The Grid: An Artistic Frontier

Using the grid system to scale up the photographs, this is the first stages of creating a portrait of my wife.
Using the grid system to scale up the photographs, this is the first stages of creating a portrait of my wife.
Here she comes. The rendering has commenced with soft vine charcoal and a series of fine measurements. The result thus far is a crude yet finalized composition of lines, but you can definitely see the likeness coming in. She actually sat for about 20 minutes and posed for me while I shot a video and took still photographs. I couldn’t ask her to sit for hours while I tried to figure out the right color combinations or redraw the sketch for a 10th time. Instead, I ran the video back and took still frames of the positions I liked the most and decided on that for the layout. Since I couldn’t sketch her from life, I had to sketch her from the collections of photographs and still frames. That’s when the first challenge of the project hit me: how to upscale the photographs to the 24”x36” canvas?

The canvas: an artistic frontier. I kept dreaming of a painting I thought I’d never get to see….and then, one day, I got in, er, into drawing a grid that is. Yes the grid system helps a lot when you need to scale a subject up or down by a considerable factor. So this portrait is making use of the grid system. Here is how it works: I start by overlaying a grid of 1”X 1” squares over a photograph of the main subject. The photograph has been scaled to the print size of the painting (in this case it’s 24”x36”). Then I print out the document to fit on a single piece of paper. Next, I measure out the edges of the canvas by 1 inch intervals, mark them, and then draw the grid lines connecting these marks. Now with the grid overlay on the photograph and the grid drawn on the canvas, I can simply follow the contour lines on the paper and transfer that to the canvas. For example, I look at the paper and see that the chin starts at 17” on the X-axis and runs to 24” of the y-axis. So I draw my line to match it on the canvas. Though tedious, this process produces an accurate and properly scaled result with care and patience being required at all times. That is what you are seeing here. This took about 4 hours to prepare the grid and transfer the images. Now my mind is numb with square imagery. I need some curves back in my life.

Up next is finding my color groups. I’ll have more on that in the next update.

The Next Big Thing

Toning the canvas for a nice equal value. This is my normal setup to a new painting.
Toning the canvas for a nice equal value. This is my normal setup to a new painting.

Painting? No I haven’t been painting for a month; that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on something creative. For the last 18 months I have been working intermittently on a mobile game for the Android market. The programming and the artwork are being done by me – actually the entire game is being done by me. I wrote a design document, a script, and have been creating artwork for the game. Now, is the game finished? Not even close. It’s a side hobby of mine so I don’t dedicate every free hour to it. However I do switch between painting and programming and the last 5 weeks have been about programming. The game is now in a stage of foundation. In fact, I have about completed a level framework that should be easy to replicate for all the levels I plan to create in the game. The technical challenges that remain are few. The real work is all of the artwork which remains for me to create. A rough count of the animation cells I have to draw, points to about 100 different drawings. I also have 12 full-scale backgrounds to digitally paint. This sounds like a lot but the characters and scenes are all described and laid out in my design document so there shouldn’t be any mental blocks during the painting process. Actually, I have a real hope to get this game in beta mode sometime this fall. If I can get this out there on the market then I will realize a lifelong dream of mine to release a commercial quality video game. This is all hope and conjecture for now and I’m actually putting down the keyboard for a few weeks to once again to pick up my brush. What will I be doing?

After the technical success of “The Giant Sleeps Tonight,” I was feeling confident in my observation skills. That confidence has stayed with me these four months later and so I’m going to make a renewed effort to step up my portrait skills. The biggest challenge is ahead: a portrait of my wife.


Now there is some self-inflicted pressure huh? I mean this has to look good or else this painting will never be hung in my house. She is a wonderful woman with a beautiful face and to do it justice will require a keen eye, steady hand, a little patience, and some courage. I have been creating little sketches of the layout I want and I think I have settled on a layout I like. The plan is to highlight her passion for teaching history. This will be a waist-up, three quarter perspective, natural light portrait. The difference with this painting compared to the other portraits I have done in the past is she will model for me, in the early stages, while I sketch the main features of her face. I will also be recording her position and taking still shots of her for later reference. The objective here is to use my powers of observation to create a fully-realized likeness of her beauty. In my head, the final product is breathtaking. Of course, the final product looks great because of her natural beauty so the only way this comes out wrong is if I’m not looking closely enough. Oh boy, this is going to be a biggie.

We have to challenge ourselves in life. We cannot sit still and let our natural abilities erode into shadows of former glory. I want to become a legitimate portrait artist. To become good at something as challenging as this will require practice and a lot of it. That is why when this portrait is done, I will begin work on another portrait – my second self portrait. I’ll go into more detail on that in a future post.

And then my eyes opened to see….