Sunday, January 30, 2011

Drawing using the grid method

looks a bit like my chicken Saffron

How often do you have students draw using the grid method?
I defiantly use it when working with a photo and find it helpful. The art teacher at the high school we feed into uses the grid method for a few lessons so I always make sure to have the kids do one or two grid projects during middle school art.

My students really dislike the method though. They feel it is too slow and tedious They hate having to go back and forth between the grid paper and the grid on the drawing. It takes time and patience. Patience and persistence being two things my students lack.

I have done everything I can think of to make the process easier. I make the grids on transparencies so the kids can simply tape them over the photo/image. Then I photocopy grid paper off that transparency so they match up exactly.

I have the kids number the boxes on both the transparencies and the grid paper. I give the kids overhead markers to trace the outline of the drawing onto their transparency and then to cross out each grid square as they are done with it.

I have shown them how to go one box at a time, one row at a time. I have showed them how to make a dot on the grid lines showing where the contour lines intersect with the grid lines so all they have to do is connect the dots.

I get them started with the first three boxes if they ask for help.

I offer a huge selection of images to work from from dogs to flowers to celebrities photos to pictures of cars and cartoon characters. I can't think of any other way to help them short of doing the project for them.

Yet 75% of the projects handed in look like Salvador Dali possessed my students while working and did a melting clock treatment to their drawings. Let's not talk about the cat drawing I received on Friday where the poor thing looked like it had been run over by a steamroller. Even my hard working kids seem unable to work with the grid method. They will call me over knowing that something looks funky with their drawing and I'll sit down and together we will count and compare where we put lines in the grid drawing vs. the original. 99% of the time the kids stopped counting the grid squares and just started randomly drawing what they saw. "IT takes tooooo looooonnnnnggggg!" They whine.

They all seem to be making individual progress in developing their contour drawing skills and ability to draw objects by breaking them down into simpler shapes.

So how important is it to teach the grid method to 5th-8th graders. Should I just accept that it is not working for my students at their current developmental level. Can I just leave this skill to the high school teacher? If you are working with at-risk kids who get frustrated easily is it better to back off or to force them to, "push through the pain," to learn persistence?

Most importantly is there something I'm doing or not doing on my end that is keeping my kids from achieving success. Do you have a hint or idea for teaching grid drawing? Am I missing a key component. I want to start a grid enlargement project based on the work of Georgia O'Keeffe and prefer to keep Dali out of the project.


  1. If you have an iPhone, iPod or iPad, there's a handy 99 cent app for this called "Artists Grid Tool" that might get some of the kids more interested. You should check it out!

  2. When I taught 7th grade, I always did a grid project. Some of the ways that were most successful for me:
    Sometimes I picked a large image that I numbered and cut into squares, giving each student one square to enlarge. They taped it onto graph paper and connected across. The trick was that they did NOT know what the image would be until it was put together. When we did this, I usually picked images that had clear black outline and blocked in colors with no shading. It was always successful because it could be done easily. We did a rainbow striped zebra, a giant Warhol Marilyn Monroe, etc.
    Sometimes I picked something really fun and unexpected for the kids to grid individually - my favorite was seed packages I got in the $1 store. We made them really big, glued them together with another sheet of paper (with beans inside) put them on a big stick, and then did a pop art papier mache project and built the giant veggies. FUN! We displayed the "garden" at an annual art show.
    Another fun favorite was done right after Halloween. The kids brought in tons of candy wrappers and picked one to graph, as big as our paper allowed. Again, the coordinating project was building the giant candy bar to put inside the wrapper.
    Another one that was successful was taking pics of the kids and digitally making them into a line image, so that it was easier to work with.

    I did sometimes also use my stack of assorted images as you described, everything from flowers to animals etc, and knowing the kids I guided their selection so that they chose something they could do successfully. Then, I had them take a pen or thin Sharpie and trace over the contours of the image, so that they had a good line to begin to transfer.

    But I also INSISTED (whether doing candy wrappers, photos of themselves, cartoons, whatever), that it the picture be UPSIDE DOWN while being copied. We numbered it carefully with the pic upside down, and it really worked - it's a right brain thing - they are drawing line and shape rather than the "thing" itself! They are surprised when they flipped their drawing right side up and discover what they have drawn.

    Sorry such a long comment - hope I've helped!

    1. Great suggestions to have them draw upside down. I have taught the grid project and emphasize for kids to look at the shapes and lines that touch the edge of the square which they are working (like, it that line half way down the left edge? for example. And I also mention angles of lines and how they touch other shapes.) I have only taught this with jr. high but actually will be trying it with 4th grade this week. I am going to make a very simple grid, with only about 6 squares and have kids cover up the drawing, except for the square which they are drawing. We'll see how it goes!

  3. This is absolutely wonderful... Thank you so much for sharing. I love the ideas from Phyl as well. Very inspiring!

    I just completed my home Art Room. Check it out on my blog if you get a chance:



  4. Dave, I saw that app in an article and it looks amazing. Sadly I have none of that technology and teh chances of getting to use it in my classroom and -100% :( I would sure like to give it a try one day though!

  5. Phyl to the rescue again. Drawing upside down had slipped my mind and I know that is how we were asked to do it during high school (Thank you Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain). You also reminded me of a large candy wrapper or chip bag pop art project I did my first year teaching. I think that would be a good way to incorporate the grid drawings. I'm going to go re-adjust some of my lesson plans for the week right now!

  6. I use the grid method to create really engaging projects (at the high school level). Here are some examples of its use from large paper murals to 18" x 24" self-portrait paintings:

    I just don't stop at a worksheet but instead use the grid method as a means to an end.

    If the examples don't show then feel free to add me on Facebook!

  7. For those of you who find using the grid drawing method useful and also own an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, CopyIt v2.0 has been released today on the App Store. Many new features have been added at the request of studio artists, such as the ability to print directly from within the App, Grid numbers and letters, 7 grid colors, zoom into any grid square with a touch and an option to highlight the current grid square while dimming the rest. Just search for CopyIt on the App Store and take a look!