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Readers Respond: Share the Method You Use to Transfer a Drawing to a Canvas

Responses: 19

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How do you transfer a drawing from a piece of paper or sketchbook onto a canvas for a painting? What methods have you tried, and what do you think is most successful? Or, if you never transfer drawings, tell us what you do instead.

Transfer Tip

When using the method where you cover the back with graphite or any similar method I suggest using a colored pencil to do the transfer. That way you know which lines you have already traced over.
—Guest Sanjay

Using Watercolour Pencils

Sketch your drawing with watercolour pencils -- red, blue or black work best as these tend to have a slightly harder lead content -- then place drawing face-down on canvas and trace over firmly using a H pencil or any other object with sharp point. Great for detailed drawings.
—Guest Leonie

Drawing to Canvas

I usually process drawings, composed pictures etc. with Photoshop to the correct size, e.g. 60x80 cm, split into suitably sized pieces for my black & white printers (32 x 45 cm or A4), print out (with the end measure of 60x80 it will be 4 pieces of 32x45), cut out the pieces of paper to their correct size (30x40), put them onto a lightboard, put charcoal to places/lines, which I want to transfer, on the backside, then press through the basic lines onto the canvas with a not too hard pencil, sheet by sheet, then fix the charcoal with hair spray, if necessary (not always). In case of white borders on my paper sheets, I put a thin black border line in Photoshop, so that I can cut out the correct size without further measuring. If a picture is dark, I lighten it up in Photoshop, such as not to use too much ink. It works well and fast and without external help. I have, of course, also free design right onto the canvas, with charcoal, which can be rubbed off easily, if necessary.
—Guest Rudolf

My painting process refined...

I always try to start with my favorite paper, 300 gram watercolor paper with a tooth. I do my drawing with coreless pencils, my favorite being the 4B. It is soft enough to do whatever I wish and allows for a nice range of darkness. Once the lines have been formed I typically ink them and erase the underlying pencil. This allows for near perfect lines, smooth and graceful... just what I was seeking when I started my rough draft with the pencil. Now the piece is colored with hash marks or sometimes with watercolor pencils. Whatever my mood. Once the drawing is finished I digitally scan and clean it in Photoshop, add a stroke around the entire piece and add enough extra material to stretch it on canvas. The image is sent to a wide format printer and printed on canvas. This is then stretched and framed before I being to paint it. The reason is the size. My current standard is 5 ft by 7b ft. Just about the largest the printer can produce.
—shoosty

Drawing on the Canvas

After working the basic drawing out on paper the size of the canvas, this is where you work out the kinks in the drawing, I turn the paper over and draw a black area around the sides of the drawing, place it on the canvas with masking tape, then draw over it, so the image is transferred to the canvas. Then I take away the paper, and refine the drawing freehand. A good drawing is the basis for good art. Sometimes I just draw freehand on the canvas, before I even start to paint. In art school, we had to get the drawing down, before we could even start the painting.
—Guest Anne

Tracing Over the Sketch

I usually trace my drawing onto butcher paper, then tape it over the canvas and use an inky felt tip pen to trace it. The ink bleeds through the butcher paper nicely to create a relatively even line on the canvas. Note: you have to press hard and trace it over multiple times to get the ink transferred well enough. Any gaps left on the canvas can easily be filled in with a pencil. It is probably easiest to use this technique with a drawing that isn't extremely complex.
—Guest Hannah

Sketch and Chalk

Once I have the sketch on a thin paper the same size as the canvas, I turn it over and rub chalk mostly over the lines of the drawing. Then place it on the canvas, chalk facing down and trace over the sketch. It transfers the same as if using graphite paper but more subtle. I have used the projector, grid and freehand as well.
—Isabel.Oliver

Use an Soft Pencil

What you do is get an Ebony Pencil (they're pretty cheap) you then take the pencil and shade the whole back side of your drawing, press really hard and maybe go over it twice if you have a lot of detail. Then you tape your drawing to your canvas so it will not move, the lines facing up, the shaded side faces the canvas. Then you get a pen or pencil (pen works better) and just trace your drawing; the ebony will transfer the drawing to the canvas works really well, you just got to shade the back of your drawing really dark because if the lines aren't dark enough it is a pain to restart. [An Ebony Pencil is a soft, dark pencil, produced by Prismacolor -- Painting Guide.]
—Guest blair

Transfering Drawings to Canvas

After I make a sketch on paper, I freehand draw it on the canvas with a pencil and use a soft artgun eraser if needed. I use canvas boards so this is pretty easy to do.
—Guest Martha McWilliams

Overhead Projector

The easiest method I've found is using an overhead projector. Go to your local copy center and have your drawing, sketch, painting, etc transferred onto an 8 /12" x 11" piece of acetate or clear plastic. Then use an overhead projector, to project a perfect image of what you want to reproduce. You can size the work easily by moving the projector closer or further away from your workspace. You can purchase these projectors for close to nothing! (3M makes one that's about $60.) They are the kind used in grade school classrooms.
—Moonwolfin

Transfer Drawings onto Canvas

I have tried most of the methods which have been posted, but I have found the easiest and quickest method for me is to enlarge a photo I have taken myself onto a photo-copier -- then trace the image.
—Guest barbaranorman

Depends on Medium

I personally find using a grid method for large canvases the best. Drawing freehand without too much detail for smaller canvases works pretty well most of the time. But with watercolours I use tracing. I often wonder is this cheating!!! It just saves time and usually gives a better result....
—mcbab

Enlarged on a Copier

I did a 12x16" of the piece, then I enlarged it on the copier to 50x60" or as close as I could get to 48x64" and used a rough grid system to match the copy to the canvas.
—Guest Katie Carr-Anderson

Using a Grid

Right now I'm more into learning watercolor technique than practicing my drawing skills, so I tried using a grid. I would definitely do it again when scaling up or down, as was the case this time. For a 1:1 ratio I usually trace and transfer with transfer paper. One trick I've adopted is to trace in coloured magic marker. Then, when I go over the lines I use a black pencil and I can see where I'm going and where I've been.
—greenhome

Simple Lines or By Eye

I sketch the most important simple outlines of the form directly to my material that I plan on painting on unless it is a wall. When I do walls I sketch the entire scene on paper and then go straight to laying paint on the wall starting small, centered and working outward with each form.
—Guest Mary Walker

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