aquatic lady

Chalk 101- How to easily grid your reference image

gachalkartists Chalk 101, DIY, How To

When I first started chalking, I hand measured and drew every grid onto my reference image. It was a task that was both annoying, inaccurate, and anxiety-provoking. After a few festivals, I came up with a method using Photoshop that easily grids my pieces for me. I am sharing it here so that you too can drop the pencil and pick up a mouse and get it done in a snap!

If you have no idea what this is used for, don’t fret, just stay tuned since we’ll be posting more about how to do the grid method for making chalk art soon.

I want to thank artist Nhan Thanh Nguyen for letting me recreate his work (the image I am using in this post) at the upcoming Bloom N Chalk Festival.

You’ll need:

  • A copy of Photoshop installed on your computer*
    If you don’t have Photoshop, Adobe always offers a free 30 day trial on their website. You can download it and test it out. Also, any version of Photoshop will work for this method.
  • The image you want to chalk
  • The transparent grid I built- Click here to download it!

Step 1 – Open Photoshop and load the image you want to chalk:
Make sure the photo you want to chalk is downloaded to your computer. Once Photoshop is open, click “file” at the top of your screen, and “open” and locate the image you want to chalk. Open it.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.20.25 AM

It should look like this when it is loaded:
(program look may differ depending on the version of Photoshop you’re using)

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.21.33 AM

Step 2 – Load the grid file:
Just like how you loaded the original image. Refer to step 1 if needed. It should look like this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.22.42 AM

Those checkerboard grays mean that the background is transparent. So, essentially, the grid is see through.

Step 3 – Copy the grid:
Make sure that the grid layer** is selected (it’s the one the arrow is pointing to in the image below). Then, go to the “select” option at the top of the screen and hit “all”. You should see little dots marching around the whole image. Then go to “edit” and “copy”.
** If you do not see the grid layer in your right side bar, go to “window” at the top of your screen and make sure that “layers” is checked. If not, click “layers” and it should show up.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.23.45 AM

Step 4 – Paste your grid:
Go back to the image you want to chalk and go to “edit” and “paste”. If you copied the grid correctly, it will paste on top of your image. If you cannot see the grid very well because your image is dark, go to the bottom of this blog post to learn how to change the color of your grid. If it did not paste, go back to step 3 and do it again. It should look like this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.27.58 AM

Step 5 – Free transform your grid:
Now we adjust the grid so that it covers your image snugly. Make sure that “layer 1” is selected (that is your grid layer). We want it selected because it will be the layer you are adjusting. Then, go to “edit” and click “free transform”. This will make a box appear around your grid.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.30.55 AM

Step 6 – Adjust your grid:
If you let go or do not hold shift at all, the grid will not be even and you will not be able to chalk from your piece. So, hold down the shift key and drag the corners of the grid around on your piece until it’s aligned how you want.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.48.10 AM

As you may notice, the grid is square shaped. The image I chose is rectangular. If I decided to crop the grid right now, I would lose the ear, etc in my final piece. To compensate and make my grid rectangular, I’ll pull the free transformation a little more…

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.53.01 AM

In the above image, I pulled the square so that it created a rectangle on the part I want to chalk.

Step 7 – Apply the free transformation:
To apply the free transformation, press “enter”.

Step 8 – Crop the image (if you want/need):
Click on the crop tool on the left of the screen. Select the area you want to keep. Double click on the area you want to keep. Your image should’ve cropped.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.58.40 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.58.48 AM

Step 9 – Save your image:
You’re all done! It’s ready to print! The last step is to go to “file” at the top of the screen, and “save as”. Make sure that it is saved as a JPG file that the quality is set at “12” so it will save with the most possible detail. Remember where you saved your file so you can locate it and print it!

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.21.48 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.21.53 AM

bloom n chalk

This image would be 6.25′ x 10′ tall if it were chalked.

Tips and Tricks:

Can’t see your grid because it blends in too well?

Here’s what you do:
Add a color overlay. Make sure that your grid layer (it should be “layer 1”) is selected and go to “layer” at the top of the screen, “layer style”, and then “color overlay”.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.15.35 AM

This will pop up:

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.17.16 AM

Make sure that “preview” is checked (it’s on the right side of this pop up) so that you can see your grid change colors and pick one easily. Click on the solid color box above the percentage. Then pick a color to overlay. (for example, if your image is dark, try white).

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.18.50 AM

Click “ok” and then “ok” again to confirm the layer styles. Now you should have a new color for your grid!

Need to rotate your image?

Here’s what you do:
Go to “image” at the top of your screen and hover over “image rotation”. Figure out which way your image needs to be oriented and click on it. Just in case, you can undo your last rotation by going to “edit” at the top of the screen, and hitting “undo”.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.24.20 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.26.02 AM


About the Author



The Georgia Chalk Artists Guild is an association of professional chalk artists who aim to promote the awareness and education of chalk as an artistic medium, and to provide resources for the public to connect with Georgia chalk artists.