How to Transfer an Image to the Canvas

When we're just starting out painting, sometimes we neglect the impact drawing has with our work. We find ourselves rushing the drawing process and force ourselves to settle with mediocre sketches. However, if we’ve worked on enough paintings, we realize that drawing is an essential part of the structure of the painting—and we try our best to hone our skills with the pencil.


The journey we take towards being better painters starts with drawing. However, we often find it difficult to improve our drawings. We find ourselves stuck at the drawing process and ultimately, it becomes a challenge we have to overcome—a problem where drawing keeps us from painting. So how can we fix that? How can we make sure our drawings are good enough for our paintings? Below are two methods to help you.


These take away that mental block we often encounter when we want to paint. Learning these methods will help you overcome any drawing challenges you may encounter.


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1. The Grid Method of Drawing

Check out this video to learn how to do it:

In this first method, we’re going to show how you can transfer your drawing onto your canvas by using the grid method. This method is a great technique if you’re just starting out.


It is an approach that breaks down images into smaller pieces - eliminating any overwhelming feelings we get when we look at a photograph of our subject. For this method, we will be using grid lines that will serve as reference points when you want to measure certain landmarks between points, which can be helpful if you want to be more precise.


When you master this method, you will not only have an easier time incorporating the exact dimensions of the subject to your canvas, but also, you will be able to replicate the subject perfectly. This method is easier said than done. However, try to keep in mind that doing this will help you with observing and recognizing shapes rather than the subject itself.

You can use the grid lines to establish important landmarks like the end of the beak or the exact location of the eye. When you measure off a center grid line, for example, it is easier to get the exact locations of certain features.


It is important to know that once you recognize the shape, you should draw them in very lightly—basically creating the framework and structure for your painting.


2. Turning Your Computer into a Lightbox

This method is fantastic for beginners who want to paint as much as possible. Why? Because most people who are just starting to paint struggle with drawing and this can become a barrier to the creative process of painting. Applying this method will get you painting faster and avoid getting hung up on the drawing.


Check out this video to learn how to do it:



In this method, we’re going to be using our computer as lightbox! Here, we’re going to basically use a lightbox method, but instead of using an LED-backlit box, we will be using our computer screens.

In the lightbox method, we are basically tracing the photograph from your computer with a plastic sheet placed over the subject and using a sharpie to copy the important landmarks of the subject and then, after placing the sheet on your canvas drawing under the sheet to the canvas. This will eliminate the need of measuring since we are copying the subject off of the computer.


Although this method is very efficient and fun, it is not recommended by most painters. It's purpose is to help painters get through drawing—to not let drawing stop us from painting.

All the same, there are some important takeaways from the lightbox method. Do it enough times and eventually you will improve your observation skills. You will slowly but surely notice the things you should be drawing and by the time you get used to it, your visual prowess will improve. But I caution you not to let it become your crutch, it's always better to draw freehand.


On Staining The Canvas First

Some of you might ask, "but don't you have to stain your canvas before you start the drawing"?


Yes you can stain your canvas first and here are some of the benefits:

It creates a receptive surface for oil paint.

It allows the eye to mix and apply correct values without being influenced by a white surface.

It eliminates the white pinhole problem evident in untoned canvases.


I often use a stained canvas however, I find it easier to see, draw and paint on a white surface. The way to avoid the pinholes or paint adhesion problems is to use quality primed surfaces. I find the Ampersand quality gesso panels to be very reliable and there are others, look for triple primed or high quality oil primed surfaces.

Always keep in mind that drawing is a very important skill to have for every painter. To get better at painting, you have to be better at drawing. And the only way to do that is to draw as much as you can.


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