Yes, Virginia, Grid Drawing is Cheating

Is using a grid, projector or other crutch in order to draw accurately cheating? Absolutely! Using these aids as a substitute for drawing ability is not only a bad idea, it also produces bad results. It distorts the image and the viewer will usually notice that something is visually off. I even consider using photos as a reference a crutch. Ideally, everything should be drawn from life.

I primarily work from photos when I paint portraits for a couple of reasons. First, because it allows me to paint poses or moments in time that would be impossible to do otherwise, and second, most people can’t sit for as long as it takes me to render a detailed drawing or painting. A watercolor portrait can take up to 50 hours to complete. To counterbalance the negative effects that drawing from photos regularly might have on my basic drawing skills, I set aside regular time to draw and paint from life. I attend figure-drawing groups, and I carry my small sketchbook with me, so I can draw people going about their day whenever I have a minute.

If you require grids to render something accurately, then most likely you have never taken the time to learn how to draw well. Even if you can draw, the skill that you do have will eventually be lost from lack of use. Learning to draw realistically takes thousands of hours of practice. It’s a discipline that has to be maintained with regular practice. There’s no shortcut.

The consensus on the Internet is that there is nothing wrong with tracing and using a grid as tools, and that ultimately, the only thing that matters is the end result. People can get pretty defensive about it, actually. I disagree. When you require these cheats every time your draw, it denies you the opportunity to improve. Eventually you’ll numb your visual understanding of what you see. So, If you want it bad enough, put in your 10,000 hours! (That’s about 3 hours a day for 10 consecutive years btw). If it’s truly what you’re passionate about, it’s what you’ll be doing anyway.