a hand painting a tree using a reference in a homemade grid

3 ways to make your own drawing grid

This is such a simple idea, I’m sure you’ve all thought of it. But just in case there’s someone out there who hasn’t, I thought I’d post this tip today. After all, why buy something you can make in less than 15 minutes?

A couple of weeks ago I wanted try a new painting technique using a picture of a tree. I was practicing mixing ink and watercolor on the same brush, and I only needed the drawing to practice on. So I didn’t want to spend oodles of time on the drawing itself.

But the reference picture I chose was incredibly perfect for my technique (thank you to the amazing Sarah Burns, she’s a landscape artist and has great reference photos on her Patreon). I really liked how the structure looked and wanted to get at least part of it right before trying the painting technique.

So I decided to use a grid to transfer my drawing. This is a tried-and-true technique that’s been around since the stone ages (well, a long time anyway). I usually print the reference picture and draw a grid on it, or I’ve used photo manipulation software to put a grid on it and then used it with my tablet.

This time, however, I didn’t want to destroy my reference picture. What could I do?

Method 1: Draw a grid on a document protector

At first I thought of using a document protector, one of those clear plastic sleeves that you can put an 8.5 x 11 inch paper into to keep it from getting damaged.

a plastic document protector for a 3-ring binder

Using a ruler and a Sharpie, I quickly marked out a one-inch grid on one side. Then I slipped the reference picture inside and voila! It worked perfectly.

photo of a drawing grid made from a document protector
a drawing grid made from a document protector

I may do a half-inch grid on the other side of the document protector for smaller pictures. Since it works most effectively when the reference picture is snug in the sleeve, a smaller picture will have to be fixed to an 8.5 x 11 inch paper before I use it in the document protector grid.

While I was thinking of it, I also tried a couple of other options that I can use for laying on top of an image or holding vertically in front of an object.

Method 2: Using a file folder as a frame

For this one, I cut off the binder edge of the document protector, then cut the clear plastic in half to get two pieces. Then I made a grid on one of them with a Sharpie. I cut a “window” out of a manila file folder so that there was a hole completely through the front and back pieces of the folder, then glued the plastic grid between them so that the file folder became a frame for the plastic grid.

Honestly, this is very flimsy. I don’t think I’ll use this.

illustration of a homemade drawing grid
A grid made with a file folder

Method 3: Using cereal boxes for a frame

This same idea was used on the next one, only I cut up two cereal boxes to make the frame. I glued the plastic grid sandwiched between them and made sure the blank cardboard was on the outside. I also made this one smaller.

photo of a drawing grid made with cereal box card
A grid made with cereal box card

It works better than the file folder version. I like this one especially for taking outside, and might make another with red plastic for finding values in landscapes. It’s sturdy, and I won’t feel bad if it gets damaged since I can simply make another one.

But for the 8.5×11 inch reference size, I think I like the document protector the best.

a photo of a reference image sliding into a homemade drawing grid

Have you ever made these? What did you use?

I hope this is a useful tip for you. Using creative ways to solve a problem is quintessential for living an artful life!

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