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Portrait Drawing for Beginners: The Grid Method

Kalilah is a freelance artist and drawing instructor with over 10 years of experience. She enjoys teaching new artists how to draw.

My finished drawing using the grid method.

My finished drawing using the grid method.

The Grid Method

Learning to draw portraits? Here's what beginners need to know.

The grid method is used to create realistic drawings based on an image such as a photo or magazine. Follow this step-by-step guide to master this technique.

Remember, take your time and have fun! This isn't rocket science. It’s art. In art, there is no such thing as mistakes. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Choose an image

Step 1: Choose an image

Step 1: Choose an Image

Above is an image of a male model from an old magazine. You can use any image of your choice. If you’re using a photo, it is recommended that you have a copy made of it because you’re going to be writing on it.

Step 2: Draw grid lines

Step 2: Draw grid lines

Step 2: Draw Grid Lines

Begin drawing grid lines vertically and horizontally as shown in the example. The size of the image will depend on the distance between the lines (the larger the image, the wider the distance should be). In this image, my lines are a 1/2 inch apart. You should draw the lines a 1/2 inch to 1 inch apart. Next, number and alphabetize the spaces.

Step 3: Draw a separate frame

Step 3: Draw a separate frame

Step 3: Draw a Separate Frame

The image that I have is 4 by 4 inches. Whatever the size of your image, you are going to draw a frame that size along with the same grid lines (see example above).

Step 4: Draw 1-2 squares at a time

Step 4: Draw 1-2 squares at a time

Step 4a: Draw 1 to 2 Squares at a Time

Now begin drawing your image according to each box in the grid. You’re going to draw each section, one to two squares at a time. Also, lightly draw lines that indicate shadows and highlights.

Step 4b: Finish filling in the squares

Step 4b: Finish filling in the squares

Step 4b: Finish Filling in the Squares

Finish filling in the squares. You have the option of drawing in the background or not. As you can observe, I chose not to. I’m going to create my own background.

Step 5: Erase the grid lines

Step 5: Erase the grid lines

Step 5: Erase the Grid Lines

Begin erasing the lines and leave a border. Do the best you can without erasing too much of your drawing. If you do, just go back and fill in the line as much as you can. If you can’t erase the lines 100%, it’s ok! As you can see, some of the lines in my drawing are still visible. They will disappear as you blend.

Step 6: Fill in lights and darks before blending

Step 6: Fill in lights and darks before blending

Step 6: Fill in Lights and Darks Before Blending

Fill in your drawing with lights and darks according to the image and begin blending. Take your time with this, especially with the hair. Continue building tones and blend, blend, blend!

If you’d like, you can do a ‘color by numbers’ format by numbering your image by section according to the grayscale. For example, the skin can be #2 and the shadows can range from #3-#5. I decided not to create a background and just leave it blank. The choice is yours to make whether you want to draw the background in the photo, create your own, or leave it blank.

Your Turn!

You've now completed your drawing!

If you ever develop an interest in any other art forms such as fashion art/illustration, cartoon art, caricature, fantasy art, etc., this drawing lesson should be of value to you. To explore any art forms where you draw people, you have to have a basic understanding of how to draw the human form.

Please take your time with learning and going over this lesson. Use it as many times as you’d like, practice as many times as you need to, and have patience. I wish you continued success on your artistic journey.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do you use a grid to draw with a live subject?

Answer: I would recommend that you take a photo of the live subject & then print it out. Once it's printed draw the grid lines any size you choose. Make sure you save the photo or make a copy of it.

Question: Can a beginner draw a portrait within a year using grid?

Answer: Yes. If you follow the steps as instructed you can absolutely learn to draw as a beginner using the grid method. I would recommend that you practice as much as possible until you get the results you're satisfied with.


Kalilah L (author) from Michigan on July 21, 2020:

Thank you for your feedback!

Nishantha Rathnayake on July 19, 2020:

very helpful for beginners

Kalilah L (author) from Michigan on December 16, 2019:

Hello IamMissy, and thank you for your question. I believe the following link may be helpful in answering your question.

IamMissy on December 14, 2019:

How do you adjust the ratio if the picture and paper are different sizes using the grid method?

Kalilah L (author) from Michigan on August 22, 2017:

Thank you Gareth. Those are definitely some cool suggestions.

Gareth Pritchard from North Wales on August 22, 2017:

Yup, the grid reference method is great for getting things accurate but not only copying from pictures. You can use a grid drawn onto a clear plastic sheet with a marker pen, as suggested by Cheryl Paton below. Also you can hold them up to the real world and use them to draw real life scenes. You can fix your plastic grid in a position where you can look through it to draw what ever you can see on the other side. So it can be used to draw landscape drawings accurate as well. It's a great method for drawing anything, try it.

Nice concise instruction thanks.

tayo on March 26, 2017:

wow nyc cheers

Kalilah L (author) from Michigan on September 23, 2014:

Ok, thanks. I'll try that.

CherylsArt on September 21, 2014:

If you can't find pre-made ones, you can also draw them yourself using fine tipped permanent markers.

Kalilah L (author) from Michigan on September 21, 2014:

Thank you so much. That is a great option. I will definitely try the pre-made grids.

CherylsArt on September 18, 2014:

You did a very nice job. I like having grids pre-made on clear sheets that I can lay over the photo, so that I can keep the original photo or picture intact.