Embracing Tracing: Transferring Reference Images for Watercolor | Denise Soden | Skillshare

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Embracing Tracing: Transferring Reference Images for Watercolor

teacher avatar Denise Soden, Watercolor Artist & Content Creator

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Embracing Tracing


    • 2.

      Class Project & Materials


    • 3.

      Using Reference


    • 4.

      The Stigma of Tracing


    • 5.

      Drawing Freehand


    • 6.

      Drawing with a Grid


    • 7.

      Using Transfer Paper


    • 8.

      Using a Light Tablet


    • 9.

      Comparing Methods


    • 10.

      Transferring Patterns


    • 11.

      Transferring Complex Subjects


    • 12.

      Wrapping Up


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About This Class

It can be tempting to rush through a sketch to start painting right away, but having the proper foundation before beginning painting can make or break a piece of artwork. However, drawing and painting are not the same skill, and one shouldn’t hold you back from exploring the other. This is an especially pertinent distinction when following online classes and tutorials, yet this topic is one that carries a lot of stigma in the art community.

In this class, we are going to start from the very beginning so that we can start every watercolor painting with clean and accurate line art - without guilt or judgment.

We will:

  • Discuss the importance of using reference.
  • Discuss the stigma of tracing reference images.
  • Explore three methods of transferring your reference photo accurately.
  • Compare the different methods of tracing to decide what method works best for your creative process.
  • Determine what information in a photograph is useful to transfer to your line art.

Prerequisite Classes: 

A full list of materials can be found in this shopping list.

The links above are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

All photographs featured in this class were either taken by myself or acquired from Pixabay and Unsplash.

All music has been licensed by Artlist.io and include the following tracks:

  • Lonely Mind by Mansij
  • Alone Trip by Ramol
  • Cherry Blossom by Ottom
  • Clarity by Mansij
  • Idle Night by Mansij
  • Passionate Choices by Mansij
  • Mellifluous by Ottom
  • Autumn Wind by Yehezkel Raz
  • Winter Magic by Aves
  • The Night Weather by Ramol
  • Midnight Flight by Ramol

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Denise Soden

Watercolor Artist & Content Creator


Denise Soden is a watercolor artist and online educational content creator. She's been captivated by both animals and art since before she can remember. In 2015, she left her career, passion, and lifestyle as a zoo educator to tend to her personal health. However, around the same time she found watercolors and has since fallen completely head over heals for them. Connecting her artistic roots with her passion for wildlife and education, she is now a full time artist and educational watercolor content creator.

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Level: Beginner

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1. Embracing Tracing: [MUSIC] Painting with watercolors can provide us with so many wonderful opportunities for self-expression, relaxation, engaging in self-care, finding joy, exploring our passions, and so much more. But there may be something holding you back and it might not have anything to do with your technique or the watercolors themselves. Hello, I am Denise Soden. I am a wildlife watercolorist, self-proclaimed pigment nerd, and I create educational classes to help you add tools to your watercolor toolkit. Here on Skillshare, I teach a variety of topics from technical classes on color theory and creating custom watercolor palettes, to more advanced classes on mastering water control and painting different animal textures. But there is a one basic topic that we haven't covered yet. We're going to have to go all the way back to the beginning before watercolor ever touches your palette or paper. More often than not, when my students are questioning what they can be improving in their own watercolor pieces, the area that needs the most help isn't actually the painting, it's the drawing that they started with. In this class, we're going to spend some time discussing drawing from reference, transferring photos using traditional methods, and even tracing copyright-free images directly onto our watercolor paper. I know that this isn't the most exciting topic out there. However, it's a really important one and one that holds a lot of unwarranted social stigma in today's online art community. Something that many people overlook is that drawing and painting are two entirely different skills and they should be treated as such. If you want to improve your drawing skills, I absolutely encourage you to do so by finding other instructors here on Skillshare who excel in those techniques. However, if you'd rather spend the limited time that you have creating to paint instead of drawing, I'm here to help. 2. Class Project & Materials: [MUSIC] For this class, the supplies that you will need will vary depending on what methods of transferring you want to explore. Regardless of what method you choose, you will need your reference images, watercolor paper, and your favorite pencil. I also highly recommend some masking or washi tape to hold your paper in place, a good quality standard eraser, and a kneaded eraser. In addition to these supplies, for Lesson 6, you will need a ruler. For Lesson 7, we will be using graphite transfer paper, and in Lesson 8, we will be using a light tablet. These are available to purchase online. There are many different options, so I don't really have a specific recommendation, but I will link one that I have in the class description. However, if you do not have access to a light tablet, you can also use a brightly lit window, or hold a flashlight underneath a piece of glass or translucent plastic. For your class project, I want you to be able to experience a variety of transfer methods hands-on so that you can choose what works best for your practice. First, I want you to choose a reference photo. Either one that I provided or an image that you're eager to paint. You're going to draw this image freehand alongside me in Lesson 5. As I mentioned in the introduction, this is not a drawing class. While we will cover some tips for you during this lesson, the goal is not to create a picture-perfect replica, so please don't stress out overdoing so. Instead, the goal is to create a baseline of where we're starting from without using any additional tools so that we can compare it with the other methods that may help to enhance our finished paintings. After your first drawing is complete, I want you to choose at least one other transfer method covered in this class, or all three, if you're feeling adventurous. Once you have your original drawing and at least one other transfer method, join me in Lesson 9 where we'll compare the different methods, and reflect on what worked for us and what didn't. [MUSIC] 3. Using Reference: [MUSIC] Before we dive in to the hands-on portion of this class, I do want to take a few moments to have an important discussion. The Internet has brought us many feats of greatness since its inception, including the ability to even find such a wide array of reference photos to begin with. However, it has also brought a lot of negativity, particularly surrounding social media, and the ability for people to shout whatever they want, whenever they want, and as loud as they want. Some people have been claiming in recent years that using the reference at all somehow disqualifies you from being a real artist, which is wild. I don't know who was responsible for or when this myth started spreading but artists have been using a reference since the beginning of art itself. People sat for portraits, bowls of fruit were arranged for still lifes, and landscapes exist literally everywhere free for anyone to reference as they wish. While many people still prefer to paint from real life if they can, the technological development of photography has given us the ability to save a moment of time, and reference it later. I personally cannot fathom how a collective group of people decided that this is somehow to be considered shameful instead of the boon that it really is. There is another set of people who say that painting from real life is the only valid form of reference, and that painting from a photograph is derivative or lesser than. I'm going to have to stop you right there. If you prefer to and can paint from real life, that is wonderful. Painting from life is a magical experience, and I'm so glad that some people have access to that. However, not everyone has access to the subjects that they want to paint, and not everyone is even capable of leaving their own homes. While someone may feel like their way is better, there is absolutely no reason to put down another person because of it. Saying that someone is a lesser artist because they work from photography instead of real life is gatekeeping at best, and classist, and ableist at worst. In terms of what I can speak to you from my own experience, it is invaluable to be able to watch animals move, and study their anatomy. It is a real treat when I get to take my sketchbook to a farm or a zoo, and scribble down gesture sketches while I'm there. It was even more special for me to be able to travel to Botswana and South Africa almost a decade ago to study animals in the wild. However, I have chronic pain, and fatigue that has only continued to get worse throughout my life. The days that I'm able to get up, get ready, go for a long drive, carry around a pack of artists supplies, sit in an uncomfortable environment for several hours while sketching, and then drive home are few, and far between. However, I still have the photographs from my trips to Africa, and I still have thousands of photographs that I've taken at zoos since I was in college. I still paint from them regularly. It feels really special not only to be able to paint from my own photographs, but also to be able to do that from the relative comfort of my home so that my body doesn't revolt against me. If you don't have your own library of images to work from, that is completely fine. There are amazing resources available online so that you can still create the art that you want to create. We'll talk about some of those options in the next lesson. Whether painting from real life or still images, either is considered reference, either will help you create more realistic artwork, and both are completely valid so don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. [MUSIC] 4. The Stigma of Tracing: Now for the more controversial topic, tracing. Is tracing your reference image considered "cheating?" First, let's go ahead and take the word cheating out of our artistic vocabulary as I'm not a fan of creating a headspace that makes us feel guilty when we haven't done anything wrong. It's important to note here that tracing a copyright-free reference image is not the same as plagiarizing someone else's artwork. Plagiarizing is taking the idea or replicating a work from someone else and passing it off as your own. That's bad, please don't do it. [LAUGHTER] However, tracing a reference photo to create realistic proportions within a piece of artwork is a tool, and tools exist to help us be more efficient at a given task. Reflective devices, curved mirrors, simply transferring an image from one surface to another, these aren't new concepts or practices. We just have more modernized tools today like projectors, graphite paper, light boxes, and even light tablets. Here's where we get into the heart of what this class is all about, and that is that drawing and painting are two entirely different skills. To be a well-rounded artist, it is helpful if you are able to invest time into both. However, sometimes that isn't an option, or sometimes people just aren't interested in developing one of those two skills, which is also completely valid. Let's think about it like this: Do we demand that every graphite artist paints over their drawing before they consider their piece finished? Then why do some people insist that painters who trace a reference image that you don't even see by the end of the painting process aren't real artists? There are limitations to tracing and we do need to acknowledge that. The first is that we have to acquire the images that we can and want to paint. If you are only painting for yourself and no one else sees it or you just show it to a few family friends, then you don't really have to worry about the information that I'm about to cover. However, if you sell your artwork, or post anywhere on the Internet, even your own private social media pages, then this information applies to you. You can generally use most photos that you have taken yourself. There are a few exceptions to this, if there are humans or protected locations in your photographs, if one of these stipulations applies, please make sure that you have permission to do so. However, if you are using photos from the Internet, you need to be aware and respect that photographers are also artists. You must have their permission to use their work as reference, especially if you're going to be tracing it. You cannot legally take any image from Google or Pinterest without either checking its copyright or getting the photographer's permission. There are many paid stock image websites where you can buy the rights to photographs, but there are also copyright-free sites that don't cost you anything, like Pixabay and Unsplash. Photographers that are uploading to these sites have already given you permission to use them as reference, so go wild. I have a couple of examples for animal portraits in particular. In the photo on the left, the image lacks focus. It is busy with several lines of movement following the chickens heads and tails off the edge of the frame. There are also grasses covering much of the subjects, and the barn at the back should be simplified in a painting. You could still use this image as reference, but I'd recommend making several changes to make a successful painting. Meanwhile, the photo on the right is a superb reference for a chicken portrait. These colors are saturated, the lighting is soft but bright. The details of the feathers and face are crisp, while the background is blurred as to not be too distracting. Finally, the movement comes in from the left side of the picture at the tail and leads our eye to the right of the page to the focal area of the face. The neck brings us up and back around to keep our focus in the center. The next is an example of when I was searching for a reference for a raccoon portrait. The image on the left might be good for an anatomy study, but it lacks focus for a portrait. The photograph is highly detailed, causing the background to fight for attention with the raccoon itself. The lighting is a little bit too even causing a lack of values, and if painted as is, the background is much more vibrant than the subject, which might also cause trouble. The raccoon is also looking down, seemingly at the ground which isn't bringing a lot of interest to the piece. The image on the right was taken with a wider camera aperture, meaning that the background is nicely blurred and separated from the subject. I'd recommend darkening the value of that light spot on the background by the nose, but otherwise it makes for a really good backdrop. The quality of the photo is also wonderful with crisp details. The ears, eyes, and nose are all on alert and pointing off the frame, which makes us wonder what the raccoon is focused on. While practiced artists can change things like color, value, and lighting within a composition, tracing does not allow for as much compositional creativity, so good references are a must. Now, let's talk about why someone might choose to trace instead of draw. Tracing is an invaluable tool for a number of professional artists. Realistic pet and portrait commission artists can paint the best piece of their life, but if the eye in the initial sketch is off by even half a centimeter, the likeness is now in jeopardy. For educators like myself who teach painting tutorials, my initial sketch needs to look exactly like yours if the goal is to have similar results at the end of the painting session. People can also just have busy lives or multiple jobs, or like I mentioned before, have chronic medical conditions that limit the amount of time that they can create. Sometimes I go weeks without being able to paint, and when my body finally catches up, I usually just want to paint. I shouldn't let other people's judgmental takes get in the way of what makes me happiest. I can draw. I could absolutely learn how to draw better, but I can also use a tool that was specifically designed to allow me to do what I love most in a more efficient way, and that doesn't make me any less of an artist. To close out this lesson, I have three elephant paintings for you. The first was painted well but use an inaccurate line drawing from the start. The second drawing was traced with accuracy but hastily painted without attention to detail. The third drawing was traced accurately and rendered to the fullest potential. Together, these three paintings are able to show the visual importance of each skill on its own and how they work together. My hope is that if you're having trouble with either drawing or painting, that this quick glimpse at these different paintings can help provide you with some insight on where to spend your time. If your drawing skills haven't quite caught up to your watercolor skills, but you want to keep painting, keep watching this class to learn how to transfer your reference images to your watercolor paper. If you're looking for drawing instruction, we're going to cover a little bit in the next lesson, but honestly, I'm not the best person to be teaching you that skill. I'd highly recommend checking out one of the other amazing classes here on Skillshare to help you with that endeavor. [MUSIC] 5. Drawing Freehand: In this lesson, we are going to be drawing our reference photo without the use of any transfer tools. This is to collect a baseline of where we're starting at. While we do want to try and be as accurate as possible, don't worry if it's not a perfect fit. First, we're going to set up our watercolor paper for an eight by 10 inch painting. The space in the center is eight by 10 inches and I've also added half an inch to all the edges to account for taping it to the board. Next, we want to print our reference photo the same size as our painting, in this case, eight by 10 inches. This will allow us to focus on proportions without having to re-scale the image. When drawing free hand, I like to make marks at important locations that will help me to place things accurately. In this example, it's where the dog's neck meets the edges of the frame, where the ear comes to a point and the location of the nose. Then I can lay the reference photo over my watercolor paper of the same size and mark these locations directly. This way I know where those lines should be when I begin drawing. [MUSIC] Now we're really ready to start. I like to keep the reference photo next to my drawing space so that I can continuously compare proportions and adjust accordingly. There are many ways to begin a drawing, but in this example, I began by mapping the angle of the muzzle and lower neck. [MUSIC] To make sure that I place the top of the neck accurately, I'm using my pencil both to measure the length of the neck, but also to more clearly see the angle of the neck. Next, we bring the back of the neck into the ear and meet our earlier guideline near the top of the page. You'll see later on that the shape is not accurate, but there's always room for adjustments later. [MUSIC] Notice that my hand is sitting very far back on the pencil at this stage of the drawing. Having a loose grip on your pencil will help keep the sketch loose, as well as help keep the pencil marks light in value. This will make it easier to erase mistakes if necessary. [MUSIC] Once the basic forms of the subject are placed, we can begin to add details. To do this, we can refer back to the outline for proper placement of our earlier features. You will notice throughout this video that I struggle a bit with where to place the eyes and nose. This is actually because my outline is not in the correct place, but I won't realize that until a ways from now. Usually when I sketch off camera, I will use shapes like circles and rectangles to map out the forms of my subject in addition to making the outlines. I'm not really sure why I didn't do that here other than perhaps I was just nervous while filming. It is certainly another tool and another way that you can approach your drawing. [MUSIC] Once you have more information on your page, you can start using other landmarks to line up the features on the face. Here I'm noting that the inner corner of the eye sits over the corner of the mouth. Also, it's a very good idea to sketch in a way that the paper is parallel to your eyes instead of laying flat on the table like I'm doing here for the camera. The top of the page is currently farther away to my eyes in this video, so the sketch will be disproportionate due to the change in perspective. [MUSIC] If you're having a hard time seeing certain angles with the pages side-by-side, you can always reposition your reference in a way that is easier to compare the two. Here I'm checking for the angle of the neck. [MUSIC] Once you are more confident about the placement of your initial sketch, you can begin to darken the lines that you want to keep. I'm darkening these lines more than I normally would so that you can see them on the camera. But in general, you probably want to keep your sketches fairly light for watercolor paintings as it is a transparent medium. However, this is not a firm rule if you want to see your sketch through the paint. [MUSIC] Here you can see that I'm really struggling with the eye placement and that is because the top of the face is incorrect. I move my reference down to try and better compare these two angles. [MUSIC] When you start to work on finer details, you can move your hand down towards the tip of the pencil. Try not to press too hard, but this will give you more control compared to the looser grip we were using earlier. [MUSIC] Now that all the main features are in, I want to mark some of the color transitions in the fur to ensure that I make these color changes in the correct spots. This can be tricky if you're working with a light area next to a dark area, so keep these lines light as well. [MUSIC] I suppose now is a good time to address my not-so-great printer. I have a laser printer that only prints patchy black and white. It works fine for general forms, but it's hard to see the details. You can always bring the original reference app on your phone, tablet, or computer if you're having a hard time seeing the details in your printout. [MUSIC] Next, I want to double-check all my proportions and it's a good thing that I did because I realized that the reason the muzzle looked wrong was because it was too wide from top to bottom. [MUSIC] I also checked the ears at this point which were standing a bit too tall. [MUSIC] One last, check for final details, and then we'll be done. Also during this stage, you can use a kneaded eraser to lighten any lines that are darker than you want them to be. The kneaded eraser will lift up the graphite or pigment. [MUSIC] Here is my finished freehand drawing of the German shepherd to use as reference as we begin to explore the other methods of transferring. Here's where I'd like you to also draw this German shepherd or another reference of your choice that you are going to be transferring a later on in this class. It's important that they're all the same image regardless of what image you choose, so that you can compare them all directly. [MUSIC] 6. Drawing with a Grid: [MUSIC] Next step is the grid method. This is a classic tool that many of you may recognize from children's activity books, and they will still heavily rely on our ability to observe and draw. The first step is to draw a grid over our original reference image. For this method you will definitely want a copy of whatever it is you are transferring, rather than using a photograph or original sketch. The concept for this method is that we are still going to be drawing the dog free hand, however, we will have more reference points to check our work against. The more cells that you create in your grid, the more information you'll have to work with. However, your girl here struggles with attention deficit issues, so I only made nine cells on my own. You can do more if you'd like to, but keep in mind that you will have to erase all of the lines that you place, at least for a watercolor painting. The cell should divide the paper roughly into equal sections. If you are creating a one-to-one drawing the same size as your reference image, like we're doing here, these divisions do not need to be precise as long as the lines are in the same place on both your reference image and your watercolor paper. However, you can also use the grid method to upsize or downsize a reference image. In that instance you will want to make sure that all of the grid follows measurements that are easy to multiply or divide, but we're not going to be covering that in today's lesson. Once your one-by-one grid is finished on your reference image, simply line it up with your watercolor paper like we did in Lesson 5. Instead of marking the points where the dog touches the outer edge of the painting, we're going to mark where the grid is. [MUSIC] You may want to outline the grid on your reference photo in marker so that it's easier to see than the pencil while you are drawing. [MUSIC] Now remember that children's activity book that I mentioned earlier? We're going to go cell by cell and just draw what we see. We're not drawing the whole dog at this point, just the lines that we can see within each space. [MUSIC] I am looking for where the lines in the reference image hit the lines of the grid, and we're just going to keep going like that until we run into any problems. [MUSIC] When you begin working in a new cell and the lines don't match up with an adjacent cell, you can take the time to adjust your errors. If you feel like an additional line or mark on your grid would help you with the placement of something, don't be afraid to continue marking up the reference image since you already drew a grid on it. [MUSIC] Once you've gone through each cell, we can go back and check our overall work, checking for anything that looks out of place. [MUSIC] Now, it's time to get out your high-quality eraser. Make sure you have one that won't leave marks on the paper since your watercolors may not be able to cover them up later. My favorite erasers that I've been using for years are in the class description. We're going to carefully erase the grid. Try not to erase too much of our drawing in the process. [MUSIC] After the grid has been removed, you can go back and touch up anything that might have been erased or was missing in your initial drawing. [MUSIC] If you'd prefer to draw all of your images but need more help than just starting on a blank piece of paper, this method might be the right one for you. The result is a pretty accurate drawing that still has a lot of personal touches. [MUSIC] 7. Using Transfer Paper: [MUSIC] Now, it's finally time to embrace tracing. We'll start with our prepared watercolor paper and a printed reference image just like we did in the last two lessons. However, we will be also adding a piece of transfer paper to the mix. This is a thin sheet of material with carbon or graphite on one side. When pressure is applied with a pen, pencil, or embossing tool, the graphite will transfer on to another surface like watercolor paper, canvas panels or wood. An important thing to note is that most transfer papers contain wax which will resist watercolor. I have found that if I use a light touch with a finely tipped tool like a mechanical pencil, it's not as noticeable. However, if you use a heavier hand and a thicker tool like an unsharpened pencil, the transfer lines will be thicker and more resistant to water. Also something important to note, nearly all transfer papers claim to be erasable, but I have not found that to be true. There is a shiny side and a matte side to the transfer paper. Place the shiny side down and be careful not to place unintentional pressure on the transfer paper like with your hand, elbow or phone. Tape your reference image, graphite paper, and watercolor paper together. This is extremely important for this method so do not skip this step. If your reference paper gets slightly misaligned, it will be very, very hard to line back up again. You can purchase embossing tools and some transfer paper actually comes with them, but I just use a pencil with either a fine tip or a contrasting color so that I can see which lines I've traced and which I haven't. When you are first getting started with transfer paper and aren't sure what pressure to use, I would suggest to draw a few lines and then very carefully peek under the transfer paper to make sure that the lines are transferring appropriately and aren't too dark. Make sure to keep your tape in place though so that you can easily replace the transfer paper and reference photo after you look. If you are using transfer paper for an opaque medium instead of watercolors, you can feel free to press a little bit more firmly for darker lines if desired. Since the transfer medium is not easily erasable, I'd recommend erring on the side of fewer lines than too many. [MUSIC] Follow the edges of the subject and then decide what transitions are most important to mark. It's also important to follow the edges as closely as possible so that your finished piece is as accurate as possible. This is especially true for smaller paintings, where being a millimeter or two off could make a big difference in the final piece. [MUSIC] When tracing fur, I recommend using textured broken lines. This will help them to blend in with a paint instead of looking like illustrative outlines later down the road unless that's the look you're going for. Continue moving around the reference image until you have all of the details that you'd like to transfer. [MUSIC] In addition to transferring photographs, transfer paper, and our next method are both amazing tools for transferring your own original sketches as well. Watercolor paper is easily damaged by pressure and erasers. If you want to sketch on a regular piece of drawing paper to plan out your painting or you already have the sketch in a sketchbook, then you can use transfer paper to replicate that sketch onto your watercolor paper for a full painting. It is a very handy little tool. [MUSIC] 8. Using a Light Tablet: [MUSIC] Finally, we are going to be using a light tablet to transfer our reference image. This is the method I use most often, but just like other methods, it has both pros and cons. For this method, you will need a light tablet, your reference image, and a piece of watercolor paper in that order from bottom to top. Similarly to the last method, it will be easiest if you tape your reference image to your watercolor paper to avoid any unwanted shifting. This was difficult to film for obvious reasons, but I do have some tips for you along the way, and the next two lessons will be easier for you to see. Since watercolor paper is quite thick, it is harder to see the reference image through the paper using a light table and when you are using transfer paper underneath the reference image. However, this method does give you more control over what medium you're using to make your drawing. You can use any graphite, colored or watercolor pencil that your heart desires, instead of being limited by the waxy carbon on the transfer paper. You will also have more control over the quality of your line variation and pressure. Light tablets are best used in dark rooms, making using them during the day a little bit more difficult, especially in rooms that don't have blinds or curtains. The most clarity can be seen when the watercolor paper is flush up against the reference image, such as when your pencil is applying pressure. When that pressure is released, the image will slightly blur. We're going to use a light touch and indicate where we want stark color transitions. We can use soft, broken lines to indicate the fur textures, while we use solid lines for the eyes and nose. [MUSIC] It can be difficult in a dark room to see your progress when your image is flat against the light table. You can lift up the paper to check to see which lines are complete and which still needs to be filled in. [MUSIC] Once you feel like you have all of your guidelines that you need, you can turn off the light tablet, turn on your room lights, and adjust the sketch. It is worth noting that if drawing your entire sketch by hand is important to you, you could still use a light tablet to check your proportions along the way. Just like the transfer paper method, you can also use the light tablet to transfer your own sketches to a fresh piece of watercolor paper to create a finished, more polished looking piece. I find this to be the easiest, cleanest, and most flexible method to transfer reference images in most situations. However, do keep in mind that it is much more difficult to use a light tablet inside of a book bound sketchbook, or if there's something already drawn on the backside of the watercolor paper you're trying to use. For those situations, transfer paper may be easier. [MUSIC] 9. Comparing Methods: [MUSIC] Now that we've gone overdrawing your original reference image and three different transfer methods, it's time to compare. In Lesson 5, we drew the German Shepherd free hand using our pencil to help us gauge distances and angles along the way. This is, of course, the most unique sketch out of the bunch, but it also has the most anatomical errors. This method may be a really good fit for you if it's important for you to draw your own sketches and if you already have strong foundational skills in drawing. In Lesson 6, we use the grid method to transfer our reference image. This method also highly relied on our drawing skills but gave us more points of reference to help us create an accurate sketch. The number and size of the cells in your grid can, of course, vary from project to project, and the results are often more accurate than completely freehand drawing. This method may be a good fit for you if you want to draw your own sketch and don't mind spending a bit more time working with the grid. It's also a good method for beginners and if you need upsides or downsize a reference image. In Lesson 7, we use to transfer paper. This results in a highly accurate transfer directly from the reference image. Most transfer papers contain a wax, so they may resist watercolor. It is important to find the balance between a light touch and making sure you can still see the drawing underneath. You are also limited by the color of the transfer paper and it can smudge if you apply pressure unintentionally with a hand, elbow, or other object. Transfer paper is a great option for opaque surfaces like canvas board, wood, or extremely heavy watercolor paper or when you're using a sketchbook that might be harder to slide a light table behind. In Lesson 8, we used a light tablet. This is the most expensive option but yields the cleanest and most versatile transfers. You can use any drawing tool that you like and any number of changes may be made to the sketch after you do the tracing, unlike transfer paper which is hard to erase. This is my favorite and most used option for transferring reference images and works well for most watercolor paper like tablets are also great tools to check your free hand drawings for accuracy. Finally, I want to take a look at my original freehand drawing, indirect comparison to tracing the image with a light tablet. The original freehand drawing is in the red pencil, but afterwards, I put it tablet and trace the reference photo in blue. I cannot stress how helpful this is as a learning exercise. We can see that I finally got the angles right for the back of the neck and ear, the forehead, and the chin. However, the ear that is further back was still too tall, the eye was too big and too low, and the nose was still too wide and too pointed. The color transitions and the neck we're also off. I'm making these reflections is not meant to be hard on ourselves in any way, but rather to reflect on what we can improve upon on our next drawing. Here are all four drawings side-by-side for comparison. If you haven't already started, you can now dive in to try some of these methods yourself. I would love to hear from you in the class projects section explaining which you enjoyed and which aren't optimal choices for your own practice. [MUSIC] 10. Transferring Patterns: [MUSIC] Now that we've thoroughly explored different options for transferring our reference images, we're going to stick to using a light tablet while looking at some more complex subjects. First step is a zebra so that we can talk about transferring complex patterns. When it comes to animals with patterns, my tactics for tracing can change a bit depending on the reference. Today, we're going to start with an outline for the mane subject, as well as their eyes. In the case of the German shepherd, I transferred several soft lines that indicated a transition of fur color, which happened to coincide with a lot underlying musculature, such as the shapes around the eyes and muzzle. If we look closely, we can see similar changes in the form of the zebra's head, like the orbit of the eye, the cheekbones and the musculature around the mouth. However, in this case, they are primarily seen against the white fur and do not follow the black stripes in most cases. Drawing these transitions isn't ideal for a few reasons. One is that with such a light color, I'll still be able to see the pencil lines no matter how light I draw them. Secondly, adding additional lines that are not stripes will end up being quite confusing once the image is removed. For this painting, I'm going to trust myself in being able to paint these forms without the use of additional guides. Instead, we're going to jump right into the stripes. The stripes in the zebras forehead are very narrow and close together. We want to use a lot of care in how we trace them. If in doubt, error on the side of making the stripes too thin instead of too wide, you can always over paint them if necessary, but it will be more confusing if they all are wide and run together. Another option for this area in particular, would be to not draw any of those narrow stripes. Instead, you could paint them all free hand later on during the painting process, if you prefer. When we get to the larger stripes, I would recommend tracing them as general guidelines. However, every zebra's stripes are different, so unless you are painting a specific commission for a zookeeper or a researcher, most people aren't going to notice a small change from the reference image. [MUSIC] Patterns can be very fatiguing to look at so if you need a break, find another area of the reference image to transfer. When we get to the fuzzier ears and mane, we're going to want to use a different texture than the one that we have been using for the solid stripes. Just like we did for the German Shepherd, we're going to use soft, broken lines to let our future selves know that this is not a solid block of color. [MUSIC] Notice the mane does not alternate solid stripes of black and solid stripes of white. There is black at the center of the mane and loose stripes of white that align with the white areas on the body. [MUSIC] As I mentioned earlier, I have found it best not to draw certain details when it comes to certain animals. In a simplified sketch, details like the folds of skin on the zebras neck can get lost and jumbled in the solid stripes. You can still paint these in if you'd like to, but I'd recommend winging it to while you're painting, rather than drawing them out, unless you are aiming for hyper realism. [MUSIC] When you are painting the stripes, you will need to pay close attention to whether or not you're in a white or a black area, but otherwise, these guidelines should help streamline the process. [MUSIC] 11. Transferring Complex Subjects: [MUSIC] Finally, we are going to practice transferring a complex subject of a long-haired cat. There is a lot of information in this photograph, so let's see what's important to transfer and what we can leave out. Let's start with what we know. We need the eyes. Using moderates or firm pressure, we can outline the eyes with solid lines. [MUSIC] Then using the lighter pressure, we can use those soft, broken lines that we've talked about many times before to indicate the transitions of color and the fur. I find it very helpful to transfer these color changes around cat eyes in particular, as it's very easy to lose track of the three or four color changes that we often see in felines. After the eyes, things are really up in the air for you to decide what you need and what you don't need. For any breed or species of cat that has color changes above the eyes like on the forehead of a tabby, I find it very helpful to lightly note these areas. That being said, it's easy to get too detailed. I'm really trying to keep my lines to only the important areas of color change. All of the fur texture can be painted later with watercolors. One thing that we haven't talked about yet is the area of focus within the painting. In this particular image, our focus is almost solely kept on the cat's face. The surrounding fur and background are helpful for context but less important overall. Keep this in mind as you are tracing. As you move further from the focal point, less detail is needed in your sketch. Another element in this picture that we haven't had in our other two reference images is a strong highlight next to a strong shadow, particularly on the nose. I will sketch this color transition in as if it were any other color transition with a light touch and broken lines. Remember that you will be able to see your pencil lines through your watercolor if they are too dark. Keep your lines as light as possible, and if they get too dark, use a kneaded eraser on the sketch before painting to pick up any extra graphite or pigment. [MUSIC] If you are painting something with white whiskers or otherwise white fine highlights, I recommend not drawing those into your reference. Instead, you can paint those later with white gouache or ink, or you can mask them off from your drawing before you start painting. If the whiskers or other fine details are dark in color, you can go ahead and draw those in. [MUSIC] Drawing the ear tufts will give me guidelines to paint around when I start to paint the background. [MUSIC] When we get to the edge of the cat's fur on the edge of the body, I want to let my future self know that there is a transition, but that's about all I need. Given how soft these details are, I'd rather paint this in with loose washes rather than drawing a line. In this image, I feel it's important to the composition to know that the cat is sitting on a ledge and not floating in space, so I did include that bit. Once you are done with a light tablet, you can turn it off and make any further adjustments that you see fit. [MUSIC] Here you can see that I went back to the forehead because this is an area that I know I struggle with in paintings. I wanted to give myself a bit more information to use when I move on to the next step. [MUSIC] As you can see, I completely left out any detail on the body on the left side of the paper as all this is fluffy and in soft focus, so I will just paint that area using a wet and wet wash. [MUSIC] 12. Wrapping Up: [MUSIC] I know that this isn't the most flashy or exciting class to create a class project for, but you've made it this far, and I think you owe it to yourself. Draw that first freehand sketch so you have your baseline. Then pick one, two, or all three of the transfer methods to see which, if any, are right for you. I'd really love to hear what you end up learning about yourself and your creating process, so be sure to share with us by uploading a class project. That's it. That's everything I have to share with you about transferring reference or your own sketches to watercolor paper. I hope that this class has been helpful in navigating any questions that you may have had on this subject, but if you have more, don't hesitate to leave me a comment, and I will get back to you as soon as I can. You can also take the skills that you've learned here and head on over to one of my other classes to continue adding to your watercolor toolkits. Maybe now those black, and white animal classes won't seem so scary. [MUSIC]