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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.