Here’s one of my favorite painting techniques I call the String-Grid Method. Starting with a small to-scale model, you can enlarge it to a bigger size easily, gridding with string. This technique is from my book Create Perfect Paintings. First let’s explore why and when you might want to use this technique.
We are unique beings, and therefore we can find infinite ways to work through a painting from start to finish. In general, most painting processes fall into two categories based on the desired end result; control or surprise. If you have a specific vision in mind as to how your completed painting will appear, then the best process will be the one that offers methods of control. If you want more surprise, then flexibility is key for your process. Either way is valid, but acknowledging your choice in the beginning will cause less frustration later.
The String-Grid method is an example of a controlled process. When I am working with a client on a custom commission I usually need to submit proposals with multiple ideas. Making several small-scale, rough image layouts or models is one way to do this. Models can be made with mediums and surfaces that will differ from the final work. Images can be made from reference materials you find from your own archives or elsewhere. References can be photos, drawings, collages, postcards, or prints, found in magazines, on artists’ websites or through general internet searches.
Once a model is selected by the client, I can then use the following String-Grid method to make sure the final finished larger sized painting looks like the smaller scale model the client wanted. It is quick and easy to create and leaves no trace of the grid in the final work. Here are four easy steps.
Start with a Reference Model.
I made this small model fairly quickly, measuring only 6” x 4” (15 cm x 10 cm) with oil pastel on paper.
STEP 1. To transfer the image from the model onto a larger final surface, overlay a grid onto the model. Start by taping clear acetate over the model. Using a marker and ruler, divide each side in half, then half again, continuing to divide until grid sections are as small as you want, marking with a dot at each division. The more detail you have in your model that needs to be transferred, the smaller you need the grid sections to be. Now connect the dots to make the grid lines with a colored marker, seen here using blue.
STEP 2. Using a different color marker than the one used for the gridlines, trace over the image along general design lines. Here I used red.
STEP 3. Remove the acetate from the model, placing it over white paper to see the general design lines in red more clearly.
STEP 4. Grid your final painting surface. Using a ruler and pencil, divide the sides of your surface in half, then half again, marking the sides or edges with only a dot. This time, though, instead of connecting the dots with a marker to create colored lines directly onto the surface, use string to act as lines. To create string lines, hammer extra long (5/8” [16 mm]) metal pushpins along the sides of the painting surface and close to the top where each dot has been marked. Insert pushpins at a 45 degree angle to the surface, so string lines will be raised up from the surface. If your surface does not have deep enough sides, drive the pushpins into the front face, close to the edges, either through the canvas into the stretcher bars or directly into the wood if using a wood panel. Tie string around one of the pushpins nearest to a corner and continue to wrap the string around each pushpin until the grid is complete, securing it with a final knot around the last pushpin.
To begin the painting, dilute a light-colored paint and brush on your design using the model’s general lines and grid as reference. The string will be slightly raised off the front surface, allowing enough room for your brush to freely paint underneath. When your wash sketch is complete, simply remove the pushpins and string. Continue painting without the grid until complete.
This gridding method using string accurately transferred the image from the small oil pastel model to this finished acrylic painting.
Nancy Reyner, Floral 1, 32” x 20” (76 x 51 cm), acrylic on canvas, private collection