Yes, You Too Can Draw! – Ch 4 — Image Transferring


Yes, You Too Can Draw logo

Welcome back to Yes, You Too Can Draw! I have another exciting lesson for you today. I say “exciting” because if you’re not careful, this technique may blow your mind. (Or possibly shock you. Or make you say, “Oh cool!”) So what type of technique could do such a thing? Image Transferring! That’s right! 

But first, some house-keeping and review.

Mouse in Image Transferring Grid AvatarWhat Did We Do Last Time?

I had a conundrum, and we briefly went over the basic materials you’ll use.

Even though I encouraged everyone to go out and explore using different type of art materials, all you really need at this point are just a pencil and some plain paper.

Today’s Chapter
For some of you, this will feel like I’m giving you the keys to the kingdom. For others, this will feel like a trip back to middle or elementary school, doing some lame-excuse for an art project. If you feel that way, then so be it. But you may find image transferring a useful skill. A lot of us, including myself, don’t own a large light box, or even a small one. Some of us lack a scanner, printer, and a copy of Adobe PhotoShop, although I can’t see how anyone with a computer could possibly live without either of those. (There is GIMP, an open-source image editor. I personally don’t use Gimp due to the amount of frustration it causes me over simple tasks.) Also a large number of us lack a photocopier. Image transferring is not only a means of copying, a way of enlarging and shrinking images. You can use a photo or another drawing as your original.

An Overview of the Image Transferring Process…

Image transferring is a pretty simple process. You take to image you want to copy, and you break it down into manageable little pieces with a grid. You then draw in that same grid on to your paper, and copy what you see, piece by piece. Not too bad, huh? This is great for complicated images. It’s also great for managing composition and spacing. Now for those you who need things broken down step by step with visuals, follow along…

Step 1 – What you want to draw


Here’s a photo of a kitty-cat. It’s nicely cropped and has a good amount of complexity. This would be a great start for any newbie artist, yet it’s complicated enough to scare the would-be artist away. So let’s break it down! (You can use the image by right-clicking here and save it to your computer. Then open it up in your favorite image editing/viewing program and print a copy to use and abuse.)


Step 2 – Break it down!

Your Photo

I’m doing this tutorial in Photoshop, so everything I do is done digitally. Most of you will be working with pencil and paper. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to the previous photo so you can have a copy that you can freely mark all over. For those you that choose to use your own photograph, you’ll certainly would want to avoid destroying it. In that case, you have two options, make a copy using your scanner and printer, or find a place with color photocopiers. (Think Kinkos, Office Max, Office Depot, UPS Store…) Another alternative is to buy a pad of tracing paper (easily available at any arts and crafts store or at Amazon), tape your photo down (I recommend using any brand of painter’s tape), lay down a sheet of tracing paper, secure that layer with some tape, and use the tracing paper to gently draw your grid upon.


Cropping and Crossing It Out

This tutorial will assume that we’ll use the entire photo. We’ll make our first marks by using a ruler or some type of straight-edge, aligning it up against opposite corners, and drawing a line from one corner to the other. Than do the same with the other corners. You’ll end up with a X, providing you with the mid-point of the image.


But for those situations when you just want to draw one aspect of the photo. For example, let’s say you only want to draw the kitten. Then you’ll simply draw a box around the cat, each edge will touch the furthest point on each side of the cat. For example, the tail will be considered the highest point and the furthest point to our right, touching the top-right corner of the box. The kitten’s right-hand side (our left-hand side) is the furthest point to our left-hand side. Thus will touch the left-side of our box. To sum things up, you’re basically cropping out the cat.

Once you have your box, you can create your X just like you did with our original photo.


After you create your X, you’ll use that mid-point of the X to divide your photo into quarters. You’ll need to use either a triangle or a t-square to achieve this.

Step 3 – Break It Down Some More


Do you need to break it down a little further? Take one of the corner blocks, and break it down the same way you broke down the original photo. You’ll add another diagonal line, and use that new mid-point to break that box down into quarters. You’ll notice how those new horizontal and vertical lines cut across the surrounding boxes. Not only do they chop them in half, but they create a new mid-point for each of those two boxes when they run into our original diagonal lines.


To give us more precision, we’ll create a three more diagonal line to complete the X’s for each box.


To complete the breakdown, we’ll use the mid-points of each new X and use them to create our new horizontal and vertical lines. In the end, we’ll have divided up out image just enough to give us small areas that are easy to reproduce. This will make replicating our photo a lot less intimidating.


Step 4 – A Fresh Grid


Next, we’ll go ahead and divide up our blank page in the same manner. Just follow the illustration above. Keep in mind that the size of your new grid needs to be proportional to the grid on your original image (or copy if your smart.) The image transferring technique isn’t just for making exact copies, but for allowing us to scale those copies larger or smaller than our original image.

Step 5 – Little By Little


Now we’re going to divide and conquer! We’ll use our smaller divisions to create our larger image. Start with which ever section you wish, and simply copy what you see in the corresponding section on the original image. I also want you to note the small yellow dots. As you copy each section look for points where the shapes, objects, and cat intercept with the grid. You’ll want to use these points to help your draw more accurately.

The Final Copy

kitty transfer in pencils

As you chip away at your image, little by little, you’ll notice some screw-ups. (I even had some in this drawing.) Usually it’ll involve shapes and lines not lining up the way they should. But they happen, and your grid will help you see them pretty quickly. The key is to focus on lines, shapes, and space, not the image itself. That’s kind of why image transferring works so well. You’re only focusing on each individual small area, not the drawing as a whole. If you’re feeling distracted by the image, turn both your image and drawing upside-down. This will trick your mind, relatively speaking, into not immediately identifying what’s in your image. Therefore, taking your focus off what you’re trying to draw and keeping your attention on the lines, shapes, and spaces.

Your mind doesn’t really need much information to recognize what you see. Usually it can quickly identify things by the shape alone. For people, the mind will use the prominent facial features, hair style, or any characteristic that you consciously or subconsciously use to identify a person. This can lead to awkward situations when someone you know has a double or two walking around in the same building.

Another One Down!

I know, this was another long one, trust me. But this should set you up to be able to use image transferring to replicate, enlarge, or reduce any image. You’ll also have greater accuracy when replicating a photo or another drawing. You’ll be less likely to suffer from those unnecessary distortions that’ll creep up and easily frustrate you.

Your Homework Assignment

Find another photo. Use the image transferring method to replicate it. When you’re done, erase your grid, and try replicating the values to the best of your ability. Then scan it in and post a link with your comments.

By the Way…

In case you missed out on the first three chapters, I highly encourage you to start from the beginning. This series is aimed at and designed for newbie artists and the occasional doodler out there. That means we’re going through the basics of drawing. This article on image transferring originally appeared in a series of lens I posted on Squidoo.


© 2012-2013  Chris Hilbig


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