Part 1f: Transferring, enlarging/reducing sketches and reference images

Snow Leopard cubs- click to enlarge

As a pet portrait artist I quite often work from reference images that my clients send in to me.  Typically there will be one main image of the pose that the customer likes and a selection of supporting images that gives me a sense of character and more background information on colouring etc.

I get lots of questions about getting the initial image onto the drawing surface; typically they revolve around a central theme – How do you enlarge/reduce/transfer the image?

Transferring images to the drawing surface

There are a number of ways to transfer an image, either from a sketch or reference photo to the drawing surface and the method you choose may depend on the surface.

  • Simply drawing the image is an obvious choice, but not everyone feels confident in their drawing skills, especially in the beginning.
  • Tracing the image is frowned upon by many purists, but the technique has it’s place, especially if you’ve spent days or weeks creating a composition sketch that you want to transfer to the final surface.
Too much Christmas Pud! - click to enlarge

Here’s an example of when tracing is a great tool to use:

At the 2010 supreme cat show I was approached by Haworth Cat Rescue centre to design a card for their 2011 selection.

Now I had a number of ideas and a few reference pictures that I thought would work great together to get the final piece I wanted.

Amber being lazy

This is our little British Blue – Amber – being lazy playing with a leaf in the summer.  For the card I had some sort of inspiration that the ‘cat’ would be tapping the baubles on a Christmas Tree, since that’s what Amber spends Christmas doing!

At this point I wasn’t sure what pose the cat would be in, but the idea was formulating itself when I remembered these shots that I had of Amber.

I dug them out and started to sketch to see if it would give me more inspiration.



Click on either of the sketches below to see a larger image

Amber and leaf - 9"x 9" graphite on cartridge paper
Lazy Amber - 14"x 10" graphite on cartridge paper






So I had completed the sketches and decided that the podgy little puss sitting on her rump looked like she had eaten too much Christmas pud to properly reach a bauble to tap!  The idea was born and I was ready to start work on the final piece.

Since I was working on velour in pastel, there are only really two ways of getting the image onto such a surface – draw it or trace it.  As I had already sketched the outline at the size of the finished piece the quickest option to place the outline on the velour was to trace it.

Click here to see more information about the creation of this piece and a link to Haworth Cat Rescue for more info on how you can buy the cards to support their activities.

If I had wanted to make the image smaller or larger again I would either draw freehand, or I could use the grid method.

Using the grid method to reduce or enlarge an image

Image and grid

For this exercise I chose an image of two delightful Snow Leopard cubs that I took at Twycross Zoo.  I particularly liked the intense gazes that they both had while they watched their Mum stalking them.

I was on holiday in Spain when I did this exercise, so be prepared for some images of hardship – drawing in the sunshine by a lovely pool ;0)

The grid method is a great technique to know. The idea is that you divide your initial image into small squares and transfer it a square at a time on to the drawing surface.

If your original image or sketch is 10″ x 10″ (approx 25.5cm x 25.5cm) and you simply wish to transfer it at the same size to the drawing surface, draw a grid on the original image
10″ x 10″  with gridlines at 1″ (2.5cm) intervals.

Image with grid
Blank grid on drawing surface

If you would like the drawing to be twice as big as the original, draw 1″ squares on the original and 2″ squares on the drawing surface.

Conversely if you wish for a drawing half the size of the original, make the drawing surface squares half the size of the original (1/2″).  Clearly you can use whatever ratio you like to achieve the desired effect.

This is real hardship drawing in such a lovely location - we were on holiday in Bolnuevo

Next start transferring the image a square at a time until you have drawn out the complete outline.

Once completed you can erase the gridlines and refine the sketch.

If you are drawing the finished piece in a light medium, be gentle when you draw the initial gridlines on the drawing surface.  If you’re using something like oil paint, it’s likely that you will be painting over the lines, so it’s not such an issue.

Image with grid

If you’d prefer not to draw gridlines on original sketches, or simply would like a more convenient way of using this method, you can create a selection of grids on acetate.  Simply place the acetate over the original without harming or defacing it in any way.

For my Snow Leopard cubs exercise I used a grid that was 1.5 times larger than the original.  I also wanted to move the right-most cub further over to the

Snow Leopard cubs

left behind his sister. If you click the image here you’ll see that I added letters along the bottom squares and numbers up the left hand side. I drew the left hand cub into the columns A-F on my drawing surface.

In order to move the right hand cub over to the left I ignored columns F & G showing his hind quarters and started the image of him from column H onwards.  I have left the grid lines in the finished exercise so that you can see the end result.

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