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Drawing a Portrait of President Lincoln


“Lincoln Sketch using the Grid Method”
By Mike Bennett - 2008
Canyon Middle School Art Teacher
Yucaipa, CA

Objective: Students will complete a lifelike portrait of President Lincoln based on a recent sketch by their teacher, Mr. Bennett.  Mr. Bennett produced a color pastel pencil sketch of a photo taken by Alexander Gardner in 1865 which showed Lincoln smiling.

Gridding:  This is a method of making uniform measurements in squares or rectangles and reducing or enlarging a sketch.  The artist uses the free-hand method with a guide from the squares.  Measuring on a yardstick re-enforces life long math skills.  The history of gridding in order to make duplicate or larger versions of an original sketch dates to at least the Renaissance time period.  Leonardo Da Vinci used this method.

Web sites on the Grid Method: 

Medium:  Pencil, charcoal pencil, colored pencils, watercolor pencils, pastel pencils, or watercolor paints.  A metal or wood yardstick is needed for measuring and making lines.

Size of Paper: 18x24 sulphite or higher quality sketch paper such as Canson or Strathmore brands.

Method:  Students will use a gridding method by making a series of 1” squares on the 18x24 paper.  They will stand up above the paper and put a dot or small line above each inch mark until they arrive at the other side of the paper. It is imperative that they stand directly above each inch marking as it is easy get distortion in measurements because of the angle that a student sits and also the thickness of the yardstick.   IMPORTANT!  - Students must make all lines lightly as they will be erased later when the portrait of Lincoln has been sketched out. They will make identical marks on top and bottom of the paper and connect the dots/small lines.  They will turn the paper sideways and repeat the method.  Afterward they will lightly add numbers on left or right side of each square and letters on the top or bottom of the squares.  This will help them in staying in the right square as they lightly sketch out the portrait of Lincoln.

Examples and Guides:  Students will be provided a handout with the black and white sketch side by side with a version of what the sketch will look like with grid and the basic outline of Lincoln’s face and suit.  Also, the original pastel sketch in color will be on display for students to reference should they decide to attempt a color version.  Examples and guides can be printed from below.

Further Exploration:  Students should try to explore other methods of portrait painting and sketching such as using the slide, over head, opaque and LCD projectors.