Transferring a Drawing From Paper to Canvas

Blank art canvas in mess artist's studio
Blank art canvas in mess artist's studio. Dimitri Otis/Getty Images

Is there a suggested method for transferring a drawing from paper to canvas? There are many methods that have been used for centuries.

Transferring from Paper to Canvas

If you're not worried about keeping the drawing pristine, you could treat it as a cartoon (the Old Masters meaning of the word, not a comic strip). That is to prick it full of holes than "pounce" on it with charcoal (powdered charcoal in a bit of cloth) which then goes through the holes and transfers the design.

I've never done this, only read about it, but would've thought having an apprentice to prick the holes would help retain your sanity. I would also imagine you'd want a very smooth canvas for it to work well. The National Gallery in London has a bit more on this with their ​Leonardo Da Vinci Cartoon.​

You can cover the back of the drawing with charcoal, pastel or soft pencil, then run a stylus or anything hard but blunt (like a teaspoon handle) along the lines of the drawing on the front to transfer it. Tape or clip the drawing in place so it doesn't move as you're doing it.

You can buy transfer paper that does the same thing (or make your own with a very thin piece of paper like newsprint and charcoal). If you're using anything called "carbon paper" make sure it's wax-free or there's a small chance it might create paint adhesion problems.

If it wasn't a particularly detailed drawing, I'd grid it up (or overlay it with a grid, or fold the paper) and draw in the main lines by eye, then keep the drawing to hand when I started to paint.

Using a small brush and thin paint to "draw" the lines rather than pencil.

You could even take a photo of the drawing and pay someone to print it on canvas for you. Then coat the canvas with a layer of transparent acrylic medium, then paint on top of this. Or if it was a smallish canvas, you could use a camera lucida.

Ultimately, remember it wasn't a fluke that you got the drawing you now want to transfer "right", it's your artistic skills. It's not essential to have absolutely every bit of the drawing on your canvas to turn it into a successful painting. A painting isn't simply a colored-in drawing.