Using Grids in Drawing

Using Grids in Drawing

Do you remember coloring and activity books that made you copy the picture?

 They looked something like this:

Two grids side by side. The one on a left contains a cartoon drawing of Baphomet. The one on the right is blank. 

Mine never turned out great as a kid because I largely ignored the grid, but it's actually a great way to train yourself to pay attention to proportions when recreating an image.

I actually relearned this technique in a middle school art class and discovered how drastically it could change my drawings. I went from producing uncanny valley/something is not quite right portraits to nearly photorealistic.

The reason is that rather than looking at the overall proportions and getting overwhelmed, I was able to focus on the shapes one little square at a time and maintain a better handle on the proportions of smaller, more manageable sections.

 Accomplishing this is a pretty simple, and there's a few ways to go about this:

  • Low-tech/traditional
  • Digitally assisted

Low-Tech Version

For the low-tech version, it's as simple as finding your source image and printing it out.

The labor-intensive part comes next, which consists of actually creating the grid. I simply take a ruler and make light marks at one-inch intervals along the edges, then connect them using a straight-edge.

 Printed out portrait with a one-inch grid drawn on it 

The grid also needs to be recreated on your paper or canvas (or whatever you're drawing on). I typically did this on paper using a 1:1 scale. The great thing about this technique is you can use it to proportionally scale up or down your images. All you need to do is adjust the grid on your paper. If I wanted to double the size of the image, I simply have to make my grid using two-inch intervals. If I wanted to increase it 150% I would need to do it at 1.5" intervals. Depending on the scale, you might need to do a little math, but don't let that drive you away just yet!

 A mostly blank paper with a one-inch grid drawn on it 

P.S. I recommend making your grid very light on your paper, so it's easier to erase or blend into the drawing without leaving dark marks.

Once your grids are complete on both source image and destination, you can start filling it in with the overall shapes, guided by the grids, then fill in the details.

 Drawing in the process of being sketched using a grid as a guideZoomed out image of a portrait drawing in progress 

Digitally Assisted Version

There are ways to cut down on a little bit of the labor in this, and that usually means wielding technology.

 One way is to open your source image in an editing software that allows you to measure distance. I personally like Adobe Illustrator, but I know not everyone can justify it, so using whatever software you like, create your grid and print it out. Illustrator is especially easy because of the grid tool, as there's no need to manually create your lines and duplicate them until there's a complete grid.

 This technique is especially easy if you own an iPad with Procreate.

 All you have to do is enable drawing guides under canvas settings and adjust the grid size to one inch, or whatever your preferred unit of measurement is. I prefer using a one-inch grid because it's an easy unit of measurement for me to work with and translates well to most paper and canvas sizes.

 Screenshot of drawing guide settings in Procreate


Now you have an image with a grid on your iPad and you can reference it as you draw.

I've actually used this technique to scale up from a one-inch grid on my source image to a one-foot grid on pavement for a chalk art exhibit.

There are lots of possibilities with this, so tag me in your work if you decide to try this out!

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