How to Draw – Grid Drawing

Grid drawing was the first learning tool for most beginning artists and is used to enlarge or shrink drawings accurately. This lesson will also help the more advanced artist remember the basics and to stay sharp

This technique is not new. A lot of famous artists in history used this tool.

The main point for using a grid is to allow you to check your work and to teach you to draw and see more accurately using the lines as guides to compare your work to the subject.

Remember that once you have created you drawing you can then erase all the unwanted lines and finish your drawing with colored pencils. Check out my reviews on some of the best colored pencils for finishing out your artwork.  

Grid Drawing Method

Challenges for the Beginning Artist

As a beginner you have probably copied other artist’s work for practice. It is fun and can be very challenging to match another artist. This is a good way to prepare yourself to do your own creative work.

Chances are you use the freehand style of drawing. As a beginning artist drawing exactly what you see can be a very difficult task. I have tried drawing portraits from photos and found I was unable to keep certain parts of the face in the right place and when finished it did not look like my subject.

By using the grid method I was able to make the necessary adjustments for a finished piece by working on smaller sections and bringing them to a finished state before moving to the next section. 

This drawing method breaks your subject into smaller more manageable pieces.

Try copying a drawing or picture in freehand then place a grid on both pieces to see how close you are to your subject or redraw with a grid and see which drawing is more accurate.

Grid Drawing Creates Better Accuracy

Grid drawing method
25 2 inch by 2 inch squares = 10 inch by 10 inch grid

The biggest difference between a trained artist and a beginning artist is the ability to see things more accurately. Some people have a natural ability but most do not. Lot’s of practice and the use of certain tools help in developing an artist’s ability to draw more accurately.

One of the most common tools is grid drawing. The grid is used to divide a subject into equal squares and creating this grid on your own paper gives you a guide. Noticing mistakes and correcting them is made easier through the squared off sections of your subject, allowing you to see and draw more accurately.

Drawing With A Grid

First, draw your grid using squares on your subject piece. Making sure to keep a true square. Now draw a grid on your paper matching the same number of squares. Notice, you can make your squares smaller or larger giving you the ability to change the size.

The grid drawn here is made up of 1 inch by 1 inch squares.

Grid drawn over a photo of a wolf
Grid drawn over wolf subject photo

If you are enlarging to fill your paper then always start with the longest side of your subject. This will ensure you do not run out of room. For example, a 5×10 converted to a 10×20, you would count up 20 squares first to see if you can fit on the paper.

Pick a square and start drawing while paying attention to shapes in relation to the grid lines. Being right handed I like to work from the left side of the grid first so I don’t smudge my drawing. Only work on one square at a time using light pressure at first so mistakes can be erased more easily. Now, darken the lines that are good. Follow this process through each squared off section until you have it just right.

I have found that using a grid also enables me to see the negative shapes more clearly and causes me to look at the subject more often. This would be the shape around the wolf in the above photo. The grid enhances the artists eye to better see the shapes around the main focal point which makes the drawing even more accurate.

Grid Drawing – Types of Grids

Grids are a flexible tool. You can create them in just about any size and shape. For example, a tall building would require a tall vertical grid while a bus would need a long horizontal grid.

Enlarging a wolf photo using grid drawing method
Notice I divided the grid where the wolfs face is.

It does not matter how many squares you use as long as they are of equal size. I have doubled the size of the grid in the photo above. If you look closely you can see where the face square was divided into 4 more squares to give more accuracy when drawing the eyes and ears.

For more detail and accuracy, such as with portraits, going with smaller grid squares will give the best possible shot at creating a portrait that looks like what you are drawing. 
I used portraits here because it is a very difficult task to draw a portrait in freehand and make your piece look like the person you are drawing. Lot’s of practice is needed to accomplish this.

For a more simple subject like cartoons, larger squares can be used as the details are less than that of a portrait or photograph. 

A good rule to follow for beginners is 1×1 squares on your subject and paper. I have found that trying to duplicate a photo will improve control of your pencil. I use a combination of the basic shape method of drawing with the grid drawing method which I do not recommend for beginners.

Basic Materials To Get Started

Pecil and rule on a black background

Pencils

A good set of graphite pencils is recommended due to the different lead types from hard to soft but any pencil will work. These grid techniques can also be done with colored pencils.

Drawing Board 

This is a square board that is smooth and rigid while providing a way to prop up your drawing to a comfortable position.

Only use the drawing board for drawing purposes to help in keeping the surface flat and clean.

There are many types of drawing boards out there to choose from which should make it easy to find what best fits you.
If you are in need of a drawing board then see my reviews on the best drawing boards.

Tip: By applying several sheets of paper to the face of your board you can peel off layers as they become dirty. This further protects the surface. Be sure to leave the side of your board uncovered because they are needed for another tool.

T-Square 

This is for drawing horizontal lines. 

When using the t-square make sure the head of it is tight and flat against the edge of the drawing board.

Triangle

Use the triangle with the t-square to draw vertical lines. These two tools will help draw grids quickly and accurately.

Masking Tape

Use this to secure your paper to the drawing board.

These are just the bare necessities for getting started and the most affordable way for those on a budget.

Advanced Grid Drawing

Shading With A Grid

Grid drawing can help with shading your art.

Try creating smaller grids inside the squares of your original grid to focus your attention on much smaller areas. This comes in handy when drawing larger than your subject.

Eye drawing shaded blue using grid drawing

As long as you divide the grids up the same on your subject and drawing, this advanced technique should help you to zoom in on the finer details of shading your piece as accurately as possible.

A good example of shading can be found in my art lesson on How to Draw With Colored Pencils.

Drawing Tables

As you develop your skills as an artist you might find yourself in need of a larger drawing surface. There are all kinds of different tables out there but it is highly recommended to buy one that has an adjustable top.

A good drawing table will serve you for many years making this a very solid investment.

Tips & Tricks

Drawing in Hot Weather

Sometimes when it is hot or you are drawing in the sun your hands can become sticky and wet. This causes your skin to stick and smear your work. Avoid this by using a clean sheet of paper between your hand and your artwork. 

Prevent sticking by using a little talcum powder or cornstarch on the surface of your barrier paper.

Cutting Paper to Size

Sometimes you might need to cut your paper to a specific size. In this case a standard one sided straight razor or hobby knife can cut clean straight lines if used properly.

For straight lines use a metal straight edge as a guide for your knife or blade. Try not to use the corner of the blade as this part gets duller quickly and can tear the paper.

Of course, you can use a paper cutter if you have one.

How To Transfer Your Grid Drawings

Using tracing paper, also called onion paper,  is a great paper to start your preliminary sketches and grid drawings but you need to transfer your drawing to a more appropriate paper for your finished artwork.

There are two methods for transferring from one surface to another.

  1. The See Through Method – Must use a lighter weight paper to be able to see through to trace the drawing.

By taping your paper to the window you can trace your drawing on to your new paper as this acts like a light box in daylight hours.

A light box must be used if needing to draw at night. I have heard of people using their televisions in the same manner.There are many different types of light boxes on the market today. It is also a very easy tool to build at a very affordable price.

2. Direct Transfer Method – Can use any weight paper or canvas.

The graphite transfer is done by coloring the back of your drawing with a softer grade pencil then tracing your drawing onto your new paper. I found you can use just about any pointy object such as a pen cap to avoid adding more graphite to your original drawing or sketch.

You can also mirror your drawings by using a soft grade pencil for your original artwork then flipping over and tracing the backside of your drawing creating a mirror image on your new paper. This works with both methods.

Overcoming Obstacles

When using a grid to draw from other artwork or photos you will find that it is difficult to draw exactly what you see. Don’t worry, this is normal. As you practice you will get better.

Draw With A Light Touch

You should sketch lightly so you are able to come back and erase the lines you do not need,  correcting your lines as you go. 

Remembering to look at the subject often, always comparing to your work.

Don’t Rush

Slow down and pay attention to every detail, making the necessary adjustments as you go  in order to get the best possible results.

Always Keep Your Artwork

 Not only does this serve as your portfolio it is the best way to see your own improvement over time. Being able to gauge your progress is invaluable since it boosts your self confidence and drive to do more masterpieces.

I have found in the past that my best work would end up in a family members hands or even in the hands of the school. Which helped in my enrollment at the age of 14.

Grid Drawing Review And Checklist

Final Checklist

  1. A grid can be any size or shape.
  2. Squares must be equal in size.
  3. The number of squares must match on the subject and the model.
  4. Work in one square at a time.
  5. Draw lightly for easy erasing and line correction.
  6. Make the final lines bold.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of grid drawing and how it can help to train the artist to draw what they see more accurately than before.

Like they always say, Practice makes perfect. Well, almost!