Is using the grid method to draw cheating? The short answer is yes! Using crutches as a substitute for drawing ability such as the grid method, projecting, or even tracing (gasp!) to transfer a photo to your canvas is not only cheating, but it’s just a really bad idea. First, doing this takes away from the art, and almost always distorts the image. I can spot them a mile away. Some might argue that even using photos as a reference is a crutch and that everything should be drawn from life. I don’t completely disagree.
As a portrait artist, I primarily paint from photos. First, because it allows me to paint poses or moments in time that would be impossible to do otherwise, and second, most people just can’t sit as long as it takes for me to complete a portrait painting, which in some cases can take over 50 hours!
I always take all of my own photos, (unless the subject is deceased) so that I can talk to the subjects and get a sense of who they are, and for copyright reasons. I use one primary image that’s the basis for my painting, and several others as reference. 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 like to carry my small sketchbook and draw people going about their day.
These aids are only considered crutches if they are used as a substitute for skill, but if you need to trace, use grids, or projectors to get your image on to your substrate, then most likely you have never taken the time to learn how to draw well. Even if you can draw, you probably don’t feel a sense of accomplishment if you’re dependent on them, and the drawing skills you do have will probably be lost from lack of use.
I can always spot paintings or drawings that have been done with graphs or projectors because they are visually wrong. Learning to draw realistically takes hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours of practice, and is a discipline that has to be maintained with regular practice.
Some artists argue that there is nothing wrong with tracing and the only thing that matters is the end result. There are even some popular books out there that teach people to draw using the grid method. I think they are not only cheating themselves out of the opportunity to improve their skills, but they will eventually numb their visual understanding of what they see. So, don’t cheat! Get rid of the crutches, and create art that you’ll be proud of.