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Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 4 of 10 | Arts & Activities
Nov 2015

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 4 of 10

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 4 of 10

Lesson 4 of 10
Grid Art
by Debi West

AA1215GRID01I know most of you are saying, “Wow, Debi … really? Grid art?” My response? An emphatic yes! The reason? Because it works! Grid art builds student confidence like no other lesson I teach.

Grid art teaches our students the importance of measuring, proportion, line, shape, value and form, and it is the essence of taking them to the next level. I often tell my students that they are magicians and they must continue to practice to make others buy into their illusions—and this lesson is the grand illusion!

Students taking Introduction to Art
classes at the secondary level are often without a strong art foundation, and most truly believe they can’t draw. This lesson helps them realize that they can draw—they just need to better understand the tools to get them to that level of mastery. And, this is the “game” that takes them there. It’s not difficult and many of you have used this from the elementary level and up. Unfortunately, many secondary art teachers believe this lesson is perhaps too “elementary,” but I beg to differ. I have been privy to the results for eight years now, and I absolutely love seeing the excitement and authentic joy on my students’ faces when they master a drawing by using this simple technique and begin to really understand the importance of the elements of art as the building blocks for successful artworks.

AA1215GRID02Grid Art: I have step-by-step directions that I teach my students to help ensure their success, and that begins with the right photographs to draw from. We use photos that have been photocopied  from our school’s photography books, but students are also allowed to bring in their own high-contrast black-and-white photos, if they want.

Once students all have their photos in hand, we talk about how to grid them out. This is the tricky part! We start by gridding our 12″ x 18″ white paper, using 2-inch squares. I teach students how to keep their ruler lines straight by making two marks and then running their lines on the two marks. It takes some time and patience to ensure that every student has successfully gridded their white papers.

Once they see that they have six squares vertically, and nine square horizontally, they know that they must have the exact same number of squares on their photos. This too takes some math skill as well as some technical patience, but we all work together and are ready to begin the drawing process.

I have my students hold their photos upside down, this way, they aren’t focused on the objects they see, they are focused on drawing the lines, shapes and values they see in each square. This is the key to their success, as it teaches them to draw exactly what they see, as opposed to what they think they see.




This is the lesson students are most excited to share with their friends and families, Our hallway art display is abuzz as many visitors come by to check out this amazing art!

We start with one square at a time. My job at this point is to remind students to use their practice seven-shaded value scales to compare the shades, as I walk around the room encouraging them to keep going. The most fun is when I hold up their individual works and let them see it from a new perspective. I can’t tell you how excited they are with what they are able to draw!


Value is one of the most important elements of art when creating the illusion of depth in a 2-D artwork. Here is an example of a seven-step value scale (including white).

About a week later, most students have completed their drawings and then I show them how to mount their work and successfully exhibit it.

This is the lesson students are most excited to share with their friends and families, Our hallway art display is abuzz as many visitors come by to check out this amazing art!

Next up…Creative Color Wheels!

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, is Art Department Chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga. She is also an Arts & Activities Contributing Editor.



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