Gaping at Gaudí - OR - If You Must Use Graphite to Transfer a Drawing - Here's How To Do It Safely

One has to go to all the way to Barcelona to see the work of Antoni Gaudi but it's worth it. Weeks ago I saw his Spanish Catalan Art Noveau Architecture for the first time. Wow.

That's me (lower right) gaping at the ceiling of Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece "Sagrada Familia" - under construction since 1882.

The interior of the church is open and accessible giving a spectacular view of the expansive forest-like interior. The use of external light through the stain glass windows and the 'Glory of God' window in the roof is ever changing and dynamic.

I am making a little 6"x9" painting of the following detail from Gaudi's work - an angel - to illustrate the use of graphite in transferring a drawing.

Normally I do not use graphite for archival reasons. It tends to "rise to the top" of an oil painting over the years and can unintentionally wreck the surface.

However, if you must - here's how I do it:

I never use tracing paper any more - I use acetate instead so I can see through it to correct lines if necessary during the painting process.

On the right you can see a graphite transfer sheet. It doesn't matter if it is homemade graphite paper or commercial - same thing. Even drawing on the canvas with a's all the same when graphite is applied to a surface that will have oil paint over it.

I am putting this drawing under the imprimatura. (Over is OK too.)

This is a photo of the pad of Graphix Acetate I used. I often use different brands and weights of acetate.

I always use a fine point black Sharpie to draw on the acetate because nothing else will stick.

I always use clear acetate - never matte or frosted as it defeats the purpose of being able to see through it. Prepared Acetate comes in rolls (which are cheaper) and pads - I use both.

The .003 weight tears easily but wrinkles less.

The heavier .005 weight is stronger but doesn't always want to lie flat.

When the lines are transferred with graphite to the surface, I often use a dip pen and ink (as shown above) to re-draw those lines. I always use a warm color - this ink is orange (you can see it in the upper left hand corner).

To illustrate another way, I will finish drawing over the graphite lines with a fine point Sharpie in any warm color. Shown are orange, red, yellow ochre, and brown.

I finished the job with an orange fine point Sharpie. It is quicker and easier than using ink....but because it is oil based, it can smear if you "scrub" too hard when adding the imprimatura.

Water-based ink won't smear when it comes in contact with oil.

I use a kneaded rubber eraser to lift every speck of graphite from my surface - only the ink and/or Sharpie lines remain.

This is important as I do not want to wreck my work before I even begin.

Next, I add the imprimatura (raw umber mixed with Liquin). I could continue to work but I decided to block my corners and darken my edges and let it dry before the next stage.

Sometimes I forget to tell you the most basic thing I blocking edges and corners as illustrated above.

I begin with a glaze of raw umber over all. And then I paint a mixture of two values of titanium white and raw umber onto the wet surface and begin to build the angel figure.

I finish the raw umber and white rendering the angel in situ. As you can see, I some of my lines "took a walk" - but I let it dry as is anyhow.

Next stage - I correct by laying my acetate drawing over the dry surface to see where I went wrong - so I could correct. I do NOT use graphite if I need to trace a this stage I'd use a chalk (pastel) transfer paper.

This is the finished piece - an "oil sketch" of one of Gaudi's musical angels, 6"x 9" oil on panel. Maybe because it was raining, the different colors were easy to see.

Gaudi's angel was cement but had subtle colors...intentional pigmentation, air pollution...who knows? But I liked the play of warm and cool in his sculptural facade and added touches of red, yellow and blue in my oil sketch based on Gaudi's angel.

I found that angel over the doors of Gaudi's "Sagrada Familia." This magnificent building is so huge and so ornate, my camera just couldn't capture the feeling of it.

Here are some more pictures I took that give you the flavor of some of his other amazing works:

He had a grand imagination and developed his own distinct sculptural style.

He contrived highly original designs – irregular and fantastically intricate.

Gaudí's architecture is a total integration of materials, processes and poetics. However, his originality was at first ridiculed by his peers.

"Gothic art is imperfect, it means to solve; it is the style of the compass, the formula of industrial repetition. Its stability is based on the permanent propping of abutments: it is a defective body that holds with support… gothic works produce maximum emotion when they are mutilated, covered with ivy and illuminated by the moon."
- Gaudí

His work is highly organic.

Gaudí, throughout his life, studied nature's angles and curves and incorporated them into his designs and mosaics.

This serpentine garden bench is oddly graceful (and uncomfortable).

"Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the Creator."
- Gaudí

Because of his rheumatism, the artist observed a strict vegetarian diet, used homeopathic drug therapy, underwent water therapy, and hiked regularly.

Gaudí was a devout Catholic, to the point that in his later years he abandoned secular work and devoted his life to Catholicism and his Sagrada Família.

In 1926 Gaudí (at the age of 73) was hit by a tram. Because of his ragged attire and empty pockets, many cab drivers refused to pick him up for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare.

He was eventually taken to a paupers' hospital in Barcelona.

Nobody recognized the injured artist until his friends found him the next day.

When they tried to move him into a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying "I belong here among the poor."

He died three days later.

Gaudí constantly changed his mind and recreated his blueprints.

Completion of the "Sagrada Familía" is planned for 2026, the centennial of Gaudí's death.

Me again, taking pictures.

As time passed, Gaudí's work became more famous.

Gaudi did not like to have his picture taken - so this photo of him taken by Paul Audouard is very rare.

He stands as one of history's most original architects.


Anonymous said...

Can we see the finished painting?

My Painting Studio said...


Vanessa Morris said...

Hi Karin,

I often need to correct my oil portraits using the original acitate drawing. However, I have tried to locate "chalk transfer paper" with no luck. Where do you get yours?

Best wishes

Vanessa Morris

My Painting Studio said...

Oops Vanessa, sorry it took so long to answer - I didn't see your comment.

I make my own:

1 sheet of tracing paper
1 pastel

Rub pastel onto paper - rub it in with your fingers and tap off extra pigments.

Wash hands.

Voila! You have a transfer paper you can use for years.

I keep several sheets around - in a light, medium and dark value. Any colors will do.

Vlado Lukacko said...

Dear Karin

Is there also a possibility to use acrylic based pens such as Sharpie that you used in your case ? I bought one with my plans to draw over my pencil sketch, but I see you use ink or oil based Sharpie to fix the pencil.

Thanks a lot,


My Painting Studio said...

I did not know there was such a thing as an acrylic sharpie - but acrylic is okay as long as you use acrylic UNDER any oil layer rather than OVER an oil layer, there should be no problem.