To be completely honest, I have no idea what I am doing. I’ve taken a few art classes in college, but I don’t have any formal training in fine art. The thought of taking painting classes has crossed my mind, but the cost of art supplies in itself is enough for me. So, I continue to be a self-taught artist—just painting what I see and hope for the best. That usually worked fine for me until now. Now, I am apprehensive.

Deciding to paint a portrait of my grandfather overwhelms me. I have very little experience drawing people and it took me a while to even start this new project of mine. I decided to begin with quick sketches just to get a feel for it and go from there.

pen sketch of my grandfather

sketch of papa's face

Working from a small photograph can be a bit daunting. But, I remembered a technique I learned in college, where you use a grid to transfer an image from a photograph to a canvas. There are other methods such as using a projector or transfer paper, but I feel more comfortable using the grid method. If you want to learn about other methods, Thaneeya McArdle has instructions on her website.

I printed the photo out as a 10×10 and my canvas is 20×20, making the transfer easier (Yay-because math is not my strong suit!). I drew the 1 inch by 1 inch grid on my reference photo and because my canvas is twice the size, drew a 2 inch by 2 inch grid on my canvas.

grid over photo of my grandfather

I should note that before drawing the grid, I did gesso the canvas and sand it down, making the surface smoother. I made the grid using a charcoal pencil, as it is easier to erase charcoal than a regular lead pencil. Once the grid was all set, I transferred the image, one square at a time. Some may view this as cheating, but it is a lifesaver! It really helps to make sure the placement of the elements are accurate. And I can use all the help I can get!

drawing of my grandfather on a grid

The one problem with charcoal is that if you try to paint directly over it, it will turn to mud. After some online research, I found that putting a medium over the charcoal will set the drawing and not mix with your paint. I used Liquitex Airbrush Medium.

layer of clear medium over charcoal drawing on canvas

So, this is where I am at in the process—a little over two weeks after deciding to tackle painting a portrait of my grandfather. I have no idea what the final painting will look like or when it will be completed. Hopefully, I have something to share with you by the year’s end!

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