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How to Enlarge and Draw From a Photograph

Updated on June 17, 2018

Atlantic Light From Tintagel, Cornwall

Atlantic Light From Tintagel Cornwall
Atlantic Light From Tintagel Cornwall | Source

Drawing From A Photograph

Purists think that drawing from a photograph is wrong, you must work en plein air, make sketches and take notes. But, for many artists working in this way is just not possible.

In my work, I do visit places that I want to paint, and may make the odd sketch, but most of my work is completed in the studio, using photographs as reference material. My paintings are often an amalgamation of several photos and the images that remain in my head of the atmosphere of the place. As such, I don't draw directly from a photograph, and so rarely need to enlarge it and transpose the image on to paper, but, I recognise that many artists do work in this way, so here are a few tips to help you make professional looking work.

Squaring Up

How to Square up
How to Square up | Source

Photo Enlargement Using Squaring Up System

This is the cheapest method of enlarging a photo, and requires no special eqipment. It does, however, still require some drawing skill.

Firstly draw 1" (2.5cm) squares on to some clear plastic using a felt-tipped pen (used plastic bags work OK, as do old polythene document pockets)

Next decided what size squares you wish to draw on to your drawing paper. 2" (5cm) squares will double the size of the image 4" squares would quadrouple it and so on. Once you have decided, use a fine pencil and lightly draw the squares over your chosen paper support.

Finally, tackle the image a square at a time. Look at what lies in each square on your photograph, and copy this into each square on your drawing and you will have your enlarged drawing.

Using an eraser remove the square outlines from your work. I particularly like using a putty eraser as this removes the pencil marks easily without marking the paper. All you have to do then is complete your drawing as you wish.

The photo to the right illustrates how to square up. The squares on the poly-pocket are drawn to 1" and the squares on the paper to 2". For the purposes of the photo I used a black Sharpie marker and worked very quickly, so that the demonstration stands out.

Photo Enlargement Using A Pantograph

This method requires a little skill and some relatively cheap equipment. Most Pantographs cost uner $30.00 (£20.00).

A pantograph has a concertinaed arm that you clamp to your work surface. It also has a clamp to hold a pencil and a metal 'drawing point'.

To enlarge the photo, you clamp a soft pencil in the pencil clamp, and place your drawing support underneath it. You then 'draw' over your chosen photograph using the 'drawing point' of the pantograph. The concertinaed arm then does all the work of enlarging your photograph for you.

It does take a few practice runs to make sure you get the pressure of the pencil right and the paper in the correct place, but once you get the hang of it, it's a fun easy way to enlarge photos for drawing from. Beware of pressing the 'drawing point' to hard on to your photo, because it will leave a score mark if not careful.

Photo Enlargement Using Your PC

I sometimes use a really simple method of enlarging photos on my computer when I want to draw something very accurately, that doesn't need to be enlarge massively, for example, a dog's face.

First scan your photo into your PC.

Using your chosen photo manipulation programme (I just use HP that came with my PC and it works well enough) crop the part of the image you wish to use, save it, then print it to fit on A4 paper. In this way, you have enlarged the image to A4.

Tape this image face down on to a window, thus making an improvised (and more importantly FREE) light box.

Place tracing (or greaseproof) paper over the image and trace around the outlines, using a very soft pencil. You will then have a reversed image pencil outline.

Place your drawing pencil side down on to your chosen drawing support and draw over the outline of the photo print very firmly. This transfers the enlarged image on to your paper.

Some people like to reduce the scanned photo to an outline image on their PC, but I just find this a fiddly and unnecessary step.

Photo Enlargement Using A Light Box

Often called light tracers, these simple pieces of equipment cost around $100 (£40). They comprise an illuminated surface on to which you can place an image that you have enlarged on your PC, and have a sloping face to make tracing easier.

A light box doesn't enlarge your work, so you need to do this part yourself. If you want a piece of equipment to do the whole shebang, you need to buy a projector.

Photo Enlargement Using A Projector

If you really want to spoil the artist in your life, buy them one of these. There are various enlargers on the market with varying degrees of enlargement capability. Expect to pay around $100 for something that enlarges your work up to ten times, to $1,200 for something that enlarges your work by 3,000%.

The principle of all these machines is the same. You insert the item that you wish to enlarge and this is then projected at the size you wish on to your preferred support, which is great if you want to work very large, painting a mural on to a wall, for example. The more professional enlargers wil also decrease the size of an image too.

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