How to Turn Your Sketches into Hangable Artwork


Last year I wrote a tutorial called Going Big: How to Transfer Lettering to a Wall and it has been my most popular article to date. Since writing it, many of you have emailed in questions and I've gained a lot more experience, so I figured it was time to expand upon the topic.

One of the most common struggles I heard in regards to making large scale art is the scaling process. Simply put, people are afraid to go big. Maybe you are worried you will screw it up and that things will look off when you finally step back.

Today I want to break down the process of a recent project because it's a nice intermediate step for someone used to creating on a small scale, but not quite ready for a large mural.

From sketch to hangable artwork using a projector

For this project I worked with my teammate, Jeremiah Britton at WeWork Kinzie in Chicago. The idea was for 3 separate letterform compositions to be tied together on the wall as one art piece, making it a triptych.

Sketch, refined and vectored letterform

Sketch, refined and vectored letterform

1. Sketch, Plan and Refine

As with every project, it all starts with a sketch. It helps to take some time to refine and get feedback before scaling up, as it will become harder to change the overall composition.

We sketched each letter separately, and then created the entire composition at 100% scale in Adobe Illustrator, applying color, texture and stylization to each letter. (The beige color represents the exposed wood background.)

Adobe lllustrator mockup

Adobe lllustrator mockup

2. Gather materials

For this installation we used pretty minimal supplies.

  • 20" x 24" wood panels from Blick Art Supplies
  • 2" nails + hammer
  • B Pencils
  • Molotow Acrylic paint markers (black and white)
  • Artists acrylic paint and paint brushes for the larger areas (optional)
  • BENQ 3300 Lumen digital projector

3. Scale your design

This is where the projector comes in handy. If you don't have your own, they are not too expensive to rent from a camera store. I suggest trying out a couple different ones, as each one has a different brightness, resolution and scale. It's not necessary to buy one that is $1000+ unless you need to use it in broad daylight.

We projected the image at 100% scale to align and hang the wood panels (no measuring / leveling necessary). Then carefully traced the designs onto the wood with pencil and paint marker.

Digitally projected and partially traced design

Digitally projected and partially traced design

4. Paint it!

At this point it's just a matter of coloring inside the lines. Pretty simple!

The beauty of this technique is it allows you to set yourself up to focus solely on steady hand execution. No need to make on-the-fly design decisions that could make or break your piece.

Lastly, make sure to finish the sides of the art panels since they are also part of the artwork!



Other Considerations:

If you are working in a tight space, you might not be able to pull the projector far away from the wall. You might consider using a different technique for transferring.

Detail / Intricacy
The more detailed your design is, the longer it will take to execute. If this is your first time scaling artwork up, I'd recommend trying with a simple image

If the artwork is in an area that will have a lot of foot traffic, you might consider using a clear coat fixative to seal the artwork so it doesn't get scratched/smudged easily.

Surface / Medium
Be careful when choosing the materials. Acrylic (water-based) vs. Oil-based paint will make a big difference in the finished product. The wood panels we used were made from unfinished birch wood, so there was a bit of bleeding when the paint markers were applied. If I were to do it again I might do with a nicer, sealed wood panel.


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