How to Draw Accurately Without Using a Grid

November 18, 2019

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Have you ever gotten to the end of a drawing… 

...and realized that something was “off”?

Maybe the eyes were too far apart? Or, maybe the entire shape of the head was wrong, leaving your drawing looking lopsided and “just not quite right”?

And now, after you’ve meticulously balanced the value throughout your drawing and you’re just about ready to “make it yours” by adding your signature…

You realize you’ve made a mistake and going back to fix your drawing is either going to be a massive hassle or completely impossible.

But don’t worry, you aren’t the first artist to stumble upon this frustration...

Many promising drawings and paintings have flopped due to a poor foundation…

… the great news is that it’s totally preventable!

Artist Darrel Tank has perfected a method for not just laying out your drawings accurately, but checking your accuracy as you go!

It can be done with just one simple tool and you don’t need an art degree (or quantum physics degree) to understand it.

Today we’re going to share with you a quick step-by-step guide taken directly from an 8-class drawing series where Darrel drew an entire portrait and explained the ins-and-outs of mastering this unique drawing layout technique.

So let’s jump into Darrel’s recipe for accuracy!

Or, if you’d like to follow along on your own time, you can download the FREE lesson in e-book form here and find out how you can avoid the heartbreak of discovering inaccuracies too little, too late!

Have you ever gotten to the end of a drawing and realized that something was “off”?

The great news is… 

... it’s totally preventable!

Professional artist Darrel Tank reveals his simple, but effective, solution for creating accurate drawings below.


It all starts with a reference photo. Get the free e-book with included reference photo here and print out a copy. If it’s on regular paper, consider mounting to cardstock or a scrap piece of drawing paper.


Now we start with that one simple tool. It is just a straightedge. A clear plastic ruler works well; but we’re just using it as a straightedge, not to measure anything.

Using your straightedge, make VERTICAL and HORIZONTAL bearing lines on your reference photo and draw along.

The bearing lines do not need to be exactly parallel with the sides or top and bottom of your drawing paper. It helps if it they can intersect two distinct points in your reference photo such as the corner of an eye, and edge of a tooth or top of an ear or corners of the eyes.


Select the placement on your drawing paper

Position the reference photo on your drawing paper at the desired placement. Then hold your pencil at the BEARING POINT on your reference photo and pull the reference photo out and mark the point on your drawing paper.


a) Transfer bearing lines to your drawing paper.

Align your straightedge on the vertical bearing line on your reference photo.

b) Now, keeping the straightedge and reference photo “locked” together, slide your reference photo parallel along the bottom of the drawing paper to align the ruler with the bearing point you made on your drawing paper. See Darrel Tank demonstrate how this works.

Lightly pull your pencil along the straightedge to make your vertical bearing line at the same angle as the vertical bearing line on your reference photo.

c) Repeat process to draw the HORIZONTAL BEARING LINE


a) Choose the SIZE of the drawing

With a pencil or your straightedge, “measure” the distance between the BEARING POINT and another REFERENCE POINT on the vertical bearing line on your reference photo. See Darrel Tank demonstrate this process.

b) For a drawing that’s the SAME SIZE as your reference photo, make a point on the vertical bearing line on your drawing at the same distance as it is on your reference photo.

If you want to make your drawing LARGER than your reference photo, make the points further apart.

If you want to make the drawing SMALLER than your reference photo, make the points closer together.


a) Plot reference points

A reference point is a recognizable point on your reference photo such as the corner of an eye, mouth, tooth, nose, or a place where a bearing line crosses an edge.

The next step shows how to select reference points and transfer them to your drawing paper so that you can accurately freehand the remaining outlines.

b) With the photo and straightedge “locked” to the “yellow” and “blue” points, keep the photo parallel to the drawing and align the straightedge with the “yellow” point on the drawing. See Darrel Tank demonstrate how to do this.

Mark the point where the straightedge crosses the HORIZONTAL BEARING LINE.

Example for finding edge of head (blue points.)

Example for finding corner of eye (blue points.)

Voila! You've got what it takes to draw anything with confidence and accuracy...

So, now what?

Go forth and be creative! 

Take the next step — draw with confidence

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Meet Darrel Tank

Darrel Tank is a professional artist and educator with over 45 years of experience. His greatest strength lies in his ability to demystify and declutter the art of drawing, making it fun, formative, and completely accessible to anyone!

His drawings and illustrations have been featured in over 400 publications and his unique 5-Pencil Method drawing DVDs and online classes have inspired countless artists from around the globe.

Darrel invites you to pick up a pencil, grab your paper, and discover the joy of drawing for the first time or all over again!

Join Darrel Now!