A friend asked me how I make accurate drawings on my watercolour paper – it’s a skill that many people struggle with. Transferring drawings onto watercolour paper can be as daunting of a task as painting. It’s a vital step, and if your sketch isn’t accurate then your finished painting may look awkward. Drawing freehand can be quite difficult to get accurate results.
So I thought I would share with you my quick technique to sketch your drawing onto watercolour paper. That’s right – no tracing here!
Why this method?
Some artists, such as Anna Mason (check out her amazing school for learning watercolours), teach you to measure your reference images. This is a great technique and can help you get some amazing results, but I find it to be very time-consuming for my style. This is especially the case if I am working on a very detailed picture and have a lot to sketch out.
For this grid system you only need to calculate two measurements. No more measuring out increments, marking your paper, drawing a line, to repeat.
Remember: lightly draw these guidelines so that you can erase them later!
Draw the grid on both the reference image and your watercolour paper. Once your grids are in place, you can much more easily figure out where your drawing lines should be placed. You can either then use the measuring system to very accurately place your drawings, or a more controlled freehand approach. I prefer the freehand approach: if my reference image crosses a line about midway along one of my grid lines, I can estimate that midway point by eye.
The Simple Grid
This is the basis grid that you will need to draw for any project. It’s very simple, with three steps. In a lot of painting this grid will be sufficient. If you need to be more accurate, you can then go ahead to the advanced grid steps below.
Step 1: The Cross
Start by figuring out the half way points for your width and length. Draw lines from horizontally and vertically, just like the purple lines in the picture above. It should make a giant +.
Step 2: The X
Next, join each corner to its opposite corner, making a large X on your paper. The lines should all intersect at the centre point.
Step 3: The Diamond
Finally draw a diamond from each of the half-way points, just like the purple lines above.
The More Advanced Grid
If the above grid isn’t quite as accurate as you need, then you can continue the above steps over and over in smaller sections to get more grid lines where needed. I’m going to demonstrate adding a more detailed grid to the top left area of the paper. I will also include what the grid would look like if you added the more advanced grid to the entire paper each step.
Step 4: More Plus Shapes
Begin by drawing another plus shape. As you can see in the picture above (the purple lines), I have created a rectangle/square shape in the centre of the paper by joining the intersecting lines from the finished simple grid.
If you added the plus shapes to the entire paper, it would look like this:
Step 5: Draw More Crosses
Thanks to the simple grid, we already have on side of our cross lines already drawn. The light pink lines show you the shape of one of the crosses. As you can see, you only need to draw the lines that are in purple..
If you did step five to the full piece of paper it would look like this:
Step 6: The Diamond… Is Already Drawn
Thanks to all the previously drawn lines, you should be able to see that the diamond is now already drawn. You can check that the complete shape is there to make sure you didn’t miss any lines just in case.
The advanced grid when fully drawn across the entire paper will look like this:
Wow this grid looks like it’s getting pretty complex, right? It now has a lot reference lines. Again if you need to have even finer details, you can repeat the steps of drawing a +, a X and a diamond.