In the last post, I described a workshop I periodically teach at the Arkansas Arts Center. The focus of that article shifted from the purpose and joy of teaching to a specific technique from the workshop: the use of stencils and stamps. This second post of the series focuses on a technique we explore in class called Image Transfer. First I’ll describe HOW to do image transfer, then I’ll talk about WHY. As with most art materials, there are countless ways to use this technique and, of course, reasons abound.
Here is what you need: any type of gel medium (as long as the words “gel medium” are in the name of the product), a paint brush (a 1″ flat bristle brush works well), and an image you want to transfer onto your work surface. This technique works on paper, canvas, wood panels, lamp shades, fabric…just about any surface with a little tooth to it. As far as the image options to transfer, you can use photos and text from magazines, newspaper, or your printer. Thick paper such as photos from a calendar are difficult and processed photography does not release the ink well. As you will see, we will rub off the paper as a final step and thick paper is much more laborious. So, magazine, newspaper and images on printer paper (at home or at stores such as Staples) work well.
For this example, let’s say you are working on a paper surface and using magazines for your image source. Once you have your image cut out, apply a liberal amount of gel medium to your paper surface (this is the surface RECEIVING the ink from your image), slightly dampen the surface of the image you want to apply, and press it face down on the paper. Apply pressure in the middle of the image and gently smooth out the air bubbles, pushing them outward toward the edges. Wherever there are air bubbles, the ink will not adhere to your paper surface. A roller or brayer works well to remove air bubbles and helps press the image ink into your paper surface which will be a new home for the ink.
Some people let the image dry for a few hours and have success with the transfer. However, many artists (myself included) insist that waiting 24 hours for the image to dry and set increases the success rate. So, put the piece aside and work on something else until tomorrow!
Here is another example – this time with text on canvas. Please note that when transferring text, the letters will be reversed in the end. I like the reverse text because it obscures the meaning of the words but if you want the letters to come out legibly, you can print text on your home printer. Just flip the text box in your document so you are printing backwards letters that will be reversed again in the image transfer process and will come out legibly. If this is confusing, the photos below might clarify:
THE NEXT DAY:
First apply water to the transfer. Don’t be stingy with the water. It will not hurt your artwork. The more water, the more it assists in breaking down the paper pulp. Using fine grain sandpaper, gently sand the back of the image transfer paper. Once you have the paper roughed up, apply more water. If it gets lots of pulp balls, just clean the surface with a damp paper towel and apply more water. Using your fingers, gently rub the paper pulp and wipe it away. Some paper is more stubborn (aka high quality) than others and the amount of time on this step can vary greatly. Be sure not to sand too hard or rub too vigorously or you might remove some of the ink that you are trying to transfer. Here are photos demonstrating the steps:
You can use a brush to apply water to the transfer, better yet, dump water on with your hands.
Let the water soak in and lightly sand the back of the transfer. Do not over sand or you might accidentally remove the ink.
Once the pulp is roughed up, use wet fingers and remove layers of the pulp by rubbing the transfer in a circular motion.
The are many reasons and uses for image transfer. Like collage, transferring commercially produced imagery CONTRASTS drawn line and paint. Unlike collage, transferred images attach seamlessly to the paper (or canvas or whatever you are working on) so the image integrates with other areas of the composition. Instead of looking added on top or glued on, the transferred photo or text appears to be embedded into the design. This is particularly effective when building a surface with layers under as well as over the image transfer.
A NOTE ABOUT ETHICS AND IMAGE USE:
Copyright laws and image use laws seem to change daily and it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine what images you can ethically use in your artwork. With social media and a plethora of photo apps, millions of people are publicly sharing their images while signing away ownership. In considering what images to use, I ask myself, is this photo a work of art that another artist created? How would I feel if one of my paintings appeared in another person’s artwork, and how would I feel if their art (using my work) were for sale and publicly displayed? I do not have a “one size fits all” answer; however, I believe the purpose of image transfer is to use commercially produced images in an heavily altered way. In my own work, an emphasis on layering helps alter and sometimes obliterate the transferred image. So enjoy experimenting with this technique, but always be thoughtful about the images you choose. For more information about copyright and fair use of imagery, there are many online resources such as:
Speaking of appropriating imagery, next up in this mixed media series is COLLAGE!
Thank you for reading!