How to Use the Grid Method When Drawing or Painting

The grid method is a popular way to easily reproduce photographs or other works of art accurately.

If you have a photograph that you'd like to make a painting or drawing of, you could set the photograph nearby and just begin to sketch it freehand, but this usually won't result in an exact replica of the proportions in the photo.

Instead, some artists use the grid method. With the grid method, you first need to draw a grid of equal height and width over the original work (or usually, a scanned copy of it).

Then, draw a grid of equal proportions on your canvas (or paper—whatever your work surface is). With both grids in place, you can focus on reproducing one square at a time until the final work comes together like a puzzle, with all the proportions accurately depicted.

Some artists are hesitant to use the grid method because they think it's "cheating," but you need to keep in mind that it’s usually the end product that really matters, not the method. Using grids for art dates back hundreds of years, and one of the most well known artists, Leonardo Da Vinci is known for using it (both in his own work and to teach art students).

You are still the artist, and you still created the work. Especially if someone is paying you to create the piece, they won't care how it was done as long as it’s an accurate finished work delivered on time. If the grid method helps you, by all means, use it when you learn to oil paint!

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To use the grid method for your own works, you’ll need a good ruler, a scanned copy of your work, and a writing utensil. You’ll be erasing your grid afterwards (or painting over it), so keep that in mind when choosing your pencil. The most important thing to remember when using the grid method is that your original piece and your new piece must have grids drawn in a 1:1 ratio.

This means that if you have a 3x5 inch photograph you want to reproduce, you can only do so in 3x5, 6x10, 9x15, and so on. This assures that the reproduction is exactly proportional to the original work (which is the whole point of using the grid method).

Draw a grid on your scanned copy of the original work, and then do the same for your new work. Remember, you should have the exact number of perfect squares on each one. Once the grids are in place, focus on only one square at a time. Look at exactly where the lines hit the sides of the square, and don’t worry about anything outside that square.

In this way, you’ll be recreating the work exactly as it is, not as you perceive it is (which may very well be different). Once you’ve copied everything over, you’ll need to erase your grid (if it’s a drawing) or paint over it (if it’s a painting). Then you’re done! You now have a replica in the exact proportions of the original.

The grid method may be a bit time-consuming, but it is a basically free way to reproduce or enlarge other works. Additional methods include using transfer paper or the easiest of all, using a projector to project the original work onto your canvas or paper. But a projector is expensive and a ruler is not at all, so consider using this method if you’re looking for a low-cost way to reproduce a photograph or other original work.

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