Ideas for grid?

Hello everyone!

My painting skills are progressing a bit, but I find that I do need to start with a grid. Once I get everything carefully laid down the painting goes well. But I have found just creating the grid to be very challenging. After priming, when it’s time to lay down the grid, I am extremely careful and try to be as precise as I can possibly be. But I have found that even just a tiny variation in the angle of the yellow pencil can really throw off the grid and therefore the drawing.

I found some pre-gridded canvas which worked OK. What I didn’t like about it is that I couldn’t prime it with a neutral color plus surface for painting was not ideal. I couldn’t prime over it because then I would lose the grid. So now I’m back to more high-quality canvas, the Geneva primer, and making my own grid. But it’s difficult to be precise enough.

I’m just wondering if anyone has found a good technique to lay down a really accurate grid. And now I’m on larger canvases so it’s going to be even more difficult. I’m kind of wondering if I have to just be extremely patient and lay down each line with a long straight edge and even clamps. That will be a very time consuming process on a 24 x 30 canvas. Anyone have any brilliant ideas?


  • dencaldencal -
    edited June 2021

    I have found this triangle lattice method the easiest - no measuring, automatic sizing,
    smaller triangles can be used for more detailed areas, creates rule of thirds lines.

    Start by drawing lines corner to corner. So much faster than rectangular, measured grids.

    Just remember to have the source image and the new canvas the same proportion. That is the drawn through corner diagonals line up.

    Trying to find live links…. Hold on…..

    This link gives step by step with graphics - Check out this link:

    Here is Vermeer's The Girl in the Red Hat set up for drawing on the canvas.

  • edited June 2021
    I sometimes use grids for very complex and detailed landscapes. I put the grid down after staining the canvas. I use a 42" steel ruler (available at most art stores and at hardware stores) and an oil based pencil. I use rough canvas so I have to keep sharpening the pencil every few lines. It's a bit tedious but I can do a one inch grid on a 40" x 40" canvas in under an hour. I don't do an under drawing but paint directly over the grid. The ochre coloured pencil I used for the grid is oil based and mixes with the paint. That's ok for rocks but it can taint the colour of skies if you scrub paint onto the pencil marks. Therefore, it's best to either paint those areas with fluid paint and soft brushers that won't disturb the pencil. Or, you can isolate/fix the grid and drawing with a spray of retouch varnish. Some people use hairspray to isolate/fix a grid/drawing.  For portraits I imagine an under drawing would be necessary. When painting landscape sketches and still lifes from life I don't use a grid. For still lifes I use proportional dividers and a few key lines as per Mark's instructions. I only use a grid for landscapes after I've completely worked out the composition using my onsite sketches and my image editor. I like to move rocks, trees and mountains around a bit. The grid helps me transfer this final reference as accurately as possible to the canvas. 

    Hope this is helpful.  :)

  • Dencal's method is absolutely the best if you are using grids.  I start with the diagonals of the canvas to find the center and then lay out the vertical and horizontal center lines.  No measurements required.  

    The nice thing about this "no measurement" system is that any amount of enlargement or reduction is easy.

    Sometimes I combine Mark's two reference lines and proportional divider with the grid and just use the grid as a double check.
  •  I have often divided a canvas with cross lines if I need some exact reference for my layout drawing.   I am afraid my brain does not do so well with just horizontal and vertical.   I have never put the reference into a corresponding grid.  Therefore, I must confess to never having used proportional dividers either.   
    I am not exact/precise  enough and am a bit too "rip,....and bust" when it comes to beginning a work.   I often end up in difficulty and run out of canvas due to this!   My answer is to start with a canvas or board bigger than I need.  That way it can be cut down later. I am either a slow learner, or just plain stubborn; or both!

    I find if I labour too much on the drawing, I lose the spontaneity of what I am trying to paint.  Perhaps I need to rethink how I work?  It may save a lot of time and heartache in the long run....

  • @toujours perhaps there is a system that is in between? 

    My plein air mentor has been having me to lay out the darks and the lights first, sometimes even going so far as to do a complete value painting in monochrome.  She has me start with a rough 4 value sketch on an index card to get the composition right, then pick the best one and do the same on the canvas.  Then I start filling in the details.  

    This keeps me from running out of room and makes it more possible to keep it spontaneous.

    Still working at it though!
  • mstrick96 - That is a good thought.  When I finish my current series of paper washes and get back to larger paintings, I will start experimenting with that idea.    Thank you for the suggestion.
  • Grids art as old the ancient Greeks. Rectangles contain dynamics that can help building powerful compositions. From the simple dynamic called Rabatment. Which starts by finding the base square. To the excellent book that suggests that design hasn't been an instinctive process but a process based in geometry. The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry by Jay Hambidge published by Dover. Available at Amazon.
  • Absolutely correct @KingstonFineArt.  It's all based on the human psychological principles of perception.  Gestalt Psychology is an attempt to identify and codify those principles. 

    Another good resource is Mastering Composition in Photography & Art – IPOX studios & Canon of Design
  • If you are just talking about laying the lines down, I use a marking gauge, a fence attached to a beam and a pencil.  As a woodworker I have lots of them.  They are pretty easy to make.  But the edge you are using the fence on needs to be true, so it works on square cut work like wooden panels and linen covered boards.  On cavanses you have buildup in the corners. 
  • It's not difficult. Just tedious. I find it easiest to lay the canvas flat and use a 42" steel ruler and a vey sharp pencil. Keep a sharpener to hand because you'll need it often.  :)  
  • Plein Air artist, Michele Byrne, uses a grid system based on the book that @KingstonFineArt referenced.  She uses it to help her compose her paintings.  It's also useful to help transfer the drawing.  Once you understand her system the grid can be laid out pretty quickly.  Once she started using this system, she began winning awards.
  • I scan a picture I want to paint into my computer and use a graphics program to add 2-pixel-wide, white horizontal and vertical grid lines.  I set bits-per-inch to a value where the desired spacing of grid lines falls on major divisions of the pixel grid rulers to make it easy to keep the grid lines parallel to the x and y axes. 

    If I am going to frame my painting, then before adding grid lines to the scanned image, I resize the image to 1/2-inch smaller in the wider canvas dimension, keeping the aspect ratio fixed.  Then I add white borders to return the image to the full size canvas dimensions.  This way, the frame obscures only the white border.

    I draw grid lines on the canvas using a Stabilo 8052 white pencil and a long stainless steel ruler (cork-backed, so it won't slip) and sharpen the pencil frequently with an electric pencil sharpener.  It is critical to put grid marks on the canvas at precisely the correct measurements and to make sure the grid lines cross the grid marks precisely. The only problem I've had with  Stabilo pencil grid lines is that if I make any corrections to my sketch (using a Q-tip moistened with mineral spirits), I have to redraw erased grid lines.  I tried using a white acrylic paint pen with a 0.5mm tip to draw grid lines once, but the lines showed through thin paint.  I think I'll try spraying a fixative over Stabilo pencil grid lines.

  • Something I have done in the past for large works ( which I learnt from doing stage backdrops at the school I worked at)  is to do a pen and ink drawing, of what you want to paint on acetate, then project it onto the canvas (with a projector).  It is then a matter of just freehand drawing the image you have drawn on a smaller scale as it is projected onto the canvas or wall, or whatever substrate you are using.

    A different way of going about getting the drawing you want onto the canvas if you don't want to do graphs.
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