Last year I took a watercolor class and ever since I have been trying to incorporate watercolor into my illustration process. I have always loved their transparency and I love watching them dry on the paper. Some beautiful textures and effects can happen when you just let the water and pigment do its thing and it's amazingly freeing to give up some control after spending years of working really hard to get texture in my digital paintings.
One thing I don't love about watercolor is that you really need to use nice paper. Nice, cotton rag paper is expensive. Like, shockingly expensive. And if you plan to erase on your nice, expensive paper, you are pretty much screwed unless you also like the look of gross pilly things all over your painting.
The problem of transferring lines has probably been the bane of every artist's existence since forever. One would be led to believe that if you want to paint your finished drawings with pretty watercolors (or whatever medium you are using), you have to be able to draw on watercolor paper without messing up. That's not me. I am a self-professed command-z and two-finger-tap addict (Procreate Users). I even try to two-finger-tap my sketchbook sometimes and then feel confused when nothing happens.
So, how do you get your best drawings onto watercolor paper?
1. Light Boxes
I do most of my finished drawings digitally, so my go-to process of transferring art has always been to print and trace onto watercolor paper with my 11 x 17 Light Pad. Maybe this is a good option for some people, but light boxes tend to suck the life out of my linework.
2. Art Projectors
You can buy art projectors that allow you to place a drawing inside and project it onto any surface to trace onto your paper or the wall or anywhere else. This seems to me like it could also suck the life out of drawings, but Cory Godbey this method and it clearly works for him. I haven't tried it yet. One thing to keep in mind is that the area where you place the drawing usually is very small (like 6" x 6"). So unless you like to draw small, you will have to scan it or photograph it and then adjust the size to fit the projector and print it out.
3. The Peter De Séve Method
There is an article on Muddy Colors where Justin Gerard talks about his method for traditional work. He follows the same process as Peter De Séve which is outlined in this article. I tried this a few times and the result is nice, but it is labor intensive. Once you get your drawing perfect on vellum tracing paper, you flip it over and draw it perfectly again on the back (you can skip this step if you don't mind your drawing being reversed in the final). Then you use a rubbing technique to transfer it to the final surface. At that point there is a lot of pressure not to mess up during the watercolor stage because if you need to start over you have to draw it twice AND do a rubbing transfer. You have to decide for yourself if the end result is worth it to you and if you have the time to do it. [Note: Peter De Séve mentions that he uses a soft brown pencil and doesn't want to tell us what it is, but I don't believe in secret recipes or secret art supplies. I am pretty sure it is a Derwent Drawing pencil in Chocolate 6600].
4. Inkjet Printers
My wonderful mentor Marsha Riti turned me onto the idea of using an inkjet printer to transfer linework directly onto watercolor paper. Both Epson and Canon make inkjet lines that are suitable for this. I was shocked to learn that you could even soak the paper after printing. This is an extremely convenient way of working because if you mess up in the watercolor stage, you can just print more copies of your drawing and try again. Convenience has a price of course. The machine itself is pricey and the ink is expensive. If you do not print regularly on it, the heads need to be cleaned before you can use it and this wastes ink and paper.
I am lucky enough to have a mother-in-law who is also pursuing children's book illustration and thanks to her, we are now sharing a brand new Epson P600 which makes amazing prints and will print on all types of art paper, canvas and CDs.
5. Transfer Paper
There is special transfer paper that you can get at art stores for this purpose. I imagine that this would get a similar result to the Peter De Séve method, but maybe would have more of a carbon copy look. It is another one that I have not tried yet.
How do you transfer your drawings for traditional work? I would love to hear what others do so please share in the comments!