Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grid Painting vs. Freehand Mark-making by Eleanor Gilpatrick

Seeing Red by Eleanor Gilpatrick
I was just invited to join Art School Grad and accepted. I am an old hand, by now, having come back to painting around 1999! Here are some thoughts about starting a painting or drawing.

There are two ways of doing
a painting or drawing. One, the opposite of what I do, is to put a mark on the page or canvas, and then respond to that, and then to that, and so on. This is very free, and great for abstract work if one has a good sense of composition. I did that a few times and it IS very free. (See for example, Seeing Red.)

Step 1
The other way is to design the final image; yes, planning. I usually start with a photograph I take myself. See for example, Step 1.  As it stands, the picture is pretty, but ho hum.  

Step 2

My next step is to crop to the dimensions of the final image I want on the canvas or page. Step 2 was the image I wanted to paint, a vertical image that is a bit unusual in its proportions, and closes in on the subject. Then I decided that, using those proportions, the canvas would be 24" high by 12" wide.

As a student, I was taught to "grid" my canvas and the image I was working from. In those days we gridded almost to every inch, and that turned us into copiers. But, in fact, I find modified gridding very helpful.

Spring Yellow on Blue by Eleanor Gilpatrick

I work with my own photos and I grid my canvas. I was taught to grid the image with pencil or ink, and grid the canvas in the same way or with charcoal. I usually divide each dimension once in half, and each in half again. That is usually enough. But for these proportions I divided again for the vertical dimension. See Step 2 again which also shows the grid.

My secret is that I use thread to grid the canvas. That way I don't have to deal with pencil or charcoal messing up the color on the canvas. I also can ungrid and put the grid lines back if I need to. Gridding is a much more controlled way of working, good for a realist painter. The freedom for me is in the brushwork.

We as artists are naturally one way or the other, and teachers are making mistakes when they insist the artist go against that. Here is the final image.  If the painting is no better than the photo, stop painting and become a photographer.  What do you think?


  1. Very interesting! I am very interested in the design process right now and I loved seeing how you use grids.

    I tend to design and layout my pieces pretty much in my head, having the full idea in my mind before I start on a piece. However, I am trying to sketch more and use paper to work out the kinks, instead of doing it all in my head.

    I was blogging about this recently:

  2. fun to see the way you work and design. I love your thread idea. Also I appreciate your view that artists are one way or the other so go with your particular style. I am the other. I have never planned out a piece. I of course run into tricky situations.... wishing I had thought it through, but so far it is the exploration of a piece unfolding that has my heart and keeps me doing art.
    I also enjoy your bit about being a photographer instead, funny.
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. I so enjoyed your comments. Thank you.


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