Transferring your drawing to your watercolor paper

You usually transfer your drawing to watercolor paper instead of drawing directly on the watercolor paper. Remember that you want to respect the paper as much as possible. Erasing is not respecting. So make your drawing on a piece of drawing paper the size you want your painting to be. That way you can smudge it, set your coffee cup on it, erase it, and do all the things you’re not allowed to do on your final painting.

After you’ve drawn your image on drawing paper, or if you’re working from photographs or copying the art in this book, you need a system to transfer the original image to your watercolor paper. For that, you need a red ballpoint pen, a waterproof pen (or a pencil if a pen is too permanent for you), white artist’s tape, tracing paper (which is available at most drug stores and office supply stores as well as art supply stores), and some graphite paper, which is like carbon paper (if you’re old enough to know what that is).

Graphite paper is coated on one side with graphite, oddly enough, which transfers to whatever you press it onto. You can make your own graphite paper by rubbing pencil on a sheet of paper or on the backside of the drawing. If you want a mirror image, try turning the drawing over and matching the lines or rubbing the back so the pencil transfers onto the watercolor paper.

To transfer an image, follow these steps:

  1. Tape the image to your watercolor paper using white artist’s tape on one side.
  2. Slide a piece of graphite paper under the drawing and on top of the watercolor paper, making sure the coated side of the graphite paper is on the watercolor paper.
  3. Retrace the lines using a red ballpoint pen.

The red ink lets you know where you’ve been and what’s left to transfer. The more detailed the drawing, the more helpful this tip becomes. Peek beneath the graphite paper before removing it to check for any forgotten lines. Also peek when you first start tracing to make sure the correct side of the graphite paper is down and working correctly.

The image transfers to the watercolor paper.

  1. Remove the transferred drawing and draw over the graphite lines on the watercolor paper using a waterproof pen or a pencil.

I generally use a black pen, but you can use another color if you like. Using a waterproof pen is like making your own coloring book page. Add as much or as little detail as you want, and start painting within the lines (or outside the lines if you like — you’re the artist!).

You can also use diluted paint to sketch first. When that dries, get a little bolder with the value of the paint by making it darker.

The drawing is only a guide, and you may deviate or follow it as you like.


Be careful not to press too hard when rubbing or using ballpoint pens to transfer your image. It’s possible to carve a line into the watercolor paper that may show up later where you don’t want it to be seen. Transferring the line requires a bit of pressure because you’re going through several layers of paper. Test on a scrap to see how much pressure you need to transfer the line but not make an indentation in the paper.

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