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Backyard Llama and Great Drawing Tool: Accurasee Review

Backyard Lama, oil on panel, 8x8"
Backyard Lama, oil on panel, 8x8"

When I spotted llamas in a residential neighborhood backyard near the beach in Pacifica I took a few photos of them for painting later. In the process of this painting I experimented with a terrific new drawing tool, Accurasee, and put this llama through its paces.

I started with this watercolor sketch in my journal:

Backyard Lama, ink & watercolor, 5x5"
Backyard Lama, ink & watercolor, 5x5"

While sketching I edited out the apartment building in the photo and got some understanding of the subject. Then I put the sketch and my iPad displaying the photo on the table by my easel so that I could refer to both as I painted.

Blocking in the values
Blocking in the values

First I sketched in the llama on the panel (above) with thinned paint (hoping it was fairly accurate) and blocked in where I wanted the darks and lights in the painting.

Lama attempt #1, but drawing wrong
Llama attempt #1, but drawing wrong

I thought I was nearly finished (above) but after a break from it, realized that the drawing was wrong: the face looked more like a dog than a llama and the neck was too short.

Then I discovered Accurasee, a free computer program for Macs and PCs (plus an iPhone app) that helps you be more accurate in your drawing or painting by using an innovative approach to the “grid drawing” method as a way to help you see. Accurasee adds a grid to a photo or scan of your drawing and you create a matching grid on or beside your painting. Then you use the grid coordinates to find the landmarks, height and width of objects in the composition.

You can read more about the history of gridding up here and see how much easier it is using Accurassee in these demos or read their user guide (pdf). (Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in promoting this product or this company, but I think it’s great!)

Photo after gridding in Accurasee
Photo after gridding in Accurasee

Accurasee offers a collection of clever drawing tools, including special measuring tape but I made my own using masking tape and marked off the inches:

Tape with inches marked to match Accurasee
Llama Attempt #2 Redrawn: Tape marked to match Accurasee grid

By mentally visualizing where the intersection of the lines would be, I redrew a little more accurately (though still not quite right). As they say on their website:

The ultimate goal is not to create a “dot-to-dot” drawing, but a proportionally accurate one. The Accurasee Method and tools are designed to be used as drawing aids, not a crutch. When used correctly, the Accurasee Method can quite literally train you to see more accurately.

Lama attempt #3, almost there
Llama attempt #3, almost there

When comparing the painting to my watercolor concept I saw the ground was too dark so lightened and brightened it, worked some more on the face and neck and all around.

Eventually I just got tired of the whole production and decided that I’d learned everything I was going to learn from this painting, had nothing more to say, and called it done.

UPDATE: Julie asked how I was using the iPad vs my computer monitor and how I had it setup. Here is a picture:

sketchbook and iPad set up by easel
Sketchbook and iPad set up by easel (plus messy desk and computer monitor)

I have in the past used my computer monitor to paint from but the iPad is handier because I can have it right next to the easel or on my drawing table and with two fingers I can enlarge (as in the above photo) or move the section I’m viewing or go back to seeing the full picture. I use the iPad Smart Cover which when folded back works well as a stand.

17 replies on “Backyard Llama and Great Drawing Tool: Accurasee Review”

The llamas (and goats) always kill me. They look like they are smiling; like they have this little llama secret or something.

Thanks for the link to this tool. I haven’t fully looked at it yet but it seems like it might cut down on some time with gridding up by hand. I like the ruler markings by the canvas idea too.

Oh, and another thanks too. I went back through your blog and re looked at the info on open acrylics. Very useful:)


What a lovely face. I wonder if the building behind him is distracting. It makes for good shapes though. How different would the picture be if you took it out or made it much softer? We have a few llama around our Geelong region but I’ve never got close enough to draw one.


I like the finished picture. It shows the llama in his surroundings. We wouldn’t mistake him for one in Peru for example. I’ll look up that app. I explained the grid method to my granddaughter. She asked if that wasn’t cheating. She has the idea that any aids of any kind are cheating. I told her it’s not; it takes time to learn how to line things up for accuracy and if you are a perfectionist as she is, then you need to get some sort of aid or you’ll erase your way through all your paper. Now I can show her your post and the app. Maybe that will convince her.


Loved the info on the accurasee. You mention putting into your iPad. Are you using the iPad vs a monitor when using a photo? Do you have a mount or stand you are using for the iPad? I would be interested to see how you utilize it in your set up


Hi Julie, Good question! I added an update on the blog post with an explanation and a photo of the set up. Jana

Sketchblog: Website: UrbanSketchers-BayArea,


Interesting post, Jana. I often graph out photos I have take then manipulated to help get proportions right, and I also have used an OLD laptop screen as a reference. While I haven’t sprung for an iPad, I can see the advantages as a studio reference. One day my MacBook will die, and maybe something thinner and lighter will take its place.


Hi everyone. This is Bjorn with Accurasee. What a great explanation of the Accurasee Measurement System. Jana did a super job and used they tools perfectly. What a cool looking watercolor sketch and final painting.

Just thought I’d mention that I’ve got some great updates for both of my apps in the works as well as android and ipad versions.

Thanks again and keep up the good work!


Outstanding painting, Jana! And, using tools is definitely NOT cheating. Is it cheating to use training wheels when learning to ride a bike? Or magnifying glasses when over 45 years old? (or whenever?) Or a level when hanging a picture? Further, if you were given a backhoe or a shovel and told to dig a swimming pool, would you consider it cheating to use the backhoe?

I can feel you smiling. Tools aren’t cheating! 😎


Very cool Jana. But I don’t see an iPad app. And this seems to be called accudraw in iTunes.?? I really Need this on my iPad so if you would clarify iPad app name I’d appreciate it. Love your work and mini demos as always!


Hi Sandy,

The app developer, Bjorn, left a comment on the post that included the good news that an iPad app is in development so (yay!) there will be one. But for now, to use it with the iPad, you use the program on your computer to insert the grid on the photo and then display the gridded photo on your iPad (by emailing it to yourself or transferring it via usb).

If you don’t have a computer or want to use the iPad in the field then you just need to wait until the developer has released the iPad version (which will be fantastic to have for plein air painting!!!!).

I’m copying him on this message so maybe he can let us know when to expect it. Also Bjorn, it would be great if the program(s) included a way to convert the image into 3 to 5 value grayscale. There is another program that does the 3-value grayscale but if you can include both the grid and the grayscale option, it will be the killer app for plein air painters who need extra help with value, composition, and/or drawing (personally I need all the help I can get!) Jana


Hi Sandy, I’ve been in conversation with Bjorn and he recommended downloading the iphone app AccuView which you can find in itunes or on I did and it’s great and works fine at the 2x setting on the ipad. He said he’s in the process of combining all those programs into one app for the iPad so it may take a little time but in the meantime, AccuView is really cool and does the trick if you need to work entirely on the ipad or iphone without using a computer. Jana


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