Tracing your image

Designers use tracing paper to speed up drawing. Tracing paper is paper thin enough to see through, though it has a slightly frosted surface. You can lay tracing paper over a photograph, a magazine page, or any other flat image and see enough to trace the outline of the image underneath.

Acetate is a plastic-like sheet that’s completely clear and lets you see all the details without the frosted surface of tracing paper obscuring anything. A water-media acetate accepts watercolor so that the paint doesn’t bead up when you apply it to the surface. The acetate, however, is heavier and costs more than good, old tracing paper.

Tracing paper is cheap, so you can use it abundantly. Scribble out your drawing. Then take another piece of tracing paper and lay it on top. Trace the lines you like and refine the drawing. Instead of erasing, lay on more tracing paper and refine the drawing again.

Make sure to remove earlier drawings from underneath. You don’t want to be confused by multiple images under your fresh sheet.

Shining a light on projectors

A projector uses light and mirrors to re-create and enlarge an image. An artist can project the picture onto a wall and focus to the size required. You can attach paper to the wall, project the image onto the paper, and transfer the image that way.

Projectors are especially handy for muralists, who can paint directly from the image thrown on the wall. The artist just redraws the lines where he sees the projected image.

There are many kinds and qualities of projectors. Some have more options and cost more and do a better job. Some are a waste of money and barely deliver results. Before buying, ask for a demonstration.

You may be familiar with a slide projector. They project 35mm slides onto a wall or screen. Although they are getting scarce, they make a good image projector too, but only for slides. Digital projectors are replacing this technology rapidly. Digital projectors work with computers and digital cameras to project images. The good news for artists is that the new projectors give you more options, but any projector can get your image where you want it to go.

Tapping into computers

Computers are amazing tools. Some artists are going completely digital by using photo manipulation programs and technologies. Many fine art shows are wary of this and don’t allow digitally enhanced images. Still, computers can be a great tool to aid in preparing your reference materials. When you work from your own photographs, you can import them to the computer and use software to crop the image and manipulate the contrast, values, and colors. You even can reduce the photo to the image’s outlines and edges, getting you very close to having your drawing done by a computer. Of course, reducing and enlarging your images are easy too. Magic.

Trying Out Thumbnails and Transfers

Starting a drawing is easier if you have a plan. A good way to make a plan is by creating thumbnail sketches. These mini-sketches allow you to quickly plan what you may want to make big.

Then you enlarge the drawing you like onto drawing paper or tracing paper, where you can erase and scribble and further refine it. And finally, you transfer the drawing you’re happy with onto your good watercolor paper.

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