Best Way To Scale Up Your Painting

by | Jan 29, 2017 | Blog | 26 comments

The Miracles of Gridding for Painters

Have you ever wanted to paint large? Or maybe you want to expand a small photograph or sketch to a larger size quickly and easily. My favorite method to accomplish both of these tasks is to use a grid. But not just any grid! I want to share with you an amazing DIY grid technique I came up with that is inexpensive, easy to learn and quick to accomplish. I call it the String-Grid Method.

Gridding is a technique that’s been used by many artists throughout history. Most of the great old masters used grids, drawing horizontal and vertical lines over their drawings, for enlargement purposes. Using a grid helps give more accurate transfers.
 

When to use a grid?

Think of creating a painting from start to finish. This whole process can take a short time or a long time, and the process can vary depending on which techniques and processes are used to get to the finish line. Even though there are many ways to create a painting, most painting processes fall into either of two categories – controlled and uncontrolled – based on the desired outcome for the artist. If the artist has a very specific vision and wants the outcome to turn out as close as possible to that vision, then using methods like a grid will best control the outcome for more accurate results. If, however, the artist has a looser vision, and is OK with allowing the end result to fall into a more uncontrolled style, then using methods that allow for surprises and experimentation will be more satisfying.

Both ways are good approaches for painting. Choose the best approach for your desired result. When working with small or medium size paintings (e.g. largest side of the painting measures under 3′), I prefer using the uncontrolled approach. When I work in larger sizes (e.g. shortest side of the painting measures 4′ or more), I prefer to use a controlled method, such as gridding.
 

Learn this amazing grid technique

I came up with this idea years ago, while working on a large wall-sized commissioned mural. As with most of my commissions, I like to have client approval on a small to-scale model, prior to working large. It saves time and money in the long run, and allows me to work together with a client in the beginning, to get a stronger idea of what they want.

Once the model was approved by the client, I wanted a quick way to transfer the general composition from the model to the larger surface. Prior to this new grid invention, I was drawing grid lines directly onto the larger surface with charcoal. The downside of this method was that after transferring the image, I had to find a way to get rid of the charcoal lines, so they didn’t show in the final image. I came up with a this new method using string instead of charcoal, which doesn’t leave any trace of the grid in the final piece, is inexpensive and took very little time to do. 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. To jumpstart your image for the model, you can use reference images you find from your own archives or elsewhere. References may include 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. To jumpstart your image for the model, you can use reference images you find from your own archives or elsewhere. References may include 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.
 

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 permanent marker and ruler, divide each side in half and mark it with a dot, then half again, continuing to divide and mark with dots, until grid sections are as small as you want. 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 your 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 permanent marker and ruler, divide each side in half and mark it with a dot, then half again, continuing to divide and mark with dots, until grid sections are as small as you want. 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 your marker, seen here using blue.

STEP 3 – General Composition Lines

Using a different color marker than the one used for the gridlines in step 2, trace over the image along its 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 in step 2, trace over the image along its 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 – Paint the General Outline of Forms in the image

Before painting, create a grid on your larger surface you will use for your final painting. Using a ruler and pencil, divide the sides of this surface in half, then half again, marking the sides or edges with only a dot. This time, though, instead of using a marker as in the model in the previous steps, use string to create the grid lines. To do this, hammer extra long (5/8” [16 mm]) metal pushpins along the sides of the painting surface as close to the top face of the painting as you can get, and 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 painting your images’ general outline, dilute a light-colored paint like yellow ochre with water (if using acrylic or watercolor) or solvent (for oil 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 move and paint underneath. When your wash sketch is complete, you can keep the grid in place if you need more guidance. When you no longer need the guideline grids, simply remove the pushpins and string. Continue painting without the grid until complete.

model for larger painting
 

STEP 5 – Paint the General Outline of Forms in the image

Before painting, create a grid on your larger surface you will use for your final painting. Using a ruler and pencil, divide the sides of this surface in half, then half again, marking the sides or edges with only a dot. This time, though, instead of using a marker as in the model in the previous steps, use string to create the grid lines. To do this, hammer extra long (5/8” [16 mm]) metal pushpins along the sides of the painting surface as close to the top face of the painting as you can get, and 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 painting your images’ general outline, dilute a light-colored paint like yellow ochre with water (if using acrylic or watercolor) or solvent (for oil 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 move and paint underneath. When your wash sketch is complete, you can keep the grid in place if you need more guidance. When you no longer need the guideline grids, simply remove the pushpins and string. Continue painting without the grid until complete.

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

Here is my finished painting. Using this string gridding method 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 one of many helpful tips and techniques, included in my book Create Perfect Paintings.
model for larger painting
 

Finished Painting

Here is my finished painting. Using this string gridding method 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 one of many helpful tips and techniques, included in my book Create Perfect Paintings.

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Learn everything you need from your first brushstroke to the finished painting. Acquire techniques and ground breaking concepts to shape your artistic vision.

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Learn everything you need from your first brushstroke to the finished painting. Acquire techniques and ground breaking concepts to shape your artistic vision.

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26 Comments

  1. Maureen P.

    Thanks, Nancy, this is useful and nice to be reminded. I hope I can resource the black thin string and the metal pushpins locally. If not, where should I look- hardware? office supplies, knitting shops?
    It’s always wonderful seeing your little newsletters.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Maureen, Glad you want to give this a try! You can use any pushpins. They can be easily found at office supply stores. I like the metal ones because they don’t crack if you need to hammer them into the panel. Metal pushpins are available in hardware stores. I haven’t had to purchase them in awhile, so not sure but I think must be easy to find online. You do not need to use thin black string. You can use any color string in any width. Whatever you can easily find. Best wishes for your creative projects!

  2. Lesa

    Again I will say that your timing is impeccable. This is a tried and true method.
    thank you for sharing

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Lesa,

      Thanks for your post. Glad you like it!

  3. Dave Dean

    Nancy – Have you thought about designing and selling an adjustable grid that could be used with several of the larger standard canvas sizes? Probably a limited market, but you never know.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Hi Dave,
      Cool idea! If only I had more time…..perhaps someone else can take this on. Thanks for posting!

  4. Diane Haug

    Thank you so much for simplifying this technique. I will start using it right away. As always, you’re an inspiration to us. Forgot to attach photo to last comment.

    Reply
  5. Diane Haug

    Thank you so much for simplifying this technique. I will start using it right away. As always, you’re an inspiration to us.

    Reply
  6. Diane Haug

    Thank you so much for simplifying this technique. I will start using it right away. As always, you’re an inspiration to us.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Thank you Diane!! Appreciate your comment and glad you can use this tip!

  7. Jackie Glover

    Thank you, Nancy! I needed that.

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      HI Jackie! Glad you liked it! Hope all is well with you. Glad to hear from you.

  8. 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!

    • Lynda Pogue

      Your confidence..
      Your generosity…
      Your talent..
      All jump off the screen and into the hearts, minds and hands of artists!!

    • Nancy Reyner

      Lynda you are so kind. Thanks for posting.

  9. 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

  10. Patricia

    Lovely, lovely. Trish. (Australia)

    Reply
    • Nancy Reyner

      Thank you Trish!

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. Sandra Duran Wilson

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

    Reply
  14. Anne leighty

    Interesting! Would like to try this. Thanks.

    Reply

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Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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