Xerox Transfer Art with Marlene Weisman
“Xerox transfers are fun, accessible, a bit retro, and a bit subversive. They are addictive and surprising, as you never know how the resulting image will come out. It’s highly satisfying when you get a really good transfer. I think Howl’s audience will enjoy playing with the process.” —Marlene Weisman
Xerox Transfer Art is a lesson-plan activity submitted to us by artist Marlene Weisman for the #HowlAtHome request for proposals announced towards the end of last year.
Share your creations with us via Howl’s social-media platforms on Instagram and Facebook. Those not on social media can email an image of their final project to Howl’s education director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join Marlene Weisman for an Instagram live demo of Xerox Transfer Art at @howlhappeninig on Friday, March 12th at 3 pm!
Participants are invited to transfer images from Xerox (toner) or color-laser copies onto paper, then draw, paint, or collage onto them to create fun and compelling works of art.
Keywords and themes: Xerox Art, Photocopy Art, DIY, Retro
- Old-school toner xeroxes or color-laser copies of high-contrast, small images
Note: Inkjet prints won’t work with this technique
- Acetone (hardware store) or acetone-based nail-polish remover
Note: Always use carefully, with proper ventilation, and away from flames and heat. Acetone can remove finishes or color on surfaces, so handle with care
- Whiskey glass or small tin cup
- Kitchen sponge, cut approximately into a 1 x 3-inch strip
- Burnisher: bone folder or blunt butter knife, or other sturdy tools that you can grip
- Good-quality smooth paper to transfer to and later draw/paint onto
Note: Paper with less “tooth” works better. Strathmore drawing pads (80 lb., regular 400 series) contain good basic paper; heavier watercolor paper works nicely. You can get even fancier with high-quality printmaking papers that have a cotton-rag content
- Masking or artist’s tape
- Hard surface to work on (optional: brown parcel paper on top for some layers of protection from acetone)
If you can find an old-school black-and-white toner Xerox machine, you’ll be rockin’ these when you do transfers. Color laser copies (on the color setting) made at the local Staples work fairly well. You can try reproducing your black-and-white images on the color setting. Inkjet images will not work with this process. Small, high-contrast images are best. Avoid greys or muddled areas. Experimentation is key. Keep at it; the more you practice, the more success.
The 9 Steps to Transfer Heaven!
Step 1: Securely tape the paper (that you’ll be transferring onto) on a hard surface.
Step 2: Cut out one of the images you’d like to transfer, leaving enough white space around it to have room for more masking tape.
Step 3: Turn the image face down and tape down securely, making sure the paper is snugly flat. You’ll be lifting one of the sides to take peeks.
Step 4: Pour a small amount of acetone or nail-polish remover into your cup and place nearby.
Step 5: Dip the end of your sponge strip into the acetone. Not too much but enough to moisten about half of the sponge. The more you do these you’ll be better able to judge how much solution to use.
Step 6: Noting where the image is (you’ll be able to see it through the paper), moisten the paper with the acetone-dipped sponge. The trick is to apply enough solution on it but not too much that it’ll blur your image. Work in sections, making sure each area is amply covered.
Step 7: Quickly take your burnisher of choice and vigorously rub, rub, rub with force until you see the paper is no longer damp with the acetone. (Holding down the paper with your other hand helps.) The more you do this, and the quicker you do this, the better the chance the image will transfer.
Step 8: Time to peek! Carefully unpeel the tape off one side of the image and lift it back a bit, leaving the rest of the tape in place. If you see the image hasn’t transferred well or you’ve missed spots, you can go back and repeat the process but only if the image can be placed down in the exact same place. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t! If it’s looking good, remove and discard the “spent” image.
Step 9: Grab some watercolors (Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus inks work great!), micron pens, graphite, color pencils, acrylic paint, whatever—and enjoy transforming your images into art.
Completed Artwork by Marlene Weisman
Marlene Weisman is a Brooklyn-based visual artist and graphic designer. Working in mixed-media, collage, assemblage, and drawing, her work explores appropriation, transformation, abstraction, and material culture. Some of her early Xerox transfer-art pieces were acquired for the permanent-study collection of the Museum of Modern Art and subsequently included in their exhibition Club 57:Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978-1983. She is featured in an episode of MoMA’s In the Studio YouTube series, where she demonstrates the process that went into that specific work and talks about the era. Weisman’s art has also been exhibited at BRIC House, the Islip Art Museum, NARS Foundation, Brooklyn Public LibraryCentral Branch, La Bodega Gallery, Ground Floor Gallery, ShapeShifter Lab, Site:Brooklyn Gallery, and other venues.
As a young, freelance graphic designer in the midst of the 80s downtown New York City music scene, Weisman worked with clubs, shops, bands, and record labels, creating their promotional material. After her club days, she became an in-house designer at NBC for several seasons of Saturday Night Live. Along with her ongoing commitment to producing art in her studio, Weisman is still working as a graphic designer and is currently putting together a scrapbook-style memoir documenting her early downtown days.
Social Media & Website:
Art website: www.marleneweisman.com
Graphic design website: www.marleneweismandesign.com
Photo by Bob Krasner
What inspired you to share this particular activity?
It’s the programming at Howl that inspired me to share it! Howl is a unique art-space and gallery that combines downtown New York City history with contemporary art and pinpoints how that connection informs the work of the artists they exhibit. My Xerox-into-art experiments started way back at the fondly remembered Todd’s Copy Shop. It’s a technique I’d had fun with throughout the 80s as a break from graphic-design work. I recently returned to it when I was involved with MoMA’s Club 57 show, which came about because I’d participated in two of the Xerox Art shows Keith Haring curated at Club 57. Xerox transfers are fun, accessible, a bit retro, and a bit subversive. They are addictive and surprising, as you never know how the resulting image will come out. It’s highly satisfying when you get a really good transfer. I think Howl’s audience will enjoy playing with the process.
How has participation in the arts contributed to your life?
It’s everything to me! I’m fully immersed in my local art scene, with a studio located amidst a vibrant group of fantastic Brooklyn/Gowanus/Red Hook artists and friends. I find it mirrors a bit of the legendary East Village scene that I dove into in the 80s. It gives me purpose, makes me feel badass, provides connection—but most importantly, I feel alive and valued. Art-making is a personal necessity for me, as my brain is always bursting with ideas that spark new series of work. I’m constantly experimenting with processes, including my inventive foray into transforming kitsch 3D-lenticular material into mesmerizing abstract collage pieces.
Images: (Left to right) Optimystics-Gumballs, Optimystics-Blue Science, Super Deep-Now What, Oh Lady-Behave, Stop And Go 2020, Super Deep-Fragile
Grounded in a community-arts education model, #HowlAtHome focuses on the process of making—connecting to materials and encouraging free expression. While COVID-19 makes producing work in community with others more complicated, trying new methods and using our hands to produce projects meant to inspire joy can build connections to ourselves and others—even when physically distanced. Submit your lesson plan proposal here.