Ask the Experts: DIY Colored Transfer Paper
by Koo Schadler
Q. In the article “Tools That Are Tried and True” (The Artist’s Magazine, November 2011), Koo Schadler says she can make transfer paper in “any color of the rainbow,” using pigments or pastels, solvent and parchment paper. How does she do this, and why does she prefer colored transfer paper to that made with graphite?
A. Making transfer paper is simple but a little messy. Cover your work area with newspaper, wear disposable gloves, and always use a respirator when working with powdered pigments. Assemble the following supplies:
- Parchment tracing paper, medium weight
- Powdered pigment or ground-up pastel (approximately 1 teaspoon for each 9×12 sheet of paper)
- Denatured alcohol (available at hardware stores)
- Measuring spoon (teaspoon or larger)
- Small dish or glass palette
- 1- to 2-inch flat brush
Place approximately 1 teaspoon of powdered pigment into a dish. Add a teaspoon or more of denatured alcohol. You want to add enough alcohol to turn the powdered pigment to the consistency of light cream. Stir well until the mixture is smooth. Some colors, such as earth pigments (umbers, ochres, siennas), combine readily. Others, like alizarin crimson, resist moisture. For stubborn colors I place the powdered pigment on a glass palette, add denatured alcohol and then use a palette knife to carefully disperse the two ingredients.
Use a wide flat brush to apply the liquefied pigment to a sheet of tracing paper. Drag the brush back and forth assertively to work the pigment into the paper. The alcohol will quickly evaporate, leaving behind a thin layer of color. There’s no actual binder; the mechanical action of rubbing the pigment into the surface is sufficient. When the paper is dry, use a clean rag to gently wipe the surface. This removes excess pigment, leaving a thin layer of color.
The first few times you use a particular sheet of homemade transfer paper, loose pigment may generate dust or leave unwanted marks. After a few uses, the dust will dissipate and the paper will behave properly. A sheet can last several years.
The beauty of homemade transfer paper is that you can customize colors. For example, graphite can appear gray and dull in a portrait. Instead, I transfer my figures using green earth and burnt sienna transfer papers. Keep in mind that no two pigments are alike. Some colors are weak; others are strong and staining. With experience, you’ll learn which work best for making transfer paper.
Learn more about Schadler’s art at www.kooschadler.com and in The Artist’s Magazine. Subscribe to The Artist’s Magazine today for more art instruction and painting advice.
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