Life Drawing: Scaling a Model in a Drawing Grid

April 8, 2015


There is a drawing technique, called sight-size, for drawing a live model the same size that it is seen, but what if you wanted to draw it larger, or any size? This demonstration will show a method to do that using a grid system by looking through a sheet of plastic.


What I’ve crudely assembled here is a thin sheet of clear plastic (12 x 16”) in a frame with a 9 inch grid divided into 4 x 4 equal squares, and diagonal lines at each intersection. The lines are drawn with a grease pencil that can be easily wiped off with a tissue, so that the plastic can be used again for a different size grid if necessary. The 9 inch outer square and number of lines is arbitrary, but I’ve found it works well for most situations. The important part is to draw the horizontal and vertical lines into even squares.


For my demonstration I’m going to draw this toy horse. I place my frame and tripod directly in front of the model, and adjust the frame on the tripod so that the edge of the frame lines up with the corner edge of the wall behind the model. If no such bit of architecture is available, then you can create your reference mark with some tape on the wall, just be certain that it’s perfectly square. Lock the frame in place so it doesn’t move on the tripod. It’s also a good idea to make some chalk marks at the base of the model so it can be repositioned if it gets moved.

Now I line up the grid to the model, placing the grid so that the top line touches the topmost piece of the model, the tip of the ears, and the bottom line touches the front hooves. Once everything is in place, including where I will be standing or sitting while drawing, I use tape to mark the tripod legs on the floor, and where I will be drawing from while looking through the grid. These locations must be constant while I’m transferring the horse to my drawing.


I begin by making marks at the top and bottom of my drawing page for the top of the ears and tip of the front hooves. Then I draw a vertical line in the center of the page. That line will be the center of my grid.

What I need to do now is create a grid on the drawing paper. I can easily do this without any complicated math because the 9 inch grid was evenly divided into squares. I take a separate piece of paper and align the top corner with the mark I made for the ears, and make a mark on it that lines up with the mark for the hooves (#5.) I then fold the corner to that mark, and continue folding the paper until I have four marks evenly spaced. I transfer these marks to my drawing, both vertically and horizontally, and build a grid of squares in the same fashion as the 9 inch grid.

horse2B horse2CD

Now I can start drawing the horse. I stand or sit in the place I had marked earlier as my drawing spot, and transfer the locations of the horse that I see through the plastic grid to the same locations on my drawing grid. You might consider making your drawing grid on a separate sheet of tracing paper to save you the trouble of erasing those lines later. You could tape or clip it to your drawing, flip it back and forth to make registration dots on your drawing as you see them through the grid, and then connect the dots.

horse2E horse2F

It is possible to use this system without the easel by holding the frame with your free hand while drawing with the other. The frame must be held as vertical and stationary as possible straight out in front of you as you draw. You could try and identify a spot within your model that touches a grid intersection to help line things up, like the front left knee of my horse above. Holding the frame has an advantage of not being restricted by the height of the easel, and not having to carry it around with you to an outside location. Try to use a few reference points as possible, and record them quickly to lessen the risk of moving the grid and causing an error in your measurements.


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