Art Newsletter

 Transferring Your Drawings and Sketches Onto A Canvas or Other Work Surfaces                                                   for a Painting 


Have you ever wondered how artist transfer the subjects they are drawing or sketching over to a canvas to begin a painting?   There are severals methods one can use to do this, but I will be describing the GRID method here.

The grid method is an inexpensive low-tech way to reproduce, add or enlarge an image that you want to paint or draw.   The grid method can be a fairly time intensive process, depending on how large and detailed your painting will be.   It has an added benefit of helping to improve your drawing and observational skills.

In a nutshell, the grid method involves drawing a grid of equal proportion on the work surface you will be using for the painting (such as paper, canvas, wood panel, etc.) Then you draw the image you intend to portray on your canvas or work surface focusing on one square of the grid at a time, until the entire image has been transferred to the intended work surface.

Once you're finished you simply erase or paint over the grid lines and start working on your painting, which will now be in perfect proportion.

To use the grid method, you need to have a ruler, a paper copy of your reference image, and a pencil to draw lines on the image.   You will also need a work surface upon which you will transferring the photo(such as paper, canvas, wood panel, etc.)

To draw the grid lines on paper it is suggested that you use a mechanical pencil so that you can get a thin precise line. Be sure to draw the grid very lightly, so that you can easily erase it when you are finished.

To draw the grid lines on canvas or wood, it is suggested that you use a thin piece of sharpened charcoal.   Again make sure you make the grid lines as light as possible, so that they are easy to erase when you are finished.   The benefit of using charcoal on canvas or wood, instead of using pencil is that charcoal can be easily wiped off with a paper towel or rag, whereas pencil can be more difficult to remove.

The important thing to remember whe drawing the grids is that they must have a 1:1 ratio meaning they should be equally proportional-otherwise your drawing will be distorted. Basically, 1:1 ration means that you will have the exact same number of lines on your canvas as you will have on your reference photo that you will be drawing from and that in both cases the lines must be equally spaced apart-perfect squares.

Let's say you have a reference photo that is 5" x 7".

Example of a reference photo:


As luck would have it, you want to make a 5"x7" painting from this photo.   So drawing the grid will be pretty straightforward.   But if you want to make a large painting, you could also make a painting that is 10"x14" or 15"x21" or 20"x28".   Why would they have to be these sizes?   Because those sizes are the same ratio as the 5"x7" reference photo.  In other words take:

5/7- Twice the size of 5/7 would be 10/14

3 times the size of 5/7 would be 15/21

4 times the size of 5/7 would be 20/28

This is basic math. The size of your artwork must always be equally proportionate to the size of the reference photo.

Because of this, its important to be aware of what size canvases and wood panels are commercially available.   If you stretch your own canvases, you can get stretch bars in just about any size to suit your needs.   But if you're like most of us, you buy pre-stretched canvases, so you are limited to the the popular sizes.

Suppose each square of your grid is an inch.   To draw the grid, put your rule at the top of the paper that the reference photo is on and make a small mark at every inch.  Place the ruler at the bottom of the paper and do the same thing.   Then make a straight line connecting each mark at the bottom with its partner at the top.

Now place the ruler on the left side of your reference photo paper and make a small mark at every inch.   Then place the ruler on the right side of the paper and do the same thing. Then using your ruler make a straight line connecting the marks on the left with their partners on the right.

Example of photo reference paper with grid:


Voila! You've got a grid! Now you have to repeat the same procedure on the paper or canvas you're going to transfer this image to for painting.

Once you've done this you've got a grid on your work surface that perfectly matches the grid of your reference photo paper.


This is the grid you will have on the paper or canvas you are going to draw or transfer the image to.  It should match the grid drawn on your photo reference paper.

Because this painting will be the exact size of the reference photo, the squares on the canvas or paper its to be transferred to are also 1 square inch.   If this painting is going to be 10"x14", then the squares would need to be 2 square inches because if a 5"x7" painting will need a grid of 1" squares to work, a 10"x14" painting would need 2 inch squares because 10"x14' is twice the size of 5"x7".

If you are not sure these are the correct measurement for the grid using this math procedure, then ask yourself:

•Are there an equal number of rows and columns as there are on the reference photo.

•Are the squares on the canvas or paper the image is being transferred to, perfect squares just like the squares on the reference photo?

If you can answer yes to both of these questions you've got the gridding process down pat!

It is suggested that in order to keep track of where you are amongst all those little squares you should mark them numerically and alphabetically along the edges of the paper and canvas.   This way if you get lost, especially within a much larger painting with many more squares, you can easily locate where you want to be.  You should write the numbers and letters really small and lightly, so that they can be easily erased.

So now your task is to transfer what you see in the reference photo, block by block onto your canvas or paper.  When using the grid method, it is suggested that you always start at the top left corner and work your way across and down.   Since square A1 is blank in the reference photo we'll move over to A2. Draw in A2 exactly as you see it:


The grid basically divide the original image into smaller blocks so that you can more easily see what belongs where.   You can see that in the photo, the left side of the little bowl intersects the corner at the bottom left square A2.  So you draw the line from there to just below the middle of the line between A2 and A3.  That first block was easy. Now do the next block:


So you see that as you are transferring the image you are only paying attention to one block at a time.   Don't worry about the other blocks-just focus on that one block.   Try as much as much as you can to copy exactly what you see in that little square on your paper or canvas.   Focus on getting the placement of each line just right


I think you get the idea now.   Basically you continue on in this manner until all the squares are done and the image is completely transferred.   By focusing on one square at a time, you end up drawing what you actually see and not what you think you see or even what you think you ought to see.   Once finished, you now have a pretty accurate rendition of your reference photo, ready for painting or drawing.

When you are done transferring the image, gently erase the grid lines.     




This is all the art info for this month. Look for more info next month and                                                     have fun creating.