Eco Transfers with Waxed Paper

In a change from conventional drawing styles, Robert Rauschenberg created transfer drawings in the 1960s. He used turpentine or lighter fluid, newspapers, and a dry pen to make montages of appropriated headlines and disparate images that united in one large picture. He began these drawings in 1958; an exhibit of the works were presented at the Jonathan O'Hara Gallery in New York in 2007. The words and images were always reversed, the hatch marks showed. Sometimes the overinked sections of the soaked newspaper functioned as color blocks. The transfers are ghostly, yet the marks show movement and traces of the hand.

If you like creating narratives with found text or you enjoy making montages with imagery, you might be interested in this waxed-paper transfer technique. It involves only a piece of waxed paper, a fresh newspaper, and a burnisher, such as a bone folder, the handle of a spoon, or the cap of a pen. The beauty of it is that it is non toxic and inexpensive. The results are somewhat ghostly and can be a nice starting point for colored pencil shading or watercoloring tinting. With this technique, the words and images are right reading, not backwards like Rauschenberg's. Black ink works best, but some colors will also transfer.

  1. Locate the image or word you want on a piece of fresh newspaper.
  2. Put the waxed paper over the image/word.
  3. With the burnisher, rub gently, but thoroughly
  4. Peel the waxed paper up.
  5. Position the image on a new piece of good cotton paper or inside a book you've made.
  6. Rub the image or word onto the paper.
  7. Repeat multiple times. 
  8. Shade with colored pencils or watercolors, if desired.
If you have a copy of the now out-of-print Unique Handmade Books you can find transfer techniques on page 110.

Not Rauschenberg


linda said…
very cool - thanks for sharing!
jac said…
I'm always on the look out for cheap green student friendly transfer methods. This look great. What sort of waxed paper do you use? Is it an art supply or a general household thing? (I live in the UK so brands and things often differ)
Alisa said…
Thanks, Linda and Jac—
This is absolutely a household project! I use the cheap waxed paper from the grocery store. I've also tried the eco-friendly soybean waxed paper (a brown color and a tiny bit more expensive), but noticed it is only waxed on one side, so you have to make sure you are using that side.
ronnie said…
I'll certainly be trying out this alternate technique as I used to transfer text and images using laser photocopy and acetone (eeeeeek!!!!!) I've tired without success to use both eucalyptus and wintergreen oils on the photocopies but the result wasn't all that satisfying (ps I've never encountered soybean wax paper in australia - I wonder if its available anywhere in the land?)

thanks for the generous sharing (as always)
Alisa said…
thanks, ronnie—I've used the laserprinted or photocopy and acetone trick as well. Mostly I've used an acetone-based pen: Chartpak Ad Marker Colorless Blender. Outside, on a nice day, with lots of ventilation…
Velma said…
i might try this one with my hooligans in their journals
. they'll like it, i think!
Alisa said…
Hi Velma—if you do, let us know how it comes out!
Thanks so much for this amazing idea. I so like the way that I can add these items that inspire my found poems.
Hollis G. said…
off to try it - thanks!!