How to Draw with a Drawing Grid

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid

This week, I’m going to show you how to draw with a drawing grid on a reference photo. This is my preferred method of creating line drawings. 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.

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid

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?

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid - Reference Photo with Grid

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid

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.

TIP: If you cannot print on large formats, but aren’t good with technical drawings, print your print as large as possible, then take it to a copy shop for enlargement.

Step 1

Block 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. You may want to draw more or less detail.

I usually spend one session on this stage, then set the drawing aside so I can review it with a fresh eye.

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid - Step 1

Step 2

Refine 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.

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid - Step 2

TIP: This is a good time to make any significant changes you want to make. The drawing is developed enough to see things you might want to change, but not yet so well developed making changes will be difficult.

Step 3

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 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 from a digital image, I enlarge it as much as possible without losing image quality.

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid - Step 3

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 with lighter lines, then went back over the drawing to correct any other errors.

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

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 as well.

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.

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid - Step 4

Step 5

Review the drawing again from the front. Correct any remaining problems based on the reverse drawing. Then erase the reverse drawing so you can clearly see the final drawing.

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

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid - Step 5

Why Drawing with a Drawing Grid Works

This method of drawing allows you to work a drawing from front and back as many times as necessary. 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.

Another Way to Check Your Drawing

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

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.

How to Draw with a Drawing Grid - Check Your Drawing

Will Drawing with a Drawing Grid Work For You?

Chances are it will. The method is basic enough for anyone to try.

But you may prefer to do your line drawings totally freehand. That’s okay! No artistic method works equally well for every artist. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses.

Drawing with a drawing grid is a great way to produce line drawings in any size, though. No matter what size your reference photo. So give it a try!


    1. 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!


    1. Ronald,

      Actually, the grid in this post are 1″. They just look smaller because the image shown here isn’t full size.

      I drew the grid on the computer using PhotoShop. You can about that process in this post, Putting A Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo.


  1. 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!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *