If you’re a portrait artist, or any artist working in realism, an accurate line drawing is essential. There are many ways to produce accurate line drawings, including the method I’ve used for most of my artistic life. The grid method of drawing.
The plain and simple fact is that I’ve grown so familiar with this method that I assume everyone knows what it is and how to use it. Reality was revealed by the following reader question.
Would you please explain your grid method for this beginner?
Since I’m wrapping up a piece of artwork this week and haven’t a new piece for a tutorial, I want to explain the grid method of drawing for this week’s Tuesday Tutorial.
(Don’t worry! This isn’t a technical article, but a quick overview. There are links to more detailed articles if you’re interested.)
The Grid Method of Drawing Explained
With the grid method of drawing, you draw or superimpose a grid on your reference photo, then draw the same grid on drawing paper. The subject is drawn square by square. When you finish drawing what appears in each square, you end up with a complete drawing.
A grid can be drawn directly on a print photo, on a digital photo, or on a sheet of clear plastic that you mount over a print photo. If you use a print photo, use an enlargement whenever possible. This will make the details easier to see.
Draw horizontal and vertical lines to create the drawing grid. The lines produce a series of squares. The squares can be any size. Thirds (three squares across and three squares down.)
Four squares across and four squares down.
The Golden Ratio.
Or a fixed pattern.
In other words, the grid can be set up any way you wish. I usually set grids up with 1-inch squares because it’s easier to reduce or enlarge a 1″ grid.
TIP: The more complex your subject, the more squares your grid should have.
Read Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo.
Drawing with the Grid Method
Once you’ve decided on the type of grid you want to put on the photo, draw or print the same type of grid on a sheet of paper. You can use good drawing paper if you wish, but that’s not essential, since this first drawing is unlikely to be the finished line drawing.
There are a couple of way to make this drawing. Printing it is the easiest way. The article I linked above describes how to print an identical grid every time.
You can also draw a grid by hand. Just make sure your measurements are exact, and that the squares you draw are proportional to the squares on your reference photo. This is the best way to make a grid on drawing paper if you want the final drawing to be larger than what you can print.
Read a full-length tutorial that begins with a printed grid.
Read a full-length tutorial that begins with a hand-drawn grid.
Why You Might Use the Grid Method
Reproducing a reference photo with the grid method of drawing is a great way to break a complex subject down into bite-size sections. Make a finished drawing square by square, or rough in the entire composition, then refine it, square-by-square.
It’s a good way to create line drawings of unfamiliar subjects.
You can easily and accurately produce original line drawings that are smaller or larger than the original reference photo.
It can help you learn to see your subject better and draw more accurately, especially if you don’t trust yourself to freehand draw accurately.
Whether or not you use the grid method of drawing is entirely up to you. Some artists find it restricting and confusing, while others use it exclusively to produce line drawings.
It has worked for me for years, even with very complex subjects.
The best thing I can suggest is to try it a couple of times. If it suits you great! If not, look for a better drawing method.
After all, there is no right way to draw!
I don’t understand how to use the grid when I need to enlarge or make the picture smaller. Can you explain how to do that? Often I’m handed a 4×6 and am asked to draw a 9×12 or 11×14.
If the drawing is twice as big as the photo I’m using, then I make the grid twice the size.
For example, for your 4×6 photo, if you put a grid on the photo that’s half-inch squares (the lines are 1/2 inch apart,) and you want to make a 9 x 12 drawing, then the grid you draw for the drawing should be about one inch.
I don’t recommend putting the grid on good drawing paper. If you do, you’ll have to erase all those grid lines or make sure to cover them with colored pencil.
Make the grid on another sheet. I often use plain, old printer paper for this work because it doesn’t matter if the work is permanent or not.
When you’re happy with the drawing, then you can center it on the drawing paper and transfer it.
You can, of course, increase the size of your line drawing by other quantities. You could make the line drawing grid a quarter inch larger, for example.
I hope that helps. This is a pretty basic explanation of a potential complex process. It really deserves a post-length article.
Thank you for your question. Let me know if you need any further help.