How to Transfer Your Sketch to Canvas, Art Paper or Wood | Kendyll Hillegas | Skillshare

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How to Transfer Your Sketch to Canvas, Art Paper or Wood

teacher avatar Kendyll Hillegas, Artist & Illustrator

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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.



    • 2.

      Lesson 1: Transfer Paper


    • 3.

      Lesson 2: DIY Transfer paper


    • 4.

      Lesson 3: Lightbox


    • 5.

      Lesson 4: Window


    • 6.

      Lesson 5: Grids


    • 7.

      Class Project & Wrap Up


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About This Class

Many professional artists, myself included, create our sketches on inexpensive paper so that we’re free to make mistakes, erase and change our minds without worrying about making a mess on our wood panels or expensive fine art paper. What this means is that we then have to find a way to transfer the sketch to a fine art substrate like paper, canvas or wood.

Knowing how to transfer your sketches can be really useful for a number of fine art applications, both for painting and drawing:

  1. Moving a sketch created on paper onto a painting substrate like canvas or wood
  2. Taking a messy sketch and making it nice and clean on a new piece of art paper
  3. Re-sizing a sketch to make it larger or smaller

What we’ll cover:

In this short class, we’ll cover 5 different methods for transferring your sketch to a new substrate, including a low-tech approach for re-sizing your sketch (making it bigger or smaller) during the transfer. We’ll also unpack which methods are best for which media or fine art applications, including how to transfer your sketch for delicate applications like watercolor so that the sketch lines disappear when you paint.

What you’ll need:

For this class, you’ll need a sketch to transfer. Some of the methods do require special equipment like a light box, but we’ll also go over very low-tech minimal methods that only need a pencil, paper and tape.

Who should take this class:

If you’ve ever had a sketch that you really liked and wanted to turn into a more finished piece on a different surface this class is for you!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Kendyll Hillegas

Artist & Illustrator


My name is Kendyll, and I’m an artist and commercial illustrator working in traditional media. My background is in classical oil painting, but I’ve been working as an illustrator for the past 5 years, completing assignments for Real Simple, Vanity Fair France and The Wall Street Journal. 

My illustration is used commercially in packaging, on paper goods and clothing, and in editorial applications, as well as displayed in private and corporate collections worldwide. My work has been featured in Supersonic Art, Anthology Magazine, Creative Boom, DPI Art Quarter and BuzzFeed.

I try to create work that is realistic, but still full of vibrancy and feeling. I'm probably best known for my food and botanical illustration, but I lov... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Intro: Many artists, myself included, like to create our sketches on plain inexpensive paper, so that we're free to experiment and make mistakes and erase over and over again without worrying about ruining our expensive art substrate like paper or canvas or wood. But we then have to find a way to get the sketch, the finished composition, onto our art substrate. So knowing how to transfer your sketch can be really useful for a number of fine art applications, both for drawing and for painting. For example, you might want to take a sketch that's been made on a piece of paper, and transfer it onto a substrate like canvas or wood or even a wall. Or you might have a sketch that you worked on in your sketchbook and you really love, and you decide that you want to put some more detail and develop it into a painting. So knowing how to transfer your sketch can be really helpful in any of those circumstances. So in this class, we're going to cover five approaches to make that happen. Five different ways to transfer your sketch from your inexpensive paper onto your fine art substrate. We'll also talk about which transfer methods work well with which fine art applications. So which transfer methods to use for painting, whether it's on panel or wood, which you might want to use for watercolor, for drawing, for working on paper. And we'll even specifically talk about ways to transfer a sketch where the sketch itself will disappear in your fine art painting, which is especially useful for applications like watercolor that are more delicate where you don't want to have any of those heavy lines from your sketch showing through. For this class you will need a sketch to transfer. So we're not going to spend any time actually creating the sketch or talking about how to draw. If you are interested in that, I have lots of other classes on that subject. For this class, we're just going to need a finished sketch, something that is ready to transfer, that you're ready to turn into a more polished drawing or a completed painting. In terms of equipment, some of the things we'll talk about in this class, like light tables, do require equipment, but we're also going to cover a number of very low-tech approaches that just use things that you probably already have in your art supplies or just lying around the house. So you can really participate in this class wherever you're at. So if you have ever had a sketch that you worked hard on, that you really polished, you really like, but it got kind of messy, and you want to be able to transfer it to another surface, then this class is totally for you and I hope you will join me as we explore different approaches for making that happen. Can't wait to see you in the class and get started. 2. Lesson 1: Transfer Paper: The first transfer method that we're going to talk about is transfer paper. We're going to discuss two different kinds of transfer paper. First up is graphite transfer paper, and the second is colored or white transfer paper. Transfer paper is a pre-made product that you can buy in sheets or on a roll. One side is coated with some media and the other side is empty. Using transfer paper can allow you to trace your sketch onto any substrate without using light or projection. To use transfer paper, you want to first set up your substrate, whether it's a panel or a paper or canvas, whatever art surface you're working on. So you want to take down the sketch image side up in the location that you want it to appear on your substrate. Then go ahead and fix that sketch onto the substrate in a way that you can still lift it up and down or open it like a flap or a book. I like to put two pieces of drafting tape on either the top edge or the side edge, which allows me to open it and lift it up and down. Then when I lay it back down, it's still in the exact same place that it was before I opened it up. Basically, you just need to make sure that your fine art substrate and your sketch are not going to move. Next, you can slip the transfer paper under the sketch graphite side down. You don't have to worry about taping down the transfer paper, it's fine if that moves around. Then you'll use a sharp pencil to gently trace the lines of your sketch. Personally, I prefer to use a nice sharp colored pencil, so that I can see where I've already traced. It helps me not lose my place on the sketch. The pressure from your pencil will push the graphite from the transfer paper onto your substrate. So this kind of method, transfer paper, is really best for transferring to solid substrates like canvas or wood, or for transferring to dark or colored substrates like toned paper or canvas. Or if you're using white transfer paper, it's best for transferring to dark or colored substrates like toned paper or a toned canvas. It's also probably best for artists working in oil or acrylic or who are going to have a heavier, thicker applications of media, that will be able to cover up the lines from the transfer paper. Some challenges with this method are that it can create lines that are very dark or thick, especially if you press really hard with your pencil or if you use a dull pencil. So that's why it is better for artists to work in more opaque media or thicker laid down some media like oil or acrylic or other heavy body paint, rather than artists who are working in watercolor or colored pencil, things that are maybe a little bit more translucent. 3. Lesson 2: DIY Transfer paper: Now that you understand transfer paper, we are going to talk about how to make your own transfer paper and why there are some situations in which this is a better fit than using the pre-made transfer paper. DIY transfer paper, is a transfer paper that you make yourself with whatever media you like. You can use lots of different media for this, has to be usually a soft media. Graphite can work water-soluble media like watercolor pencils, or water soluble wax pastels, or even something like charcoal or soft pastels. Lots of different dry media work well for making your own transfer paper. It's the same idea as the pre-made kind, you're going to coat one side of a piece of paper with the media and then leave the other side empty. Or you can save a piece of paper and just put the dry media directly on the backside of your sketch. Another thing that you can do if you are working directly on the back of your sketch and you want to try to save some of the media and not have to cover the entire piece of paper in the dry media, you can just follow along with the lines in your sketch, since that's the only place that you actually really need the transfer paper anyway. Once you have your transfer paper ready to go, whether you're using a new sheet of paper or just working on the back of your sketch, you're just going to follow the same steps that we did for the pre-made transfer papers. You'll set up your substrate either vertically or horizontally, and then you'll fix your sketch to your substrate using those two pieces of tape, making sure that it's not going to slip around at all, and then slip the transfer paper under the sketch media side down, and use a sharp pencil to gently trace the lines of your sketch. DIY transfer paper is good for all the same purposes that you would use pre-made transfer paper for. If you're working on a non-transparent substrate like wood or Canvas, something that you won't be able to shine light through. Or if you're working on a colored substrate, something that has been toned or darkened in some way. For me, I think it's especially well-suited to transferring onto paper when you want to create watercolor paintings. A really nice feature of the DIY transfer paper, is that you can make it whatever color you want and you can make it out of media that will dissolve in water. I really like to do the transfer with watercolor pencils while I'm going to be doing a watercolor painting, since that means my lines will ultimately disappear and I can choose a lighter, softer shade of watercolor pencil to make the DIY transfer paper out of and then when I apply my actual watercolor to the surface, to my piece of fine art paper. Those lines we'll just fade away and disappear. Then challenges with this method, is that it uses up your fine art media. If you are doing a lot of watercolor pencils to make your own transfer paper, you will go through a lot of media. Try to either choose a color that you don't use that often or maybe get some less expensive watercolor pencils or less expensive pastels, whatever you're using to make your transfer paper and use those less expensive versions just on the transfer paper so that you're not using up your really nice supplies on something that isn't going to ultimately be seen in your finished piece. 4. Lesson 3: Lightbox: The third transfer method we're going to talk about are a light boxes or light paths. These are basically appliances that will light up either using traditional light bulbs or LEDs. Some of them are box, some of them are totally flat, some of them are built into desks. There's lots of different kinds, but they project really strong light that you can lay your sketch JAM onto with your fine art paper on top of it. The light shines up through the sketch so that you can see the lines of your sketch and transfer them onto your art paper. As I already mentioned, there are tons of these on the market, you do not have to get an expensive one if you are interested in using one of these, there are plenty of really affordable ones. The one that I use is by a brand name, DB Meyer, and you can just grab it on Amazon. I think it's around $30. I would generally recommend going further stand-alone type as opposed to the ones that are embedded in your desk. Since they're easier to replace if something goes wrong and they're usually less expensive. So to trace with a light box or light pad first you want to get your light box set up, get it plugged in and turned on, and then fix your sketch to your light box with tape. Again, you want it to be nice and sturdy where it's not going to move around at all, and then place your art paper on top of your sketch. Just as we did in that previous methods, be sure to have at least two pieces of tape on one edge of your art paper. This will allow you to open and close it like a book, which is really helpful because it can let you double-check your process and make sure you're not missing any details from your sketch. Then use a sharp, hard pencil to gently traced the lines of your sketch onto your art paper. If you want to, you can also use a watercolor pencil or colored pencil. Either of these options will give you kind of more delicate lines. If you're using a watercolor pencil, that will obviously dissolve once you get it wet. If you use a colored pencil and you choose a really light color that will let the lines kind of bleed into the rest of your work and fully disappear. But if you want to use graphite, I'd recommend using a nice hard pencil. Maybe like a four-age something in that range that will let you get those really, really light, delicate lines. The light box approach is best for transferring to fine art papers or substrates that can have a light projected through them. So you can imagine if you were trying to use a light box with a wood panel, it wouldn't really work very well. So the number one criteria for making sure that this approach will work is that you have a substrate that allows light to pass through it. The only real challenge I see with this method is that it is somewhat limiting in terms of the size. So if you're working on a really, really huge piece, it can be a little bit tricky to move your light pad around trying to keep your sketch in your art paper all lined up. That is one reason why actually a light path over light boxes little bit preferable because it's nice and flat, and then on top of that, it is a challenge that you do need special equipment. So this isn't something that you can just start doing right away like you would with graphite transfer paper. You actually have to go out of your way to get a piece of equipment. So that leads us nicely into our fourth approach, our fourth method for transferring which doesn't need any special equipment, and we'll talk about that in lesson four in just a second. 5. Lesson 4: Window: Welcome back. For lesson 4, we're going to talk about a DIY light box, which is just essentially using your window as a light box to get your sketch, transfer it onto your art paper. Step number 1 is to put your sketch on your window with tape. Again, you want to use at least two pieces, maybe even more just to make sure it's nice and sturdy up there. Then you're going to put your art paper on top of your sketch, again, making sure to orient the image where you want it to appear in the composition. Then put at least two pieces of tape probably on the top edge this time of your art paper. Just as with any of the other methods, any method that involves tracing, it's really important that things don't wiggle around at all, so you want to make sure everything is nice and sturdy. Then just as we did with the last method, you'll use a sharp hard pencil to gently trace those lines of your sketch into your art paper. You can use other media as well. The watercolor pencil, soft core colored pencil, really whatever you want, just make sure it's a nice sharp pencil which will allow you to create the really fine lines. Just like with the light box method, this is best for transferring to fine art papers or substrates that can have a light projected through them. As for challenges with this method, I find that it can be a bit hard to see all the details of your sketch with some very heavy papers unless the sun is shining directly through your window. Often the light just isn't quite strong enough or you're really dependent on making sure that you're transferring at a certain time of day when there's really bright sunlight or with a certain type of weather when it's not overcast. That could be a challenge and can be a little bit limiting. Of course the positive side is that it's totally free and most people have windows. It does still have that challenge with being not quite as bright as a light box in some circumstances. Then the other thing that I find tricky is that working vertically can be a challenge, especially if the sketches really detailed or it's going to take a long time to transfer. Usually when you're working vertically, you're working on an easel or something that has a slight angle to it. This is just direct up and down, totally vertical. Personally I find that a bit uncomfortable. I usually will only approach this method or use this method if it's a relatively simple sketch or I'm trying to transfer. 6. Lesson 5: Grids: So the next method that we're going to talk about for transferring your artwork is a grid. Using a grid is a low-tech tool, a low-tech way to help you accurately transfer your image without tracing. All of the methods that we've used so far are some form of tracing, either with a transfer paper or with light. When using a grid, you're not doing any tracing, you're essentially eyeballing the transfer of your sketch to a fine art substrate with the help of a grid. With this method, you can also resize your image at the same time while maintaining your original proportions of the sketch. So how to do it? The first step is to draw a grid on top of your sketch, or on top of a piece of tracing paper that you can then light over your sketch. So you want to be really precise and measure. Go ahead and break out your ruler, and measure off a top and a bottom axis along your subject. You want the grid to go over the entire subjects, so anywhere where there's information that's going to need to be transferred and needs to be covered with the grid, and then decide on a unit of measurement that will make up your grid. These units could be really tiny if you're working on a subject that has a lot of detail or a really tiny sketch that you're wanting to transfer to a larger size, but make sure that all of the units are perfectly square. Once you have your grid all set on top of your original sketch, on top of your subject, you need to create a grid with the same number of units and the same orientation on your fine art paper. Maybe your original grid has 20 squares, maybe it has five squares going up, and four squares going down, you need to create the same grid on that fine art paper. The unit of measurement will obviously be different, but this is why it's so helpful to have all of your units be square. It's just really easy then to make the transfer. Create the same kind of grid on your fine art substrate, and again, just with all of the other methods, you want to be careful not to get too dark, not to get too heavy with your pencil lines, since this is going on the actual piece of Canvas or wood or paper that you're going to be working on. You don't want it to be hard to cover up when it comes time to paint. Once you've got your grid on both your sketch and you're fine art substrate, you're just going to work your way across the grid, going square by square, section by section, transferring the lines from each section of the grid. The power of using a grid really comes into play when you can take note of where each line enters and exits a square, as a way to visually orient yourself and your subject. Rather than just trying to look at your subject and totally eyeball it, you have some handholds that will allow you to transfer those proportions, hopefully, in a much more accurate way, and in a way that will be easier for yourself since you've already done all this work with a sketch. This approach, in my opinion, is best for simpler pieces that don't have a lot of information to translate. As you can tell, since you're going to be doing this by hand, if you have a subject that's really, really complicated, it's going to be a lot harder to do, take up more time, it'll be easier to make mistakes. However, I do feel like I should mention, there are some artists that use grids to transfer highly complex subjects, so it can be done. Another positive of this approach is that, it can scale up or down, you can make your finished painting smaller or larger than your original sketch. It just gives you a lot of flexibility, unless you do both the transfer and the resize in the same step. The biggest challenge with this method is that, there is a margin of error, and as you're transferring, sometimes you might notice that you have made an error in your original sketch, in which case that would be a good thing. Or another thing that can happen is that you start out with a sketch that's really solid and accurate, or a sketch that you really like, and then during the transfer, you make some mistakes and you miss some things. So just keeping in mind that since this method relies on human observation, there are some unique challenges with it, and you'll probably need to go back and double-check things against your reference. Another challenge with this method is that the grid itself ends up on your fine art substrate. So that makes it less ideal in my opinion for things like watercolor or even for colored pencil for any sort of media that's going to be a little bit more translucent. This is definitely preferable to use if you're doing opaque media, like acrylic or oil paint, something that'll be able to fully cover up the lines of the grid. 7. Class Project & Wrap Up: Welcome back and congratulations on completing the class. We have reviewed five methods for transferring your sketch onto your fine art substrate. Now it's time for the class project. For the class project, you are going to select and try out one of these transfer methods or maybe even two transfer methods and compare them to each other to see which one you like the best. You'll work from a sketch that you already have, whether it's one that you created on a dedicated piece of paper and maybe got a little bit messy with your lines, or something that you pulled from your sketch book that you just really like and you want to create a painting out of. It can be any sketch, anything that you want to use and then just choose one or two of these transfer methods that we've talked about in the class. Use that to transfer your sketch onto a piece of fine art paper or a canvas or wood or the wall, whatever substrate you want to work on. Please do take some photos of your process and share those along with your thoughts in the class project section. Thank you again for taking this class. I really hope it was helpful. I hope you feel confident and ready to take any sketch that you make and transfer it onto any surface. I welcome any questions that you have in the class discussion section and I really can't wait to see your class projects and see what amazing things you guys make from transferring your sketches.