Rocks vs. Sucks: Gridding

Welcome to the second installment of Rocks vs. Sucks, your place to sound off on some of the most controversial topics in art ed. Last week, we looked at Follow-the-Teacher Lessons. This week, Ian is bringing us the ins and outs of using gridding to help students draw. Be sure to let us know what you think about gridding in the comments below! Please remember to keep the comment space professional and educational. Disagree with ideas, not people.


Rocks vs. Sucks #2: Gridding

Rocks vs Sucks 2

Gridding a technique that is hundreds of years old, utilized by everyone from the High Renaissance masters to today’s contemporary artists. It’s incorporated into lesson plans from elementary through high school. It’s the simple method of breaking down a larger image into smaller parts in order to recreate the image on another surface. It’s structured and effective. It’s gridding…and some say its cheating. 


Let’s Discuss



Gridding ROCKS. Gridding is not cheating. It is a drawing tool. Students are still drawing! Breaking down the drawing into easier-to-see parts builds confidence for students who would otherwise feel overwhelmed. Gridding also teaches the use of the ruler, which is a lost skill!


Gridding is copying and copying in the art world is frowned upon. A student prints an image from the internet, grids it with a ruler and pencil, then looks at the shapes in each box to draw the original image accurately on a separate gridded drawing paper; it is copying at best and a copyright infringement at worst. Besides, if the purpose of this process is to recreate the image, gridding is an antiquated method. New technologies, such as document cameras and LCD projectors, and low-tech solutions like tracing paper, provide much more efficient methods of copying images.


So, what do you think!? Does using the grid method ROCK or SUCK? Let us know in the comments below! Please remember to keep it professional!


Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Sarah S

    I think it is great. I have been teaching middle school art for almost 10 year and I have tried it all with self portraits. The only time I have found were almost everyone was pleased with the outcome and enjoyed the process was when they gridded their image. I personally like it because it connects with other skills they have learned in other classes.

  • Carolyn Ibarra

    Rocks! It is another tool students can have in their drawing arsenal. You teach it, they learn it, then they can use it if they feel the need. In any case, using the grid helps develop their observational skills because they are focused on shapes, lines, value, etc… instead of what they think they should be drawing. And can we get over the “copying” thing? Art making is not a test. Most of us learned skills by copying something at one time or another, it is not the same thing as copyright infringement. We have to start somewhere and there are many ways a grid can be used besides strictly reproducing an image.

  • Laura Pepera Wilson

    Rocks! I remember the first grid drawing I did. What a great way to learn how to draw exactly what you see. A strong lesson technique to learn.

  • J. McCarty

    Rocks! I am a high school teacher, teaching Art 2 – AP. Yes, I allow my students to grid sometimes from their own photographs. I have found that for a student with weaker drawing skills, this technique can boost her confidence and improve drawing without a grid. Have you seen “Tim’s Vermeer”? He didn’t grid but probably used the “technology” of the day. Every art teacher should watch this movie! Did Vermeer cheat? He still had to develop an idea, create his own composition, wait for the right light and mix the paint. He’s considered a master.
    I also make sure that my students learn many other drawing methods and spend much time developing their observational drawing skills from life. The grid is just one more tool.

  • Charmaine Boggs

    Time consuming, but worth the time and effort, especially for the self portraits that older students are often so reluctant to create. I agree with Sara when she said it was one time when all the students were pleased with the outcome. And Carolyn makes an excellent point about grid drawing being a learning tool. I doubt that many of my students use it often because it is so time consuming, but the take away for them is becoming better observers of shape and form.

  • Katie Morris

    I think gridding is a good way to get students started with realistic drawing, helping them build confidence, but I think that should just be one tool in their arsenal instead of the only way they know how to draw. Who says they have to grid from someone else’s photograph? Why not have the students make a grid drawing from their own?

  • csteagall

    Realistic outcomes and builds confidence and correlates with another subject area..which we all know that is all “anyone” ever cares about :P Mine take their own photo first and then grid it :)

  • Cathy C.

    Gridding rocks!! I’ve been teaching middle school art for 32 years. One of their main concerns is how to draw something so it looks the way it is supposed to. This is a great tool. You can also use this tool as a starting point and take the finished project into many different directions. I use it as a tool just like the value scale and the color wheel. It does not stop their creativity. It does boost their confidence, finding out that drawing is not so scary after all.

  • Cynthia Gaub

    Rocks! Like some of the others here, I teach middle school and they lack skills and confidence. Gridding from portrait photos that I take is one of the most successful ways many of them can draw realistically. I teach HOW to do it, along with other methods, then the students choose which method they want to use to draw their portraits. It is a tool that does not work for all.

    However, I think that teachers that allow kids to print out other people’s artwork from the internet and grid that? Copyright infringment hands down. We need to teach kids how to respect copyright NOT teach them to break it.

  • Gridding is awesome for ALL the reasons already mentioned. Plus, I know that not all of my students will continue with art after high school, but they might use a gridding method to create graphics for themselves. Something they can apply outside of the classroom.

  • Lorraine Pulvino Poling

    Rocks!! A tool for the toolkit- AND uses math!

  • jean

    I think if a student wants to use it, then great. If not, that is fine too. It neither sucks nor rocks in my opinion. It is what it is, a tool.

  • kayshay

    I think the explanation of why it sucks explains the very reason it is good– ” looks at the shapes in each box to draw the original image accurately”– Learning to actually see the shapes is one of the essential beginning skills in drawing. The difference in using projectors and tracing paper and gridding is that you are doing more than just making the image again– you are breaking down what you see into shapes for yourself, so you are actually learning and interpreting. Of course, there is more to making art than simply reproducing what you see, but without skills, most students are too afraid of failure to really explore. You have to learn the basics of grammar before you can speak a language well– you have to learn to see before you can express your own ideas as an artist with confidence.

  • Avery

    Gridding is a very useful tool that can help a student achieve a very accurate piece of artwork. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a copyright issue–have the student take a picture of a still-life and grid that.
    I like gridding!

  • Susan

    Gridding is empowering. Students learn that they don’t have to depend on a machine(LCD) to make enlargements. I encourage students to use this new learned skill to enlarge any of their drawings at home to make a mural for their bedrooms. Thus far, three of my students have done this(with the help of their parents) and brought in photos to proudly show the results!

  • Mary Weimer Green

    Gridding teaches ruler skills, including measuring and dexterity. It is also an observational process…..NOT a tracing process. After my gridding lessons my students create non-gridded artworks of higher quality than they had produced previously, because their confidence is much higher!

  • Linda Miller McMillan

    I don’t understand the thought that it sucks and is copying? Some of our most famous artists have used it…heck, hasn’t everyone heard of a Durer Grid? In the fifteenth century, Leon Battista Alberti even came up with the first known use of a grid by using a window with lines drawn on it to help the artist get things as best he could. Da Vinci, van Gogh, Durer, and other artists have used a grid in their artistic journeys as well. If it was good enough for them? It’s good enough for me. It helps student consider not only the positive space, but it really makes them focus as well on the negative space.

  • Mary Lynn Hawkinson

    Gridding trains the eye to see things better spatially and very useful when drawing portraits. It helps students learn how to see proportions of the face and placement of facial features. This is a good practice assignment before or after they do draw from observation. Not every student learns in the same way so giving them choices and options they can used to build their skills is what we want to do as educators. If Chuck Close were to respond to this he would say it ROCKS!

  • Jen

    Gridding is a good thing. It helps students feel confident. I am pretty sure at one time or another we have all traced or copied something…at least we were doing something that used our creative energies! You probably won’t use this technique on every project, but it is a great technique to utilize. Students need help seeing things broken down into manageable areas. I think gridding is a positive thing!

  • Susan Copas

    It’s a handy technique for enlarging your own work, but shouldn’t be a replacement for drawing from life. I get college freshmen that have only learned to draw from plagiarized images downloaded from the internet. That’s sad, because they don’t learn to value their own ideas. Not to mention that they don’t learn to observe the world around them. I have done a group project where students selected a photo of a famous person, gridded it off for a wall-sized image, with each student assigned random squares which had to be re-interpreted in various media.

  • Ms. Cooper

    I’ve used gridding as a class project to enlarge a black and white portrait similar to the earlier works of Chuck Close. I’ve also used it to enlarge colored pop art images of Roy Litchenstein. Even thought it is copying, the students style of drawing comes through. It is another method to help students to “see”what they are drawing. Students are really engaged and look forward to putting the pieces together. Thumbs up for ROCKS.

  • Pam Tycer

    Gridding is a tool that should included in drawing lessons. Gridding helps students to see negative and positive space and also proportion. Free hand drawing will be better once gridding is mastered. It ROCKS!

  • Kathryn Knight

    Great for building hand/eye and shading skills & confidence. / Not great for use in a final project.

  • Pingback: Rocks vs. Sucks: Taking Work Home | The Art of Ed()

  • Sarah

    I think if students were to work from a gridded window like Alberti, da Vinci, etc it would be effective. But I sure don’t have a classroom set of those! I think I land on the side of teaching the kids to see shapes without a grid (drawing on the right side of the brain). Using a grid could be okay to work from your own photograph but I find kids are then stumped when you want them to draw from real life because they still haven’t learned to see shapes and spaces. Typically the only grid lines I use for drawing from a 2D photo is a vertical axis and horizontal axis so that they have found the middle but are still forced to look for size comparisons and relationships.

  • Pingback: How to Throw Things at Your Students (and Get Away With It!) | The Art of Ed()

  • ronald1216

    only people say its cheating are none artists i tell them here do it heres the grid draw it like i did. they won’t be able to. i started months of grid ding never got the hang of so learned free hand

  • Pingback: Rocks vs. Sucks: Free Choice | The Art of Ed()

  • Robin Gianis

    I appreciate the looking at it from both sides aspect of this author’s perspective- but really, the “it sucks” side does no justice to the art of using grid techniques. This is a disappointing and inaccurate comparison. Anyone who has ever sat down and done work using a grid method knows that using tracing paper is tracing and gridding is drawing. Sorry, but I think this is a disappointing, poorly thought out article.

  • ivan_

    Gridding is more difficult than tracing, and didn’t some of the old masters trace projected drafts for their murals? But it neither sucks nor rocks, it’s just a tool.