn’t be able to, in many cases.
With my own works, I easily admit that I scan my drawings and then print them out for painting. I don’t worry about it because I completely obliterate the printed drawing so that in the end, you’re looking at 100% paint. Perhaps that’s why it’s easy to admit….