The Nitty Griddy

jim grid

“It doesn’t upset artists to find out that artists used lenses or mirrors or other aids, but it certainly does upset the art historians.” – Chuck Close

A few friends have asked me how I drew James.  Apparently, “With pencils, paper, and a well-worn eraser,” wasn’t a sufficient answer.  So for those of you who are curious about my methods, I used a grid.

Originally described by Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise, “On Painting,” to explain how a landscape could be accurately transposed using a gridded window, Renaissance artist, Alfred Durer, used the grid technique to draw live models.


By looking at a model through a window frame, strung with a grid of black thread, Durer could draw an accurate image of the model onto a corresponding gridded piece of paper (as seen in the image above).  This technique allowed Durer to capture a truer likeness of the model by breaking a complex subject down into smaller, more manageable bites.  Since my uncle lives in Paris and wasn’t available for a live drawing session, I used a gridded photo that I took of him as the source for my drawing.

I have heard some argue that using the grid technique is cheating and that an artist should be able to draw the likeness of a person using freehand only.  My recent drawings of Maya and of Tommy Kane were both done without the use of a grid, so I’m confident that I can draw reasonably well.  But if Chuck Close, Paul Cadden, and Jonathan Yeo sometimes use a grid in their paintings and drawings, then I figured I could too.  Some of my favorite artists even trace projected photos that they have taken onto a canvas before they start painting.  Artists have long employed technology in the production of their works, but their ideas and talents are no less impressive because of it.

I appreciate seeing how other artists create their works, so I took some “play-by-play” photos of James with my iPhone.  These photos are not as clear as the final scan, but I thought it would give you a good sense of how I approached this drawing.

P.S. For an incredible story on how one of the world’s most famous artists used tools and technology to create his paintings, I recommend watching the documentary, Tim’s Vermeer.  This film surely upset some art historians.

4 responses to “The Nitty Griddy

  1. Way back, when I was teaching geography in Africa and had very few resources to work with, I used the grid system to enlarge maps. –Curt

  2. Great post. Surely there are as many ways to create art as there are artists. While one prefers a system like the grid, another chooses free hand. Even a writer may follow an outline and perhaps “cheat” by consulting a thesaurus. Is it fair to say that the process and technique should be more important to the artist than to the viewer? And if the process and/or technique is unusual enough it could itself overshadow the art? ‘Like, that’s a cool painting, did you know it was painted with a hairbrush?’ And what we remember are the unusual brush strokes but not the subject of the painting? I would think that ‘by any means possible’, would be a good starting point for artists, as long as there is something for us to appreciate in the end; like your sketches, which are amazing!

    • Thank you, Beth. Much appreciate your thoughts and perspective. Btw, I did not credit your best friend for giving me the title to this post (apparently, my art is leading me toward cheating and theft!). 🙂

  3. Dad, thank you for letting me name the “the nitty griddy.” Can you please come to me more, because I like to name your blog post. Oh, and thank you for being the best Dad ever and I love you.

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