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Let me say, this is not me but one of my Granddaughters with her Grandpa. I wanted to try and capture that moment when, we, as Grandparents, get to share those first moments of our Grandchildren finding out they can read.

I also wanted as close to a likeness as I could get because I was going to paint family members. I’ve worked, for years, trying to achieve likenesses and find it one of the most challenging, yet rewarding and fun exercises in painting in watercolor.

I do not like taking the time to make a grid or a value sketch, but did so with this particular portrait, in the hopes that it would help me achieve likenesses.


I began by gridding my reference photograph into 9 equal rectangles. You can grid your photos in squares all over the page if you want, but I decided to keep it simple by dividing my photo, vertically and horizontally, in thirds.


The next step was to size a piece of my watercolor paper to multiples of the same dimension as the reference I was using. I did this by setting the reference photo in one corner of the watercolor paper. Then I placed a yardstick  along the diagonal of the reference photo (corner to corner) and marked a point I wanted along the diagonal of that yardstick. Are you following me? You can make the size of your painting any size you want but in order to get the image proportionately correct, when you draw it, your format must be a multiple of the dimensions of the reference photo. Rather than do a lot of math, I choose to do this. Once you mark that point, you then draw a vertical line and horizontal line from that point to the edge of your watercolor paper and you have a multiple of the dimensions of the reference photo.  If you grid a piece of watercolor paper without the same dimensions as the reference photo, your image will end up as a distortion of the original.


Then I divided that format into thirds, vertically and horizontally, to match the grid I made on the reference photo


and drew, as best I could what I saw fall into each rectangle. This helps with proportion, especially any foreshortening that may be present, as well as diagonals. It really helped me with getting Grandpa’s glasses correct.


The above is something I rarely do, but have discovered, recently, that I am getting a little better at drawing quick value sketches. I did this because I wanted to be able to see, more dramatically, the areas that I may want to leave very light so I would get the effect of light in my finished painting. Note….my sketch is not proportionately correct nor is it detailed. I think that is what always stumped me with these before. I just said I wanted to see some essence of the light pattern I may be able to get with this.

Then I began painting. Hope this helps anyone out there to try this if they are really searching for likenesses in their paintings. There is still a whole lot that goes into a likeness when you apply your pigment, but this is a start that may help.

Below is the progression of this painting:

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  1. love the composition! 🙂

    • Thank you, so much, Diva! 🙂 Have had the reference photo for this laying around for over a year and finally got the nerve up to try it.

    • LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words
    • Posted September 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm
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    you have created a timeless wonder …
    Take Care..

  2. Wow! Such a beautifully captured moment! Both of their faces are terrific. And it’s so sweet and light and lovely!

    My goodness. I do not do likenesses – so much pressure! And so easy to get wrong! One day I might do some dogs. But people, oh heck no. (That is, I know that with practice I could maybe eventually get better, but I’m not focusing on it at the moment. I suppose.) 😀

    • I know. I know. When I began to draw, in the 80′s, I set a goal for myself. My drawing instructor told us to pick a subject that we could never ever imagine being capable of drawing. I chose people. I loved horses but pushed that aside because I figured I’d take her up on it. I have been working on people for years, now. Because of this, I think I have been better able to render a horse, also. Does that make sense? I’m still working on both.
      My struggle, now, is breathing some fun and some more life into my imagery so I study on. Paintings I create from a grid have sort of a rigidness to them. I need to find places for softened edges and where I can use some of the other techniques to let go a bit. Patience? Perhaps and like yousay, “practice”. Thank you for your insightful comments, always. I truly appreciate them.

  3. Wow! So beautiful! So inspiring! With your steps I will give portraits a try my self!

    • You are back! Thank you for stopping by and thankyou for the comment, Chelsey. I just ran over to your space and saw the B B King. You do portraits! 🙂 I liked it!

  4. Great painting, great post. The lines help to get the correct sizes for each area. I also use them in some drawings, they make the drawing much easier. Sometimes I just ‘reserve’ space with polygons or circles, then I detail each area.

    Thank you very much for showing the progression. It shows how did you get each color with successive layers.

    • Thank you, Nuno. I usually use crosshairs when I draw portraits, opting out of all these lines but am fully aware of how the grid helps us “see” things we can take for granted and omit. I think your use of polygons and circles is fascinating! Thank you for that idea!

  5. WOW!! This painting is amazing! What a treasure. I love the trick with the ruler at a diagonal. If I use a grid, I end up doing the math. This is better! You are always teaching me, Leslie. Thanks for that extra time you take to do this.

    • Me too, I was using the math until I stumbled upon this diagonal idea in an art book. I love the little things we all pick up and share as we explore what we do! Thank you for teaching me, also, through your creativity and brilliant use of color!

  6. I use the very same technique Lesley. I was showing one of my learners a drawing by Michael Angelo where he still left his grid lines showing. Lovely work.

    • I faintly recall several pieces I have seen with grid lines and/or plumb lines still visible in a drawing. I like that a lot because it shows shows the artist’s creation from start to finish. I find them so interesting. It is also why I like seeing telltale pencil marks in a finished watercolor. Great to hear from you again. I took a trip over your way and see our subject matter is similar. 🙂

  7. What a beauty Leslie. And Grandpa and granddaughter will be able to treasure this forever. (Grandma too!) I knew about the techniques you showed in this post, but have never been as successful at them as you are here.

    And I like Keith’s comment about Michelangelo’s gridlines still showing in one of his drawings. Who knew. You are our Michelangelo! 🙂

    • I am still working on this grid idea, Carol. It seems like my paintings, when I use them come out too stiff; like I’m concentrating too hard. I need some sort of happy medium like using those crosshairs. That seems to allow me some freedom of movement in my lines, etc. But, I realise, too, that others may benefit from gridding. I need to find soft edges better and I think that is going to come with time and practice and “seeing” better. So, the grid has not always worked for me and I struggle with it, too.
      You are too kind comparing me with Michelangelo, you know. I don’t think there is enough time left to ever draw or paint anywhere near like his. It is interesting that he was the first great artist I was drawn to. Who I really admire is Homer. I love Homer’s watercolors! Thank you, so much. 🙂 You made my day!

  8. What a wonderful painting for your family. I’m going back tomorrow to read all about your grid. I’m too sleepy now.

  9. Beautiful work, Leslie!

  10. Leslie, I think this is a magnificent piece. For me, grids are the only way to go in getting a true likeness. Since I started using them for portraits I have to say that I so enjoy the portrait process and even my final results. Alas, I sure can’t manage the paint nearly as beautifully as you have here!!

    • I remember you saying that, before, about a grid, Sherry. I rarely use them, opting for crosshairs, but see the value in this, too. Thank you for your comment.

  11. Lovely portrait. I agree that portraiture is incredibly hard and I generally use a grid for layout too. Anything to help get it right because even slight variations are so visible to our eyes. I am sure your family will love it.

    • I hope they look enough like themselves to meet family approval. It is so hard to capture those nuances. I have finally decided to just do them, regardless. Not a one of my self portraits look like the other. It’s amazing. But! I like that I have a record of my attempts and growth. Perhaps that is what the family will eventually see, also. It’s just fun. I think you are doing great with your animal portraiture, lately! Thank you, Ruth.

  12. impressive drawing and painting, Leslie… inspiring work…

  13. Beautiful piece, I really enjoyed reading/seeing your process.

  14. This painting itself reflects a story, a story that most of us can relate to! This reminded me of my grand father and my brother who used to do these sessions long long ago and I hope to do it one day in my life too!Very beautiful work Leslie!

    • Thank you for this, Padmaja. Your story is exactly what I was trying to illustrate with this piece

  15. Really beautiful painting , beautiful story ! Enjoyed to read and see the process of painting ❤️❤️❤️

  16. I love that your family inspires you to do artwork about them!

    • Right now I am teaching a portrait class, Al. It’s a good time to get caught up on portraits of family and their pets. Thank you for this comment!

  17. Loved seeing the progression, from the photo, to the grid, to the value study and on to the finish! I will try the grid to enlarge my next portrait!

    • Inese Poga Art Gallery
    • Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:40 pm
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    Great painting! However, I don’t use grids or other scaling and measurements. I just draw what I see. I suppose, it’s always easier to draw from the real model or object, at least for me. I remember when I was drawing portraits, very few people could wait when the drawing session was over. In that regard, you are mastering a great stuff because like I said, it’s somehow difficult to use photos in order to capture everything.

    • Wow. I missed your comment, here, Inese. I’m sorry for the late thankyou. I did not use grids for ever so long. I do not use them for every portrait. Grids are, however a technique used by artists and I fingd them very helpful as and aid to seeing perspective and achieving a likeness. I believe in working however the artist enjoys creating. I like working from life but find I work more from photos because my lifestyle allows for more painting time in the evenings.

  18. Heart warming!!!….

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] the format of our watercolor paper to be dimensionally correct to the reference. We then learned to grid each of them to help us get accurate proportions to our drawings and […]

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    […] used a very simple grid and  divided the paper into 9 sections. I have described how to do this in this post. It was a great exercise in math. They were able to see how math can be important in everyday […]

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