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Tag Archives: grid


The paintings, above, are gouache resists. It is a process involving the use of ink, white gouache and watercolor. I enjoy experimenting with all sorts of images when I create these. They all turn out different. If you would like to try this I have a tutorial here.

My Grandchildren have been back and forth this summer sharing all sorts of activities with me. This summer I taught them how to grid a portrait from a photo reference, size their format for proper dimensions and grid their watercolor paper to help them draw their Dad’s.

The following is what they came up with.

9 year old

The photo reference for the above portrait was from a Christmas photo.

10 year old

The above photo is the same Dad as the 9 year old’s but at a recent rock concert (making a funny face).

11 year old

Photo taken at rock concert.

I was amazed how easily they caught on to gridding and how happy they were when they saw they could see where to put their drawing lines in relation to the grid lines. They needed very little help from me. Noses and mouths were what they needed help with, but not much. We 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 activities. Children soak things like this up so quickly!



We are studying composition in my classes, right now. One of the first things we do is work on discovering the most interesting portion of the imagery we use for reference.

I teach my students the Rule of Thirds.


This means we divide our format (the space that we are going to use to create a painting on) into thirds vertically and horizontally. The areas of the format that are good to use to place a center of interest in are near or around where the lines intersect. Time has proven that creating two dimensional art where the most interesting aspect of a painting is placed in the center usually results in a static image or an isolated and boring composition. Greg Albert calls these intersections “sweet spots” in his book “the simple secret to better painting”.

In the image of the Bateleur Eagle, above, I decided the eye, surrounded by all that bright red was the most interesting aspect of the image. In order to place it on my watercolor paper, I had to crop the reference photo and draw a grid over the image dividing it into thirds, horizontally and vertically, so the eye and red area would be near a sweet spot.  You can see that the eye and red portion of the eagle are surrounding the “sweet spot” in the upper left quadrant.

Below are examples of two other paintings I designed from my reference photos in this manner:


I had too much foreground in the above photograph, so I used two “L’s” that I created by cutting a matte in two, to crop the photo to meet my needs. By cropping it in this manner, I was able to place the far child in a “sweet spot”, the foreground child between and to the left of the left side “sweet spots” and connecting the middle child to the first child in a “sweet spot”. This creates a pathway for the viewer’s eye to follow when viewing the portrait, beginning with the first child and ending with the far child.


The resulting drawing would look like above. The artist then erases the grid lines and creates their painting.

However, when you work from a grid, it only works when you create a format space that is proportional to the format space of your cropped image.

Here is an example of how to do that in the easiest way I know.


I crop and grid the above image. Note that the sweet spots are on the heads of the two people. The arm of the Grandfather holds the viewer’s eye on the page and leads to the book that they are both reading.


I then place the photo in the corner of my watercolor paper and angle a ruler or yardstick from the corner of the photo and watercolor paper through the opposite corner, diagonally, and make a mark somewhere along that diagonal line. Anywhere on that line is a multiple of the dimensions of the cropped photo that I plan to work from.


I then divide the format in thirds


….and draw the image.

Thank you to Wet Canvas for the reference image for Bateleur Eagle.

The eagle was painted on a grunge background. I describe how to create a grunge background here.



I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with my three Granddaughters this summer.  We went to the zoo and I snapped the reference photo for this portrait right before they rode the train. I am a lucky Grandma.

In order to draw this composition, I used a simple grid.



I frame the composition that I want from the photo.  I use two “L shapes” that I have cut from a matte in order to do this. I then draw a grid over the surface of the photo dividing it into three sections vertically and horizontally. This grid helps me to draw the scene or figure in proportion. It also shows me the four areas or “sweet spots” where it is best to create a center of interest. I chose this composition because the foreground and background girls were near and in a good place for a center of interest.



I then have to measure my watercolor paper (height and width) to be proper multiples of the dimensions of my reference photo. I grid the watercolor paper (lightly) with graphite and draw my composition.  Before I begin to paint, I gently erase the grid lines with a soft eraser.

I do not grid everything I create but it helps with more difficult subject material where proportion or likeness is needed.


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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