Welcome back to my oil painting series. If you missed or would like to review previous posts, here are the links to previous posts.

Now that your line drawing is complete and your painting surface is ready, you need to get the line drawing onto the painting surface. There are a number of ways to do this. I’ll list a few of them then detail the method I use most of the time.

How to Transfer a Drawing for Oil Painting

3 Ways to Transfer Drawings to a Painting Surface

You can, of course, simply redraw the composition freehand. This is a quick and easy transfer method that works especially well with acrylics, oils, and similar mediums. All you need to do is thin the paint enough to make it flow well, then use the brush of your choice to create the drawing. When I use this method, I use a small, round sable and burnt umber oil paint because it dries quickly. A graphite pencil is also suitable, but will smear and muddy color with the most wash of wet color, so needs to be fixed before you start painting.

An oil transfer is an excellent option. Your finished line drawing must be on a fairly sturdy paper and it’s advisable to use a copy of the line drawing, rather than the original.

Paint the back of the line drawing with burnt umber or a similar earth tone. Before the paint dries, position the line drawing painted side down on the painting surface and tape it in place. Carefully redraw the lines you want to transfer.

This method works very well with even the most complicated compositions, but you need to use it with care because the slightest press of your hand will transfer paint to the canvas or panel, producing a “dirty” or smudged line drawing.

You also need to work fairly quickly because the paint will dry over night.

An opaque projector is also a good way to transfer a drawing. Place the drawing on the projector, position the projector so the image is projected onto your painting surface and redraw it. You need to be careful to position the projector and painting surface absolutely squarely relative to one another or you’ll end up with a distorted drawing.

My Favorite Transfer Method for Oil Paintings

For most of my work, I use a dry transfer. This is how I do it.

Center the drawing face up on the painting surface. Make sure it’s squarely placed and exactly where you want it. If the drawing paper is the same size as the painting surface, and if you’ve drawn your subject full size and with the placement you prefer, then simply mount the drawing paper over the painting surface by matching corner to corner and taping at each corner.

If your drawing is 11×14 or less, tape the drawing at each of the four corners as shown below. If your work is larger than 11×14, consider placing tape half way along two sides.

Center Drawing on Surface

Slide your transfer paper between the drawing and the painting surface. Make sure the graphite side is facing the painting surface.

Copy your drawing. Use a pen or pencil with a sharp tip. A fine-point pen or a colored pencil with hard lead such as Prismacolor’s Verithin line are ideal. You not only get crisp transfer lines, but if you use a color, you can see what you’ve transferred.

If your painting is much larger than your sheet of transfer paper, move the transfer paper from one spot to another by holding the canvas or panel upright and tapping it lightly. You can also leave an edge of transfer paper exposed and use that to adjust the placement of the transfer paper.

After you’ve completed the transfer but before you remove the drawing, untape one corner and review the transfer. Make sure every important line has been transferred and is clearly visible. It’s next to impossible to realign the drawing to finish the transfer if you remove the drawing too quickly and discover missing or vague areas. For larger compositions, check at each corner, carefully untaping and retaping the paper one corner at a time.

What If The Transfer Isn’t Right?

It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes a transfer isn’t complete or isn’t right for some reason. That happened with Portrait of Muscle Hill. After transferring the drawing, I discovered it hadn’t been positioned properly.

That was my own fault. The final drawing was on paper larger than the painting support and I didn’t take enough time to check position before taping it down. The result was that I had to do this step over: A excellent argument for measuring twice and cutting (or transferring) once!

I took the drawing off the panel and trimmed it so it was the right size. Five or ten minutes of work that would have saved me a day had I trimmed the paper first.

Next, I removed the transferred drawing by erasing as much of it as I could, then lightly sanding the panel to remove the rest. Then I used a large, soft drafting brush to remove eraser crumbs and sanding residue and transferred the drawing. Again.

TIP: If you find it necessary to sand a panel to remove a transferred drawing, use extremely light pressure while sanding. You want to remove the drawing, but you do not want to sand through the surface preparation. You can repair the surface if you do sand through it, but it’s better to sand carefully.

When the transfer was complete, I checked it by lifting each corner of the line drawing to make sure every line had been transferred and was clear. When I was satisfied with the transfer, I removed the drawing, rolled it for temporary storage, and was ready for the next step. Making the transferred drawing permanent.

And that will be our topic next week.