Though often considered a beginner’s tool, grid drawing is used by new and experienced artists alike.
Drawing faces and the human form is one of the most difficult tasks an artist faces, which is why so many despair at the thought and stick to landscapes or still lifes. Drawing people takes practice and dedication, as well as an arsenal of tricks – one of which is drawing on a grid.
What is Grid Drawing?
This is a method of defining proportion. By drawing on a grid, the artist keeps proportion of the head, body, limbs, and extremities. The head stays aligned with the shoulders, the neck is the right length and width to support it, and so on.
Copying Using a Grid
I drew for many years before I even heard about the concept of grid drawing. Once I began drawing with a grid, I felt it helped me to better develop the way I perceive things spatially during those times I drew without a grid.
If you’d like to try grid drawing out for yourself, here are some simple beginning steps:
First, use a ruler and pencil to create a grid over the original image. Perhaps it is a photograph or a picture in a magazine. Make your grid in a comfortable measurement, like a centimeter, a half an inch, or one inch squares. If you don’t want to or are unable to draw a grid directly on the photograph, you can make a transparent overlay. Better yet, make a grid on the computer over a digital image.
On your drawing paper, create an equal grid. To keep your drawing the same scale as the reference photograph, the ratio absolutely must be 1:1. That means if you used an inch on your photograph, use an inch on the drawing paper. Use a light hand when drawing the lines, so they can be erased later.
Now the drawing can begin. Square by square, begin copying the master image to your drawing paper. This smaller area of focus keeps the process from being overwhelming. After all, you are not copying a whole face; you are copying merely one square inch of it. It’s like the old adage “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”
After working your way square by square, congratulations – you have a completed image! At this point, you will need to carefully erase your lightly-drawn grid lines. If you like, you may try your hand at shading or enhancing; that is, once you are comfortable with the act of copying.
Disadvantages to Using a Grid on Your Drawing Paper
The above method requires you to draw a grid onto your drawing paper. I used this method for many years with terrific results, but it does have some distinct disadvantages.
First of all, you have to take extreme care to measure precisely when drawing your grid lines. They also need to be perfectly straight, parallel, and perpendicular to each other. If your lines are off, your drawing will be off too.
Secondly, once you take all that time to draw a face that’s just the way you want it, you have to go back and erase the grid lines. Even if you drew your grid lines lightly, there’s a chance that some of the grid lines will still be seen after you erase. What’s worse is you can accidentally erase small lines and details that are important parts of your final drawing.
Alternate Method (Much Easier)
There is a method of grid drawing that is much easier than placing a grid directly onto your drawing paper. I use this method whenever I can now. Here it goes…
First, create a custom grid with the proper measurements for your project on your computer. You can easily accomplish this with the table function on Microsoft Word, for example. Once you have the grid created, print it out.
Then tape this grid onto a light box. Tape your drawing paper on top of the grid paper. Turn your light box on. You will be able to easily see the grid squares showing through the drawing paper.
Draw your picture, one grid square at a time. When you are finished, simply cut the light box off. Presto….you have a perfect drawing and no grid lines to erase!
Advanced Grid Drawing
Once you’ve conquered the face, you can use this same technique to draw other parts of the human figure. Draw the neck and shoulders, torso and arms, or even a full-length view of the body.
You may also feel comfortable changing the size of your drawing, all the while keeping the same ratio. Let’s say your original photograph is 5″ x 7″, and you want to create a 10″ x 14″ drawing. Just use the same aspect ratio. Create a grid on your original of so many squares, each of, say, one inch. Then on your larger drawing paper, use an equal number of squares, measuring double the size – 2 inches.
By keeping the ratio consistent, the drawing remains the same, only the size changes. Math and art – what a combination!
You Are In Good Company
Grid drawing is a very old, very powerful tool for accurate drawing, employed by the likes of Leonardo DaVinci and Johannes Vermeer. DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man is a classic example of using a mathematical formula to draw the human form with great accuracy. So don’t feel that it’s an amateur’s cop-out or cheating, just because it seems so simple. Sometimes it’s the simplest methods that produce the greatest results. Get started today and create your own masterpiece!