My first introduction to drawing with a grid came long, long years ago, back when I was barely out of high school. I was not an artist, but I was an avid puzzle fan, and Dell Puzzle magazines almost always included a grid-drawing feature in every issue. Actually, I am still a fan of puzzles — crosswords, acrostics, and other pencil games, including my absolute favorite, cryptograms, but that’s beside the point.
The point here is that I learned about drawing from a grid many years ago, but not being an artist I (a) was not good at completing those grid-drawings, and (b) never considered that a grid could be using for completing drawings on my own. Nope, not at all. It would be more than forty years before I bravely and boldly decided to teach myself how to draw.
As for the puzzle grid, in case you’re not familiar with the feature, they were often referred to as “Mystery Drawings”. To see what the picture was, you had to follow the clues — numbered squares that you were to copy onto the correct location on a grid. Like this:
I did not fare well with these puzzles, and as often as not, I simply skipped over them. I knew my limitations, and drawing — even with the use of these squares and the grid — was not my strong suit.
Five years ago, as I began learning to draw, I came face to face again with the grid technique, not as a way of solving a mystery picture puzzle, but as a means for accurately drawing from a photo reference. The first time I saw it demonstrated, the artist used the technique to draw a magnificent animal — I believe it was a gorilla — and I shook my head. No way. My experience with those puzzle grids was enough to convince me that I’d never be able to use the system, no matter how practical or easy the instructor made it look.
But then, as I neared the end of my first online drawing course, I wanted to test myself a bit. That’s when I drew The Cat, and because using a grid was one of the techniques I was supposed to know how to do, I decided to give it a try.
The Cat doesn’t look like much, but it holds a very special place in my heart. As you can see, it actually does look like a cat. Maybe not the best cat ever drawn, but for an old woman who’d been learning for no more than a few months, it looked like a very good cat.
I liked my cat so much and felt so much pride in having drawn it, that I framed it and hung it on the wall. That’s why that glare is there in the photo. The drawing was under glass and that’s the reflection of the camera flash.
At that point, I had to concede that maybe grids could be helpful, and maybe I could actually learn to use them.
So, fast-forward a few years. Most of my drawings are landscapes, and I don’t find the grid method especially helpful for those. In doing portrait drawing or still life drawings, however, I can see the advantage of a grid. Occasionally I will use one.
A good introduction to drawing with a grid comes from The Virtual Instructor. Although the site does offer memberships, this is a free lesson. Here is a link:
The grid method typically uses squares. The size of the square can vary depending upon the amount of detail in your reference photo. Most photo-editing programs, by the way, allow you to superimpose a grid over a photograph. You can then print out your photo with the grid, and use it to create an accurate drawing on your page, having a similar grid marked there. After the drawing is complete, any unnecessary pencil lines can then be erased.
But grids of different shapes can also be used. Here is an illustration of a triangular grid:
With these larger areas, you’ll need a bit more drawing skill, perhaps. I can’t speak with any experience here. I’ve never tried using this method.
With a triangular grid like this, measuring/sighting tools can also be used.
As you can see here, the artist has started at the center point and has marked various “references” to show key features. Those measurements can then be copied onto the drawing page to create a reasonably accurate reproduction.
Using a grid also allows you to enlarge an image or make an image smaller. Crafters have long used grids to copy patterns from books and magazines, enlarging them to the correct size by simply using larger squares. That’s another technique I’ve never been good with. One more reason why I don’t do many crafts.
For me, drawing with a grid will probably never be something I fully embrace, if only because it brings back memories of my failed attempts in the past. And, again, most of my drawings involve landscapes which don’t necessarily lend themselves well to this method.
If you’re working with still life subjects or doing portraits, you might find it useful. It can also be helpful, I think, in architectural drawing.
Now, you might be wondering what that “Mystery Grid” puzzle picture above is. I haven’t got a clue, and no, I’m not going to print it out and try it. Sure, I’m curious, too, so if anyone decides to complete the grid, please comment and let us all know what that “mystery” picture is!