Drawing With a Grid

gridded photograph

 Helen South

If tracing isn't an option then using a grid to copy your image may be just the thing. The added bonus of using a grid as a drawing aid is that you must judge relative distances and reproduce them, so it will help your overall drawing skills by training visual memory.

Preparing Your Image

  • Choose a large, clear image. You may need to scan and print out a small photograph.
  • Decide on your grid size—small enough that there is a line close to major points of the drawing (eg. each pupil and the mouth, for a portrait image) but not so small that it becomes confusing. For an 8 by 10 inch portrait a grid size of around half an inch up to one inch would be fine.
  • Draw the grid, making sure your lines are fine, straight and clear. Fine black marker works for lighter key images, but a dark tone may need a white gel pen. A valuable photo can be placed in a plastic sleeve or wrapped in cling film, with the grid drawn in OHP marker.
  • Mark the center intersection on the grid as a reference point.

Gridding the Paper

  • Using a sharp, medium pencil, lightly draw a grid on your paper. A same-sized grid is the easiest, as no adjustments need to be made. You can enlarge or reduce the size, but don't do it mathematically. You are judging rough proportions by eye, not measuring distances.
  • Darken the intersection of the center lines on the grid as a reference point.

Tor draw the image, you may wish to work methodically from one side of the image, or just begin with the most obvious features.

  • Edges and strong changes of tone make clear shapes in the photograph. Where one of these shapes crosses a grid-line, count how many grid-lines from your reference point the grid-line is.
  • Judge how far the shape is along the square, then count across and mark this at the same point on the grid-line in your drawing.
  • Do the same again, further along the same shape - for example, the line of the chin in this drawing. Mark the point where the shape meets another grid-line, then join the two, following any bumps or curves in the shape in the photograph.
  • Make sure you have drawn outlines for all the key parts of your drawing. Less defined areas, such as a patch of shade or highlight, may be roughly indicated too.
  • Carefully erase your grid lines, repairing outlines as you go.Now you are ready to start shading your drawing. Take your time, and make sure you use a full range of tone. Good luck!

Tips for Using a Grid

  • If you find it confusing knowing which grid square you are on, try numbering or color-coding them, or cover half of your image and only work on a small section at a time.
  • Use the same method to help draw a still-life, placing a grid drawn on a board behind your objects - but you'll need to close one eye when viewing to remove parallax (distortion caused by the different view from each eye).