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How to Draw from a Gridded Reference – Tutorial

August 19, 2009

As an extention of my post about tips on gridding, I have decided to write a more in depth tutorial on how to draw from a gridded reference image. I’ve included pictures to help show what I am talking about. When using a grid to draw, I try to image the squares being divided up even further. In your mind, split the squares in half, or in thirds, to help you judge where lines intersect.

For this I will be using the same reference image I used for my eye tutorial. I am using a B pencil to make it easier to see, but you shoud use an F or H pencil for gridding so that you can erase your lines later. This is the image I am working from:


One way to draw from a gridded reference is to draw one square at a time. This means isolating each square and drawing the shapes within it. Use the edges of the square to judge the placement of the shapes. I will start with the square three in and three down.


Sorry for the pixellation, it can’t be helped when the image is made this large… So first I’ll start with the inner edge of the eyelid. I can see that it starts in the bottom left corner of my square, and ends about one third of the way down the right hand side of the square.



Next I’ll look at the edge of the iris. It starts at the bottom, not quite in the middle of the square, and ends at the eyelid about one third from the edge of the square.



To draw the eyelid, don’t just look at the line of the lid, look at the negative shape created by the edge of the square and the line of the lid. Draw the triangle it creates, instead of drawing the line.



Continue drawing the shapes inside each square and you will see the eye start to develop.



Now you’ve drawn the basic features of the eye, but there is way more information that you can get from your reference image. The more you draw now, the more accurrate your finished drawing will be. Draw the shapes made by the shadows and highlights, using the edges of the square and the lines you’ve already drawn as reference. Remember to look for the shapes created by negative space.



Another way to draw from a grid is to look at the large basic shapes and draw them as they intersect through your grid lines. Instead of drawing everything inside one square, you would draw the outline of the entire eye in one go. Make sure you study the position of the line inside each square as you go or you might be tempted to draw more from your mind than what you see.



Continue drawing in the rest of the features, using the grid to measure where they go.



Here we have the shape and placement of the eye and brow, but let’s get everything we can from the reference. The area around the eye is important to shade correctly if the eye is to appear natural. Because there are no features to judge by, it can be difficult to know where exactly the shadows should go once the grid is erased. For that reason, you should draw the shadows in while the grid is still there.


These lines will be your guides when it comes to shading. They show you the boundaries of the darkest shadows as well as the edges of your highlights.


From → Drawing, Tutorials

  1. thanks Miranda:)
    I’ve seen those big sets of sharpie markers, are they fine tipped? I will have to try them out sometime (I have a few of the colored sharpies, the fine tip ones, but I’d like to have ALLOT of colors!)
    take care

  2. Personally I like using this grid device for formalizing my designs when composing a picture rather than for copying. This technique is good for enlarging a picture as well but it isn’t very good for drawing since it only copies and doesn’t create. Overall nice tutorial keep them coming.

    • Hi Adaline. Good point! The grid is just a tool for helping create. I will be following this up with a post about why not to grid! Thanks for visiting!

  3. Great tutorial, especially the part about outlining shadows and highlights.

    Grids can be hard to erase, though. I prefer using a grid of dots instead of lines. The dots are much easier to hide in the final drawing.

    I look forward to your post on why not to grid. (:

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