Transferring design (DoL)

The movement of a design from one surface to another is an issue I have dealt with in many ways, over the years. Everyone has their experiments. Many artists will tell you that they don’t like to do it, as it damages the clear lines and crisp edges of an original piece every time a design is copied out. I’ve even been told that it is ‘cheating’ to do so, and that everything should be done ‘freehand’.

I get that a lot. I use drafting tools to layout pieces, rulers for straight lines, and I transfer sketches from my layout boards to my paper or panels using … tracing paper.

I work in two general styles, one more freehand, creating sketches and finished pieces from materials collected on my travels. And I also work in a more Medieval style, with geometric patterns and flat figures. The more geometric styles from Celtic and Moorish sources can benefit from the ’softening’ around the edges attributed to transferring the designs.

In the piece ‘Daughter of Lir’, I get both. I will carefully and slowly copy the spirals and patterns of the Celtic border and splash, while only briefly marking out some parts of the swan, which will be finished primarily in a sketchy, freehand technique.

Because the border and central design of ‘Daughter of Lir’ were created separately, it is only on the tracing paper that I first get a full feel of the design itself. Because the central design was laid out on a fiberboard panel, a light box was not used to copy it, just a sturdy piece of heavy tracing paper.

So, I took a piece of tracing paper, traced the border and the central design. Then I use a trick I first picked up while studying icon writing. I smeared red ochre dry pigment on another piece of tracing paper and used that for the ‘carbon’ in my tracing. In the past, I have used graphite and I have used wax-free quilting transfer paper to transfer designs. But graphite can be greasy, can smear and leave dark smudges, and even wax-free transfer paper is brightly colored and it has caused some irritating color transfer to some of my pieces, still visible to me as I look at them, years later.

Red ochre pigment is easy brushed away after using gold or silver to block in the lines, or after scribing the lines with a small stylus, or after drawing them in with a light pencil line. It doesn’t add much to any colors used over it, except a white pigment. This is the technique I use to transfer onto a gessoed panel, and doesn’t work quite so well when transferring to watercolor paper. Other ochre colors can be used on different colors of gesso, but red seems to work with most. Ocher isn’t as gritty as some pigments, and a gritty pigment won’t transfer a fine line. If the pigment doesn’t smear nicely on the paper, it won’t transfer the fine lines you need to put down.

More on other techniques as I use them in other pieces.



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