How to: The Grid

Hi guys!

Wow! It’s been an eternity since I last posted! I apologize. I just wasn’t inspired to make a tutorial- I am now! So here’s one on how to use the grid method to get the basic structure of a portrait. This is what I use to do my portraits, and although many people seem to hate this method, I quite like it. I find it easy and less time consuming, plus, it’s much more accurate.

So here I’m going to be showing you exactly how I draw the basic sketch for a portrait of Rihanna I’m currently working on.

Here’s a printout of the reference. (Yes, the colours are slightly strange. My printer’s probably forgotten to take its meds. 😛 ) It is 25 cm long, and 15 cm wide.

1. First, we decide on dimensions. I’m going to be dividing this into boxes with sides of length 2 cm. You can choose a larger or a smaller number, what ever you’re comfortable with. We begin by drawing vertical lines 2 cm apart, starting at the left. (The length of this print out is not even, so it is important to remember that we started at the left!)

2. Next, we draw horizontal lines, 2 cm apart, starting at the top- the breadth is not an even number either! So now we have a grid.

3. I choose to scale the portrait to 1.25 the size times the print out, and multiply all the dimensions by 1.25. So, the length becomes around 31.25 cm, the breadth, 18.75 cm, and the grid-lines would be 2.5 cm apart.

4. So now, like we did on the reference, we draw vertical line, but this time 2.5 cm apart and starting from the left. (That’s because we’ll be left with a small section at the right of the grid, and we want to make sure it stays to the right.) Also, make sure the lines are light enough so they can be rubbed off completely, yet dark enough so they’re visible.
5. Complete the grid by drawing horizontal lines, 2.5 cm apart, starting at the top. (This time, the small section will be at the bottom.) Since my grid is larger than my ruler, I make markings for the horizontal lines on a vertical line almost halfway across the grid, and draw halves of the horizontal lines first.

6. Then, we make markings on the right end and connect the lines, completing the grid. 

7. Whew! The worst is over. Now comes the fun part. We start by drawing the perimeters of the portrait- in this case, her hair. This is so that we know all the important stuff comes within these boundaries. So here’s the key to using a grid: Don’t judge the shapes on the reference. Look at the lines. See where they cut the lines  on your grid, and how. This will get clearer in the next few steps.
8. Now on to the jaw line. This is kind of a crucial line, since it pretty much dictates how the face is shaped. Make very sure to try and cut the grid-lines at the points where they are cut on the print out. Again, do not bother much about the shape! I can not stress this point enough. And if you feel it looks strange, wait till you’re done with the whole thing, and if it still looks out of place, change it. That’s the great thing about pencils- the erasers! Add the lines for the neck. The shape of the neck looks weird here, but that’s because of the hands.

9.  Let’s go ahead and add the details around her face. I had to be extra careful with the fingers, because of the length of her nails. If you erase off a grid-line by mistake, don’t rush to go over it with a ruler. Just draw it back on roughly. As with the jaw, watch where they cut the grid-lines. (I’ll keep saying that so you guys don’t forget- it is quite easy to forget about the lines and estimate the shapes, but then that defeats the purpose of a grid….or well, the purpose of the grid based on how I use it!)

10. Now on to the face. This is, most definitely, the most important part of the portrait. When it comes to the facial features, the 2.5 cm lines seem too far apart for me, so I go back to the reference. Here, as you can see, I drew more lines between the ones that were already there. These lines, both horizontal and vertical, cut the grid into 1 cm-squared boxes. That is,each box is cut exactly in the middle (1 cm from each end) both horizontally and vertically.
11. Going back to our portrait, we cut the corresponding boxes at 1.25 cm from each end, both horizontally and vertically. 
12. Again, draw in the lines to make the eyes. Be careful while counting the squares, though. (I know, because I made them a box too close!) See how much easier it becomes with smaller squares? That’s because, the larger your object is in comparison to the grid, the lesser the error you make. If someone out there has taken AS-Level Physics, they’ll know what I’m talking about (Percentage error).
13. Finish up the rest of the face. This might take patience, since, sometimes, the sheer number of lines may drive you insane! This one, thankfully, is much easier. Also, if the features don’t look exactly the same, chances are, it’ll be fine once the shading and the dimension come in. For example, here the nose looks a little wider than it is, but once the darker tones come in, it’ll be just fine.

14. As always, add or delete lines till you’re happy with the finished piece. The whole point of the basic sketch is to add as many details as you can, so when it comes time to fill/colour it in, it’s easy to gauge exactly where a particular tone goes.
And there you have it! A basic sketch to get your portrait started!

I really hope you guys like it, and I hope this technique helps. If you have any requests please do let me know! 


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