Best Grid Technique for Large Scale Painting

by | Jan 29, 2017 | Blog | 12 comments

Best Way to Enlarge a Painting

My favorite technique to paint large is to start with a small scale model, and then use a grid technique I invented that I call the String-Grid Method.

Most painting processes fall into either of two categories – control or surprise. Even though artists find infinite ways to work through a painting from start to finish, most methods fall into these two categories.

If you are very specific about what your painting will look like when finished, then the best process will be the one that offers control. If, however, you want more surprise about what your painting will look like when finished, then flexibility is key. Either way represents a good approach for painting, but choosing which one in the very beginning will cause less frustration later. When working on smaller sizes I like the surprise and flexible approach. When I work in large scale I find it best to use a controlled method such as the one I describe and detail here.
 

My String-Grid method

This technique is something I invented for a commission I was painting that was HUGE at 8′ x 20′. Once I got the smaller scale model approved by the client, I wanted a quick way to transfer the general composition to the larger surface, without dealing with visible grid lines in the finished painting. This method I am using is an example of a controlled process. First create a model, hopefully to scale but OK if not. Then you can enlarge it to a bigger size easily, gridding with string. Scroll down for details.

Step 1 – Create a Reference Model

Models can be made using mediums and surfaces that may differ from the final work. Images can be made using reference images you find from your own archives or elsewhere. They can be photos, drawings, collages, postcards, or prints, found in magazines, on artists’ websites or through general internet searches. I made this small model, measuring only 6” x 4” (15 cm x 10 cm), fairly quickly using oil pastel on paper.

Step 1 – Create a Reference Model

Models can be made using mediums and surfaces that may differ from the final work. Images can be made using reference images you find from your own archives or elsewhere. They can be photos, drawings, collages, postcards, or prints, found in magazines, on artists’ websites or through general internet searches.
 

model for larger painting
I made the above small model, measuring only 6” x 4” (15 cm x 10 cm), fairly quickly using oil pastel on paper.
 
STEP 2 – Grid the model

To overlay a grid onto the model, start by taping a sheet of clear acetate over the image to protect it. 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.

model for larger painting
 

STEP 2 – Grid the model

To overlay a grid onto the model, start by taping a sheet of clear acetate over the image to protect it. 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 3 – General Composition Lines

Using a different color marker than the one used for the gridlines, trace over the image along general design lines. Here I used red marker, which can be seen more clearly in the next step.

model for larger painting
 

STEP 3 – General Composition Lines

Using a different color marker than the one used for the gridlines, trace over the image along general design lines. Here I used red marker, which can be seen more clearly in the next step.

STEP 4 – Prepare model for transfer

Remove the acetate from the model, placing it over white paper to see the general design lines in red more clearly.

model for larger painting
 

STEP 4 – Prepare model for transfer

Remove the acetate from the model, placing it over white paper to see the general design lines in red more clearly.

STEP 5 – Grid & Outline

Using a ruler and pencil, divide the sides of the final larger painting 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.

model for larger painting
 

STEP 5 – Grid & Outline

Using a ruler and pencil, divide the sides of the final larger painting 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.

Finished Painting

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

This String Grid Technique is included in my book Create Perfect Paintings.
model for larger painting
 

Finished Painting

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

This String Grid Technique is included in my book Create Perfect Paintings.

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12 Comments

  1. Mary Manning

    Thank you so much for this demo, Nancy! In less than a month I have sold three paintings, two in my own home and one on Facebook, where I prefer to post. Your next book keeps me excited and engaged.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Congratulations! That’s good to hear!

  2. Deb Schlouch

    Aloha Nancy, thanks so much for sharing your skills, you always inspire me to do my best – more! Can’t wait for the new book, I keep the others close by as well as workshop notes! Mahalo & Happy Day, Deb

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Deb, Nice to hear from you! Nancy

  3. Patricia

    Lovely, lovely. Trish. (Australia)

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Thank you Trish!

  4. Esther Tubbs

    Look forward to your book! I have learned lots from you in the past and will continue to do so.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Great! Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the new book when you get it (and have a chance to read it!) Thank you!

  5. Mara Viksnins

    I continue to admire your work and have told many of my art friends about you.
    I took a Golden Class from you @ Kanuga many years ago and still remember and use some of the things I learned. Your recent work is wonderful and has that encaustic look but without using the actual process..Love
    “Arrangement in Blue”. I remember when you posted that you threw away much of what was in your studio and began a fresh start. I need to do that. Hope our paths cross again some day! Mara

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      I remember that wonderful time at Kanuga – what a terrific art retreat! Glad you found the workshop helpful for your art. Thanks for the comment!

  6. Sandra Duran Wilson

    What a fantastic technique. I can’t wait until the book is out.

    Reply
  7. Anne leighty

    Interesting! Would like to try this. Thanks.

    Reply

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About Nancy

Nancy Reyner paints exotic versions of heaven, using gold leaf and other unusual materials. A contemporary abstract painter, she feels art is a rewarding pursuit that adds quality of life. Nancy shares this passion with her students & offers classes, articles, books & videos, encouraging the courageous use of materials and artistic expression.

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