I love free-handing watercolors, but sometimes if I’m doing something on a large scale, I will trace my design. Or I’ll do a mix of tracing & free-handing like the print below (watercolor flowers were free hand; everything else is traced and then colored). There’s really 2 ways to do this. I’ll describe both.
Method 1: Window Method
Take the design you want to trace, and tape it up on a large, sunny window. Take your watercolor paper and tape it over the design. Alternately, if you have a lightbox and the paper fits, you can do this with a lightbox as well. Lightly trace the design or words using a pencil or a colored pencil.
Take the watercolor paper down from the window and paint it, making sure you cover over the pencil mark or painting around it and then erasing the pencil once completely dry. If you are hand lettering, it’s best to use a very light pencil and a dark marker to completely cover the pencil marks.
For this print, I went over the letters with Finetec paint to cover up the pencil. I loved how it turned out.
Another thing to note is if the pencil is still noticeable, you might need to paint an outline over it, or use more watercolor to cover it. To outline, just take a small brush, such as size 0, and outline the design with the color of your choice.
Method 2: Tracing Paper
In this video below, I show you how to use carbon paper. Actually, I’m not sure it’s carbon paper. LOL. I got this in a kit and it says it’s carbon paper, but it looks a lot like tracing paper. So I really don’t know. I also show you how you can use regular paper. My suggestion with using regular paper is to really outline the design–going over it several times if necessary. If not, you will end up with a light colored tracing which is shown in this video (and hard to see). Sometimes that might be all you need, but if you find it’s not dark enough, trace the design 2x or 3x to get it to transfer.
Alternately, you can try graphite paper. Carbon paper is usually blue or black. You can find these at office supply stores or Amazon.
Step 1: Trace your design
Taking a piece of tracing paper, trace your design with a pencil. If you are doing this for personal use, feel free to grab any old design you like and trace it. But if you are selling this, I’d recommend sticking with your own drawings and designs. Probably not a good idea to steal someone’s design and then try to sell it. Just saying.
Step 2: Flip & Color
Once you have a traced image, flip the traced paper over on to watercolor paper or marker paper, whatever you are transferring the image to. Then color over the area with a soft pencil. The harder you color the image, the more of the design will transfer to the paper. I try to color over the entire image using a steady amount of pressure.
Step 4: Color & Touch-Up
When you have completely colored over everything, carefully lift up the tracing paper. You should have a lightly penciled image which you can paint or color over. If you see any pencil marks, you can erase them, but make sure the color or paint is completely dried or the paper may tear or shred.
While I love the ability to create free-hand and just “go with it”, sometimes it’s nice to have something turn out in a cohesive way. When working with big art projects, this is helpful. While this isn’t my first resort to creating watercolor or hand lettering, tracing is helpful to keep things aligned and looking uniform. Just remember to make the design your own, or draw your own design and then trace it. Tracing is a great tool to use, but make it yours by adding your own flare instead of just copying and using someone else’s design.
Here’s a cool infographic you can share 🙂
Take 20 minutes today and practice the tracing method. Let me know what you create!