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Waterclour Hints & Tips ~ 5 Ways to get your image on the paper

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

When you start out with watercolour painting sometimes all you want to do is get on and paint! When I was teaching secondary school students I would regularly get the, "when we gonna draw!?" comments as most students love the practical side of art, but detest all of the explanations, the 'how to's' and 'whys' which go hand in hand with teaching. So understanding your frustrations, here's a few tips on different ways to get your drawing on the paper so you can get straight down to the good stuff!

Firstly, (and I can't say this strongly enough), drawing your image by hand is by far the best way to get your image onto the paper. It helps you to get to know your subject much better as you really have to look at your subject far more closely than you have ever looked before. Once you start to look at the world around you, you will actually start to see it - really see it. Looking and seeing are totally different things! To see, is to understand (that sounds like a great quote from some kind of jedi master watercolourist - but I think I just made it up!). The better you understand your subject, the more invested you are in the outcome of your drawing and subsequently your painting! However, with time constraints, sometimes you might just want to skip all the great stuff you will learn through the drawing process and move onto all the great stuff you're going to learn through the painting process!

So here goes...

1 Tracing paper - this is proper old school! Get a piece of tracing paper, overlay it onto your image (which needs to be the size of your finished painting), then use a pencil to draw over the outlines of the image remembering to include any details that are important. Once complete, you can turn the tracing paper over and carefully go over the lines on the reverse (usually better, when done with a softer pencil like a 4B), or you can roughly lay the graphite down so that it covers the lines. Warning! make sure you remember to turn the tracing paper over first before scrubbing across the lines or you will be obliterating your drawing (it happens!). Once the graphite is on the reverse of the paper you can place it onto your paper surface and simply draw over your image again on the front. The action of drawing over the front will impress the graphite on the reverse onto your paper. Please note: if you want to reverse your image, you can simply turn over the tracing paper and press your original drawing onto the surface of the paper by drawing back over the lines. This method is a little long winded to say the least so some clever folks have invented a few easier methods! If you're stuck and you've not got tracing paper but you happen to have greaseproof paper this can work too!

2 Trace Down paper - This is a bit like carbon paper. It is a thin sheet of reusable paper with a fine layer of graphite on the reverse. I use tracedown paper quite a lot. Usually I will draw my original painting freehand and photograph it as I go along, making notes for the step-by-step worksheets. However, I also paint a second image for the videos. For this I often need an exact copy, so I usually trace my original drawing (so that I have a simplified line drawing), and then I use the tracedown paper to transfer my image to the paper. It works the same way as tracing paper except that you don't have to go over the back of your own drawing with graphite. You just lay the sheet of tracedown paper (graphite side down ~ it's the darker of the two sides) onto your painting surface, then lay the outline drawing (or you could use a photograph) on top and draw over the lines. Please note: this method can be a little messy as the heat of your hand often presses graphite onto the paper as you trace, so be careful not to lean on your paper too much (although it will erase). There is also a graphite spray, which you spray directly onto the back of your printed image and then draw over.

3 The Light Box - When I was at college there were giant boxes with opaque perspex lids, which held flourescent tubes inside. All you needed to do was to place a line drawing on top of the box and overlay it with your painting surface and draw the image onto the paper. When the light was on, it shone through the paper revealing the drawing underneath. These days you can buy LED lightboxes in varying sizes (some which offer multiple levels of light intensity). These are a really handy tool if you want to do a lot of tracing. Alternatively, If you have a tablet that is large enough, you can put it onto a blank screen and use the light that's emitted as a lightbox - just don't press too hard!!

4 A window - if you don't have a light box you can actually use the same technique on a window! just tape your outline drawing to the glass, then place your paper over the top and tape it into place. Then draw over the lines! This is possibly the cheapest and most easily accessible solution and one which I have used on several occasions. Please note: this method works best, the sunnier it is and the only disadvantage is that it doesn't work at all at night!

5 A projector - there are lots of different projectors, from the old overhead projectors we used to have in assembly at school, to much smaller, modern versions. At college we had something called a grant enlarger (however, no matter how much we used it, our grant never did get any larger?!). Generally, all enlargers and projectors work in a similar way. You need an image which will fit into the machine and project onto your surface (which can be a disadvantage as you generally need quite a small image to start with). However the advantage of a projector is they can enlarge your image to create very large images which is fab for murals or painting on A1/A0 size papers. The down size is the modern ones can be an expensive piece of kit if you're not going to use it a lot.

Well, there you have it! Now you know how to get your image onto the paper, there's nothing holding you back from getting your next painting started! Happy Painting!

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