Drawing With a Grid


As artists, we try to capture with accurate precision what we see down on paper or canvas, unless you are working in an abstract style. Like i mentioned before, a photograph is a great tool to work with. Now that you have the photo, you have to transfer it to your working surface. There are people who say that using the grid is not something that a true artist should use. Artist have always looked for methods to capture the moment as accurately as possible. Just like the camera is a great tool in art, the grid is also very helpful in drawings. But, when working with grid, don’t just copy the reference, try to understand what you are drawing. The distance from eye to mouth,perspective,depth, so that later on your eyes will automatically calculate distances and you will use the grid as reference less.

Well the grid is not a new technique, it has been around for a long time. Like i’ve mentioned before it is very helpful in accurately transferring your reference to paper. This method teaches you also how to accurately draw in proportion. Artists such as Van Gogh and Da Vinci used the grid, but we attribute it to Albrecht Dürer. His magnificent drawings shows such realism and the grid was part of that success.

Its a simple technique where you place a grid on your reference and having the same grid pattern on your paper, you transfer the image using the squares as reference.


Well its a fairly simple process. I will explain the method that i use

For me the purpose of using the grid is to get the drawing on paper accurately. I first start by dividing the paper in half. If its possible use a mechanical pencil with a 2b lead to draw the grid. This way you barely have to touch the paper with pencil to get a line and it won’t leave an indentation on paper, it will also erase easily. Now, lets take for example an 11″x14″ sheet of paper. Half of 14″ is 7″ and half of 11″ is 5.5″. Plot these points on paper and these will be the half way points on paper. I use a T-rules to draw down the center, but if you don’t have one, you can just plot on both sides of paper and just align them with ruler to draw the line. Ok, now you should now have something similar to this.

grid drawing


Now what i do from here is draw the remaining lines starting from the center. My grid is made up of 1.5cm squares. So now place your ruler and start dotting in increments of 1.5cm. If for example you place the ruler down on the paper and vertical center line lines up to 10cm on your ruler, the next dot on the paper should be placed at 11.5cm and so on. until you get to the end. You do the same going to the left of the line, except the next point will be 8.5 cm and so on. Its the same process going up and down, except you now use the line that divides the paper horizontally. When you are done plotting the points, you should have something like this. I made these lines darker so you can see them, but on your paper they should be barely visible, enough for you to see them, so the lighter the better.

grid drawing


Now you connect the lines using your ruler or a T-ruler. Again, make sure you lightly draw them so marks are not left on paper when you erase them. After you are done drawing the lines, you should have something like this. erase around the edges so that you are left with a white border around the sheet and the 18×22 squared grid.

grid drawing


You know have the space that you will be working on, this is for 11″x14″ sheet. Different sized paper will get you a different grid. If you are working with large drawing paper, it would be best to make the squares bigger so that you don’t have to be drawing too many squares.

Grid the Reference Photo

Now, how do you get the grid on your photo? Well i draw from my computer so i just open up my reference image and put a grid over the image, save the the file as a photoshop document(.psd). Whenever i need to draw i just open up the file and the grid is there.

Lets take this image as an example.

grid drawing


Now open up the image in photoshop and make sure grid is on, if its not, go to view->show-> put check mark on ‘Grid’. You should now see this

You can’t see the lines that well because of the grid color. You can change that by going to Edit->Preferences->Guides, Grids and Slide… Here you can change the size of the squares and grid color. This window should open.


Ok, from the grid on the paper we know that there are 18 squares going across and 22 going down. On this window we can change the ‘Gridline every’ value until until you have the right number of squares squares going up and down,in this case 18 across and 22 down. Once you have gotten the grid as close to the edge as possible with the number of squares that you need, click ok. You’re left with something like this.

Go to Window->Layers, the layers panel will open up. double click on the layer that says background and when the window opens click on ‘Ok’ and it should be renamed to ‘layer 0′. Well, now you can do 2 things, you can resize the image so that it fits within the grid that we need or just use the image area within the grid area.

If you decide to resize go to Edit->Transform->Scale. Now you’ll be able to resize the image. Make sure that you keep the shift key pressed when resizing so it keeps the image in proportion. With shift key pressed on keyboard, with the mouse pull the bottom right corner of image up until image it is within the grid that you need. Once you are satisfied with size, press Enter key. If you want to center image just use the up and down arrow keys to move image around. Now you can copy the whole grid area. Go to Window->Tools, this should open your tool panel, the first one is the select tool.

grid drawing

Go to View-> and put a check mark on ‘Snap’, choose the ‘Select Tool’ and click the top left corner of image and drag down to bottom left until you reach 18 across and 22 down. The selection will snap to the grid. Go to Layer->Flatten image. You should have something like this

Now the area that you will be drawing is selected, go to Edit->Copy. This will copy that area to clipboard. Now go to File->New and click ok. A new document will open. Go to Edit->Paste. This will paste what was copied previously, which is the area that will be drawn. If grid is not visible go to View->Show->put check mark on grid. Now you can go to save and save it as photoshop format(.psd). Now whenever you need to draw just open the file and you’ll have the image with the grid.

Another way that you could have done it is instead of resizing just copy the area within the grid without resizing. This method will crop the image to the size of the grid.




You can use this method to draw the outline down on the paper, once you have it down you can print out the image that you saved and you will have that as reference for the detail. If you don’t have photoshop you can use GIMP which is free and you can check out this tutorial on using grid here. If you have questions or need something cleared up, please contact me or leave a comment. Keep on drawing :)