Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Teacher

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid

This week, I’m going to walk through the method I use to draw full size drawings from reference photos using a drawing grid. With this method, you can do same size drawings, reduced-size, or enlarged drawings. It’s a great way to do even the most complicated design.

Let’s get started.

Original Drawing of Fire & Ice Filly

I used this image as a demonstration piece for putting a grid on a digital image. (Read all about that here.) What better subject for a drawing demonstration?

Preparing a Drawing Grid

I begin drawing by printing the grid on a sheet of paper if it’s small enough to go through the printer. If it’s not, I draw out the grid by hand. Precise measurements and careful line drawing is vital when drawing the enlargement grid by hand. The smallest inconsistency will affect the drawing.

For this project, I printed the grid on legal paper and was ready to go.

Step 1

The first stage is blocking in the major shapes. I draw some detail at this point, but it’s more important to get placement, size, and shape as quickly as possible. I usually spend one session on this stage, then set the drawing aside so I can review it with a fresh eye.

Original Drawing of Fire & Ice Filly

Step 2

The next step is refining the image on the drawing grid. This is a process of reviewing and correcting the basic drawing and adding detail. There is no ‘written in stone’ process for this. I start with an area that’s easy to get right, usually an ear, then work the rest of the drawing against that part.

The only thing I didn’t finish was the halter, which is a very Arabian sort of halter with no buckles, a rope-like headstall with brass accents, and a chain under the chin. I haven’t yet decided how to draw that or whether to leave the halter on so I sketched it lightly, then left it alone.

Original Drawing of Fire & Ice Filly

Step 3

Time to get the drawing off the grid. I tape tracing paper over the original drawing, then redraw it and refine it in the same step.

If I’m working from a hard copy photograph, I will use magnifying equipment to get a good look at the details. I have an OptiVISOR that works great for this kind of work.

If I’m working off a digital image, I enlarge it as much as possible without losing image quality.

After several attempts at halter treatments, I decided to remove it altogether, which meant the drawing was finished on the grid. I transferred the drawing to tracing paper, correcting shapes and placement as I worked. Then I added highlights and shadows, then went back over the drawing to correct any other problems I found.

I finished for the day by darkening the ‘hard’ edges of the drawing so there was some distinction between those edges and the edges of the highlights and shadows.

Original Drawing of Fire & Ice Filly

Step 4

Working a drawing in reverse is a great way to reveal natural biases. I’m right handed, so I tend to slant things to the right. That’s not the problem it used to be, but it does still intrude now and again.

By turning the tracing paper over and working on the backside of the image, I can neutralize that bias. This is especially easy with a digital image because I can flip it horizontally.

This is also a great way to get a better rendering of details. The shapes of ears, eyes, and nostrils, for example. I fine tuned every place that looked a little bit off, darkened the outside edges and edges of shapes (mane, forelock, blaze) so set those lines apart from the shadows and highlights.

For the sake of this demonstration, I did the reverse work with a red pencil. They aren’t very dark, but you can see the graphite lines where I made changes.

Original Drawing of Fire & Ice Filly

Step 5

Another review from the front. Any remaining problems are corrected, based on the reverse drawing. Then the reverse drawing is erased so I can clearly see the final drawing.

This little gal is now ready for transfer to the drawing paper.

Original Drawing of Fire & Ice Filly

I like this method of drawing because it allows me to work a drawing from front and back as many times as I need to. This drawing went fairly well and very quickly. I spent less than a week on it. Probably no more than three or four hours.

Some larger drawings have required that many weeks and several sheets of tracing paper to get right.

For larger, more complicated drawings, I often scan or photograph the drawing, then superimpose it over the reference photo in PhotoShop to see where and how the drawing is incorrect.

Drawing of Lockkeeper

Here is a drawing in which I used this method to check the drawing. As you can see, there are a few areas that are not correctly drawn. Those areas were corrected using this composite as the reference. I repeated the overlay until the drawing was as correct as I could make it.


Mini Clinic – Squaring Up Photos in Photoshop


On EmptyEasel: How to Draw Realistic Wood Grain Details with Colored Pencils


  1. Thanks for this mini clinic Carrie! It came at the right time for me and it saved me from having to draw out all those lines when I chose to do this drawing using a grid for better accuracy!

  2. Oops, forgot to say, I linked from my blog back to this explanation too 🙂

  3. ronald

    very interesting great job on the horse

  4. ronald

    nice lessons i still find it hard to get the grids straight i dont know why. can draw them freehand but takes a while to get the shapes so i trace it and work fro there.

    • Ronald,

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.

      I started drawing the grids on the computer because it was so time consuming to draw them by hand. I can still draw grids by hand and usually do for larger projects. But I always put a grid on the reference photo by using PhotoShop on my computer. It’s a lot easier and faster.

      There is a post describing how I do that here, if you haven’t read it already.

      Thanks again for reading Horse Painter and thank you especially for leaving a comment!


  5. ronald

    i dont know how you did this the grids are so tiny compared with 1 inch very confusing

  6. Bev Symonds

    Halleluiah. . . .Carrie, you just saved me a major amount of work!! I’m just starting a Kingfisher and if you hadn’t shown us how to turn the tissue paper (tracing paper) over. . . . my poor bird would have had his tail feathers. . . . .well, let’s, just say he would not have liked where they were going !!
    Thank you so very very much !
    When I get my bird done, maybe, just maybe I’ll be ready to try a horse. . . . .eek!!

    • Bev,

      Most of us don’t like our tail feathers doing in odd directions!

      I’m the tracing paper idea is helpful.

      Personally, I think horses are a lot easier to draw than birds!

      Best wishes with your kingfisher. Thanks for reading and commenting.


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