Work in Progress – the Grid

February 8, 2009 at 10:48 pm 2 comments

Whenever I begin one of my neo-pointillist landscape paintings, there are several preparatory steps I go through before I lay paintbrush to canvas. The first layer of paint on the canvas is a solid red coat, all over the front as well as all 4 sides. But this is all just preparatory to the real painting process.

To get started painting, I need to get the outline of the image onto the canvas, so I know where to paint. I call this outline my “roadmap”. When painting as I do, using large dots, it’s very easy to get lost. (Is that dot part of the tree or part of the hill?)

I print out a copy of my digital reference image with a grid overlaid on it. And I draw a grid on my canvas in chalk. The two grids are proportional.


Using the grid, I then sketch the image onto the canvas in chalk. The grid lines make it easier to get shapes and proportions correct, rather than just trying to sketch the whole thing freehand. Some artists use a projector to project their reference image onto the canvas and simply trace around the image. Other artists look down on such a practice as “cheating”. I don’t have a projector (they’re expensive) so I get to neatly sidestep that particular rancorous debate.

Depending on its complexity, drawing the image in chalk might take a few minutes or an hour or two. It might be just a few simple lines to mark the location of the horizon, a hill, or a shadow. Or it might be a complex tangle of tree trunks and branches and masses of dark and light leaves. This chalk sketch (and also the first few paint marks) is my guide to prevent me from getting lost, my roadmap. I’ll leave the chalk on the canvas as long as I feel I need it. Usually I’ll rub out the grid lines before I start painting, leaving just the outline of the image. Eventually most of the chalk gets covered by paint, and I’ll erase the rest with a damp paper towel (when the latest round of paint is dry of course!).

Using a grid to copy an image to a larger size is called “gridding up”, and is a very traditional (and generally widely accepted) method for translating a small image to a large one. I’m sorry to admit that I didn’t take any photos while gridding up this particular painting. I’ll try to remember for the next one.

Next: the painting begins in earnest.


Entry filed under: Landscape, Painting, Process.

2009 Los Angeles Art Show Work in Progress – the First Dabs of Paint


Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

My links

My paintings

Follow me on Twitter: @barbarajcarter

Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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Click here to receive my free email newsletter for up-to-date info on my shows, my art, and anything else that I'm up to. I send it out irregularly, a few times a year.

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