How to Transfer Paper to Canvas

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Transferring paper to canvas is a technique many types of artists may want to try. Painters can find that adding a three-dimensional element to their compositions creates a new dynamic. Collage artists will enjoy the ability of canvas to support heavier paper or increased layers. Mixed media artists will appreciate the functionality and diverse uses of paper in their pieces. Photographers can also explore this method as a creative way of mounting their work.

Things You'll Need

  • Canvas
  • Paper
  • Brush
  • Water
  • Prepare the canvas. If the surface is already painted, all you need to do is attach the paper with gel medium. If the surface is not painted, apply gesso first. This will help the paper adhere better. The typical process for preparing a canvas is three layers of gesso. Let the gesso dry thoroughly before continuing with the next step.

  • Select and position the paper. Before committing the paper to canvas, or altering the paper in any way, try various positions and combinations. Sort through several sheets of paper and look at them side by side. You may find some interesting color contrasts or surprising juxtapositions.

  • Prepare the paper. You can apply a whole section of paper, or rip a piece out and keep the rough edges. Another option is to take small scissors and cut along the edges of an image, or cut out a shape. The paper will maintain its integrity better if you coat one side with gel medium, either glossy or matte. After it's dry, coat the other side. In the interim, the edges may curl but, upon drying, it should flatten out.

  • Transfer the paper onto the canvas. Use a thin coat of watered-down gel medium to adhere the paper to the canvas. After the paper is attached, give the medium a chance to dry before painting. However, if you wish to add other three-dimensional elements, it's fine to continue working. Just remember which sections of the canvas are already wet or sticky.

  • Coat the canvas. To smooth out the disparate elements and to protect the irregular surface of the composition, apply another thin layer of watered-down medium. With the extra applications of medium, the work may take longer to dry than would a typical acrylic painting. If you're planning to pack the piece or ship it, give it extra air drying time and protect the surface of the work.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the edges of your paper cutout curl, try placing the paper between two sheets of wax paper and then under some heavy books.
  • For a raw finish, you can also try sewing, stapling or nailing paper to canvas.
  • Intensely or poorly dyed papers may bleed onto the canvas when wet.
  • Photo Credit Serena Makofsky
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