Every once in a while, I venture off on a creative tangent and experiment with something completely new and different. I don’t get to do this often enough, but every time I do, I discover a new method, material, or approach that I can add to my creative toolbox.

Today I’m sharing one recent experiment that I tried out on a rare-for-me traditional piece!

For this piece, I wanted to challenge myself to find a traditional process that closely follows my usual digital working process. I’ve tried several different approaches to traditional art, but nothing so far has quite clicked. One main issue is that I often want to preserve as much of my drawing as possible, while adding colour on top or underneath, but the drawn lines always get lost in the colouring process when using traditional materials, and they are never quite crisp enough.

This is where laser print transfers come in! Put simply, it’s a method of transferring a printed image using matte medium. The medium and laser printed ink bond to the working surface when dried, and the paper is removed with water, revealing the image.

With many other methods for transferring a drawing to board, the expectation is that the drawing will be covered up with paint. But this method allows the transfer to sit on top of paint layers, and more of the drawing can show through.

I can’t recall where I learned about laser transfers, but I remember using it as far back as high school, on craft projects and things like scrapbooks. I hadn’t considered it for “legitimate” art purposes until I started brainstorming how to transfer my sketch for the piece I was working on.

There are many instructional posts and videos floating around the internet that do a great job of showing how it all works. So my post here is mostly to document how I fared using the same method. It’s something I’m only just beginning to explore, and I’m definitely still refining my process as I go.

As I mentioned, I wanted to mimic my normal working process, which involves creating a finished drawing digitally before colouring. So that is exactly what I did here, with the drawing done on an iPad:

The transfer is done by placing the paper face down onto the surface, so the image needs to be flipped when printed. The image also needs to be printed on a laser printer and not inkjet for this to work.

I cut around the paper to create a more organic edge. Any white parts (i.e. the paper) will be rubbed away, but the edge of the paper does leave a bit of a raised line where the matte medium pools. So it’s best to have an organic shape that blends in more easily.

I’m working on an ultra deep cradled board for this piece, which I prepped beforehand by sealing with gloss medium (to prevent Support Induced Discoloration), and gesso. I then applied a base colour.

Ready to start the transfer, I applied matte medium to both the paper side and the board to ensure good coverage and placed the image face down on the board. Some instructions online call for using heavy gel medium, but I used regular matte medium here, and suspect really any acrylic medium will work.

I then used a card to smooth out the paper onto the surface, getting rid of any air bubbles and excess medium.

This should be left overnight to dry, but I was in a hurry, so I only waited a few hours. While the matte medium does dry fast, the bond will be stronger if you leave it overnight.

Once the matte medium is dry, the paper removal begins! I used a sponge cloth to soak the entire paper area with water.

I worked slowly in small sections to remove the paper, adding more water as needed. The paper came away quite easily once saturated with water, but did so in layers, so I had to do a few passes.

The last layer of paper was the most tricky and fragile. Especially because I did not wait overnight, the print was not very well-bonded to the surface, and prone to lifting (oops!). So I just used my fingers for the last layer, and worked extremely carefully.

There were some areas where I was too harsh with the sponge, and the image lifted. But that’s ok for this piece – a little bit of distressed texture is always nice! This probably wouldn’t happen as severely if I gave the matte medium more time to dry, but some amount of lifting is to be expected.

And that’s the transfer complete! The outline of the paper was still slightly visible – created by the matte medium collecting at the edge of the paper. I sanded this back with a fine-grit sandpaper to create an even surface.

After sanding, I sealed the entire transfer with another coat of matte medium, locking it in without any further risk of lifting.

I did end up painting over parts of the transfer in translucent glazes, but I was also able to retain much of the linework from the initial digital drawing. From the process shots below, you can see how I worked on top of the transferred drawing:

With the transfer providing so much detail, it didn’t take much in the way of drawing to bring everything together. In the closeup below, you can see that I pulled out some highlights on the building, and added some glow around the figure with touches of orange. Because a lot of the shading work was already done by the transferred image, I was able to focus on creating simple but expressive marks on top.

I’m absolutely thrilled with how this turned out. I’ve always wanted to achieve this specific look of balancing value and shading with crisp lines, and this transfer method really did the trick! It has so much potential, and I’m only just beginning to explore the possibilities.

I used this piece to try out several different techniques – believe it or not, there were even more experiments beyond this transfer method! It was also not all smooth sailing; at one point I seriously thought I had ruined it and would have to drop out of the show, before some intense art material science saved it… but that is a story for another day! For now, I leave you with the finished piece, which will be in Outre Gallery’s Vanguard show, opening September 22nd.

Dawn (2023)
Mixed media on cradled panel
30cm (h) x 17cm (w) x 9cm (d)