How to Draw a Portrait Using a Grid

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Using a grid to draw portraits helps an artist recreate the human face in surprising detail. Functioning much like the scaffolding of a building, the grid tells the artist where to place the lines of the person's face in relation to the other lines on the paper. By drawing the portrait within the framework of the grid, the proportions turn out accurately. Although the method may sound complicated, it actually allows the artist to recreate a face with less effort than other methods of drawing.

Things You'll Need

  • Photographs
  • Ruler
  • Sharp-tipped marker
  • Select a photograph you'd like to draw. A head shot is a good place to begin.

  • Make a copy so that you don't have to mark on the original. If you have a photocopier that prints out clearly, then this is the way to go. If not, take the photo to the local printer and have a couple of high resolution colored copies made. If the photo is too small or too large, this also presents you with an opportunity to have the photo enlarged or made smaller, because the printer will be able to do that as well. Get two or three good copies made to be on the safe side.

  • Mark a graph on the copy of the photo using your sharp-tipped marker. Depending on the size of the photo, make a series of 1/2-inch to 1-inch squares on a copy of the photo until the whole picture is covered with the grid (see Resources).

  • Recreate the same grid on the paper on which you're going to draw the portrait. So if you have a grid on your photo that features 1/2-inch squares, make the same grid on your paper.

  • Study the lines on the photograph that you marked. For example, look at how the curl of the hair falls in relation to the lines of the grid. Ask yourself if the lines fall in the center of the lines on the grid or maybe a bit further down. Study the whole photograph until you understand how the lines of the photo fall in relation to the grid.

  • Begin recreating the portrait on your gridded paper, matching the curve of each line on your photo to the corresponding grid box on your paper. For example, if you're drawing what's inside the upper left-hand square on your paper, look at that same square on your photo and recreate exactly what you see, starting with the lines.

  • Continue drawing in the grid until a detailed outline of the person you're drawing emerges. It's important to draw the lines on your gridded paper exactly the way they appear on the photo. The more closely you can recreate these lines, the more accurate your drawing becomes. Erase the grid marks once the portrait is drawn in.

  • Finish your work by shading and shadowing your work, which will depict the light and dark areas of your portrait. Do this only after you have erased the grid lines from your portrait.

References

  • "How to Draw Lifelike Portraits from Photographs"; Lee Hammond; 1995
  • "Colored Pencil Portraits Step by Step"; Ann Kullberg; 1999
  • "Sketchbook for the Artist"; Sarah Simblet; 2005
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