The grid method is a strategy employed by artists to help them create stronger compositions, and capture realistic scenes on their paper or canvas. Some people call it cheating. Some don’t.
Hi my name is Carrie and here on Artist Strong I help artists like you build your skill and develop your unique artist voice. And today I want to explore the question: does a grid help or hurt your finished art?
The grid method has been used for centuries. In some of the reason I conducted I read some people even find it during the time of the Egyptians. I couldn’t verify that information, but I do know artists of the Renaissance often used this method.
During this time period, they created a physical structure where they could string up a grid and then stand it infront of their subject matter. They would then create a comparable grid on their paper and use it to help them create their compositions and accurately fill the space. We have an example of this with this woodblock image of Albrecht Dürer’s grid stand here:
Draughtsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Reclining Woman, ca. 1600 by Albrecht Dürer, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Today we often use the grid in a different way. Many of us work from photo reference and place a grid on both our surface and the image reference that easily correspond and line up with one another.
I’m currently creating a series of artworks that celebrates unsung women from the 1940s. I found some royalty free images to work with and decided to use the grid to help me stay close to their resemblance. Here you can see a cropped and gridded image reference of one of my women:
Once I create the composition (I tend to crop and adjust my photo references before I use them), I grid it as you see here. I then create a matching grid on my canvas or paper, and begin using it to help me match up my squares as you can see in the next image:
After I do this, I generally stray from using or referring to the grid in terms of outlining my space. I often entirely focus on value instead. And that’s what I do when I begin to fill in my underpainting.
At this point, most of my lines from the grid are no longer visible, but it helps me lay in the general lights and darks of my image before I begin to refine the artwork.
While this work is not finished, you can see it pretty close to finished in the later images and it gives you a good sense of how you can move from a grid to your art.
Now that we’ve talked a bit about the history of the grid method and witnessed a present-day example of its use, let’s talk about its strengths and weaknesses.
First off, it’s a tool. Tools aren’t good or bad, it’s how we use them that matters.
The grid method can:
Help with capturing likeness from your image reference, with a focus on proportion;
Prevent you from drawing your object too large or small on the surface; and
Make your planning and layout process a lot faster.
Potential problems that can come from using the grid method include:
Tightening up your work;
Get you too caught up in matching your image reference and not focused on the goal YOU have for the work; and
The judgment you can face from other makers who see the tool as a cheat. For example, we were not encouraged to use the grid method in our instruction in some of the course content for a high school program I once taught.
Here’s the thing. That judgment, the last problem I mentioned, is really why we are here today. Too many of us are worried about whether we are good enough that when people question our methods, we feel inadequate and unworthy of the label, “artist.”
I’m here to tell you the next time someone questions your use of the grid method, to ask them why a tool used by Renaissance masters is not worth your time or use. And remind yourself why you show up for your art in the first place! There is absolutely NO shame in making your art and using all of the tools you have at your disposal.
Sometimes I use the grid method, sometimes I don’t. It depends on the artwork and my goals for the work. For some works, I know I can draw it quickly and accurately. Other times, I want the grid for additional support. So I’m here to say, DO YOU.
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Now, let’s start that conversation: what is your opinion – does grid drawing help or hinder? Tell us how you use (or don’t use) grids in your creative process in the comments below.
Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time here on Artist Strong.
I’m really liked the video. I used a grid years ago and had totally forgot about its value. I’m definitely going to use it in future art work.
Excellent Val! Be sure to share your work with us when you do 🙂
I taught the grid method to my fifth graders as part of a self-portrait unit. It helped them feel confident when they began the work even though many of them went “off the grid” as they added paint to the drawing. Some of my students continued to use the grid technique during middle school, especially when using a photo reference, as do I when I start a composition based on one of my photos.
Charmaine that’s awesome. And that’s such a good point – we don’t have to stick with the grid for the entire process, it may be only a starting point!
I always use a grid when drawing portraits. It really helps to get the shape and placement of the features right. Being able to do this first part of the portrait faster and accurately is a great motivation to continue. It doesn’t make sense to me not to use any tools available to improve your work.
Thanks for sharing Jane! I hope together we can normalize using tools to our advantage rather than continue to cultivate a belief it’s somehow cheating.
I’m 51 and just starting to draw. I bought a book and when I opened it, I was surprised to see the grid method. I immediately thought what a great idea. So, I have now draw 10 of the pictures in the book. What I find nice about the grid method is that as a beginner, I can end up with fairly decent looking drawings all while learning to make better strokes with the pencil and other secrets of the craft. As a beginner, I feel like it is a great benefit and motivator to be able to produce something nice right off the bat. The last picture in the book instructs us to draw the picture except to change the position of one of the arms of the person. So I am excited to reach that goal at the end. And excited to see what lies beyond the book.
Kevin good for you! I still use the grid method regularly and find it really helps me when I’m struggling to capture likeness in a portrait. I’m so glad the book has supported your learning journey… keep going!!! 🙂
It’s an ideal method when working from photos to up or down scale your painting.
Yes! Definitely! Thanks for sharing Peter.