Monday, November 30, 2009

Scaling Up with a Grid

Alphonse Mucha used the time-honored method of scaling up with a grid when he wanted to translate his reference photo to his finished cover illustration.

He drew a series of evenly-spaced horizontal and vertical lines directly over his black and white photo. He then added another set of diagonal lines to subdivide the grid in crucial areas of the face.

Presumably he redrew this grid on a separate piece of paper and then copied the content of each grid square to develop his comprehensive drawing. This separate drawing then would have been his planning step that he would have transferred down to the final painting (shown here as a black and white photo of the magazine cover).

Whether you're working from a reference photo or a hand-drawn figure study, scaling up is still one of the fastest methods, and it has a lot of advantages over eyeballing or projecting an image.

It assures that you've got the proportions and placement exactly right, and at the same time, it lets you feel more in control of the drawing, changing and improving on the reference. Mucha, a master draftsman, certainly used the photo here only as a starting point, and like Rockwell, took it in his own creative direction.


Don Cox said...

I can't see any advantage of a grid over projection, except that in these digital days not everyone has a projector. Even without a projector, one could enlarge a scan onto a big TV used as a monitor.

Unknown said...

Using a grid makes it tempting to just copy the image onto another medium and another scale, without adding your own contribution...

From what moment on does it become a real artwork instead of just a mere copy?

Unknown said...

In general I do not like using grids (it confuses me hahaha) so if I am drawing or painting in a small scale or if I have plenty of time to keep trying to get the right proportion I do not use it at all; but I learn how helpful it can be when we are going from a small scale to a very large one and you have a deadline. I do not think that is can compromise your artwork if you just use it to get the right proportion.
Anyway, once again great article!!

Daroo said...

Timely post for me -- I was just gridding up from a smaller sketch last night. I agree it offers some advantages over projection. Projectors can be a pain to set up, hard to see and if you don't align it exactly perpendicular and the image is large, there can be a lot of distortion.

I use a different grid method: I start by drawing the diagonals from corner to corner, then use a T-square to bisect the center point at the intersection of the diagonals, both horizontally and vertically. This divides the canvas into equal quarters. Then I draw more diagonals in each of the quarter sections and and bisect those with the t-square horizontally and vertically. You just keep repeating the subdividing process until you have a grid frequency that meets your drawing needs (you can add more subdivisions in certain areas like Mucha did). Caveat: Your small sketch and your finished piece must have the same aspect ratio (google online proportion wheel - it helps) because the grid "squares" are really rectangles with the same aspect ratio as your drawing (if the ratio is different your grid becomes stretched and the drawing will be too).

Another down and dirty method I use is to blow up the drawing on a photocopier (taping all the separate sections together) and cover the back with powdered charcoal or graphite, tape it to the new surface (charcoal side down) and then trace off the drawing. This leaves a rather light drawing that you can spray fix or rework to improve your drawing.

jeff jordan said...

I used to use a grid a lot, but now prefer to use a projector. My intent is to get to the painting phase as quickly as possible. I learned a long time ago that I could get the drawing right, if I kept at it, and took 3 times longer than I'd like. Anything I project is subject to cleanup, anyway. It just saves a lot of time.

I heard an NPR feature yesterday on the Rockwell/Photography book, a photographer Rockwell used occasionally, who disapproved of his tracing projected photos, etc, and talked about how much Rockwell hated doing it, but there's the time factor, again.

To me it isn't important how an artist arrives at a final image, just that he/she DOES arrive.

James Gurney said...

Jeff, thanks for mentioning the NPR story on the Rockwell/Camera exhibit:

Too bad they gave so much time to grumpy critics who were reviving the old "Was He a Real Artist?" trope. To me, the real issue at hand, and the one Rockwell raised himself, was what are the pros and cons of using (and projecting) photos. There is a good case to be made on both sides.

Regarding scaling with a grid, thanks for all the interesting points of view. I only scale up occasionally, and usually to rougly scale up a sketch. The xerox/projector method works better for blowing up complicated perspective drawings.

I might grid up when I want to redraw a thumbnail sketch or a figure study, especially if I want to preserve the basic proportions from the original sketch. The relative size of the grid squares can be bigger if I want to allow myself more latitude for interpretation (say 6 x 8 squares is enough to nail the main shapes).

Daroo said...

Jeff -- I mostly agree. I think there is a danger in losing your drawing chops if you are just blowing up photos and tracing them. But if you are working in an opaque medium, then you are constantly redrawing as you paint anyway.

I have been wondering lately about digital projectors -- something I can hook up to my Mac. Some drawings start digitally, others pass through the computer as I play with composition (the computer is also a great tool for reworking a plein air study into a larger studio painting).

Really good a/v projectors are a little pricey for my needs -- I think I've heard of a kids toy projector called "eyeclops" or something. I wonder if it is good enough to use as a projector -- any one have experience with one?

Anonymous said...

I find that a grid has the added benefit of helping me compose the image. By dividing the surface, it makes me more conscious about where I place the various elements. I have sometimes made a drawing and then made a grid on a separate sheet of tracing paper, moving it around on top of the drawing to find the best crop.

James Gurney said...

Daroo--I had to get an Epson 3LCD projector (about $500) because I do so many slide lectures that I needed a backup in case the one at a venue conked out (It's happened!)

Anyway, I haven't used it yet for projecting a drawing, but it would work great for that. The nice thing about the mid-range consumer ones like the Epson is that they're really bright and they have the keystone and zoom controls so that you can correct distortion.

Also, I like your way of scaling.

CGB--Good idea to use the grid as a floater to help crop.

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Christopher Manzanares said...

Hi James, thanks for this post. I was always totally fascinated by the way the guys like Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, and other greats used grids to make their brilliant compositions and dynamic poses. I've many times wondered what their methods and ratios were for spacing the grids. I try to encorporate this geometry into my own paintings, but always seem to fall short, somehow. Any suggestions? The other thing that I thought was interesting was that I saw a wonderful book about Art Nouveau at B&N the other day and it had not a single mention of Mucha or is brilliant posters. I thought it was kind of tragic to have a whole book on the subject and not include one of it's greatest proponents. One more thing, I'm very excited to see the piece that you did for the Art Bash at RMCAD. I turned my piece in, Yesterday, and can't wait for the opening on Saturday.