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Playing with the Grid

For Grades 3–8

Table of Contents

Featured Work
The Grid
Other Grid Games
Related Resources
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

Chuck Close
(American, born 1940)
Janet, 1992
Oil on canvas
100 x 84 inches (254 x 213.4 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund, 1992
Background Information for Educators


  • Through observation and discussion, students will learn about the grid and the method Chuck Close used to create his large portrait Janet
  • Students will use a square from Janet to generate their own work of art
  • Students will learn about variation, repetition, experimentation, and value; create their own drawings using these concepts; and transpose them to grids to create works of art (see Other Grid Games #1, #2, #3, and #4)
  • Students will use a completed grid drawing to solve mathematical problems and write mathematical equations (see Other Grid Game #5)
  • Students will create other works of art using a grid as source material (see Other Grid Game #6)
  • Students will learn about ratios and transpose drawings using changes in ratio (see Other Grid Game #7)


  • Image for class display
  • 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper for copies of the grid in this lesson plan
  • Pencils, crayons, markers, or colored pencils
  • Scissors


Ask your students, “What is a grid?” A good example of a grid is graph paper—it is made of repeating squares lined up in a group, and can be as big or as small as you like. But grids can be composed of different shapes. Here are some examples. Have your students draw examples of grids on the chalkboard. Where else do your students see grids?

Chuck Close and the Grid

Like many artists, Close makes his paintings and drawings using a grid, and he makes distinctive patterns of marks within that grid. When you step back and see all of the patterns together, you can see the “big picture.”

Before You Begin

Read more about the work before viewing the image with your class. Remember there are no right answers to questions about personal response to imagery—encourage speculation from your students! Start by asking them about what they see, and share factual information as they make their own discoveries. Discussing works of art has been shown to increase students’ literacy skills, especially spoken word skills. ("Guggenheim Study Suggests Arts Education Benefits Literacy Skills," The New York Times, July 27, 2006, Books section.)

Show the Image

Explain that Janet is a very large portrait of Close’s friend, artist Janet Fish. When you visit the Gallery, you will notice that you can clearly see Janet’s face from far away, just as in this picture of the painting.

Ask your students:

  • What kind of personality do you think Janet might have?
  • Can you find her glasses?
  • Why might glasses be important to an artist?
  • Can you find the grid?
  • When you step very close to the painting of Janet, you will see a square that looks like the detail at the bottom of this page. This detail is a close-up of the many small squares that make up the entire painting.
  • Can you find the grid in the detail? How many squares are there across?
  • How many squares are there down?
  • Can you guess which part of Janet’s face you are seeing in the detail? (Not really—it could be anywhere!)

Have your students do the activity sheet Playing with the Grid (PDF). Can you find a design in one square of the detail at the bottom of the page that you especially like? Copy the little painting from that square into one square of your own grid.


A grid is very useful for generating ideas and images. If you have time, give each student one or more copies of the grid in this packet and ask them to explore their own ideas and themes, or follow these suggestions:

1. Repetition of a Pattern

Draw a pattern in the top row of the grid and repeat the pattern in each row going down.

2. Variation of Media

Recreate a grid drawing in another media, such as fingerprints from a stamp pad, colored tape, watercolor, or acrylic paint. Show students how to look at one square of their drawing, and then find the corresponding square on the new grid. Have them recreate the chosen square, and then choose another square to copy. They do not need to copy the squares in any particular order.

3. Experimentation

Choose one square—the "constant variable"—and draw something simple in it. Change one part of the drawing in the next square. Continue to change one part of the drawing in each square until you reach the end of the grid.

4. Value Study

The term "value" refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color. Make a grid drawing where the lightest square (least value) is in the center, and another grid drawing where the darkest square (greatest value) is in the center. To create a value study in black-and-white, use pencil and vary the pressure of the strokes. To create a color value study, use crayon. Students will discover that a lighter color, such as yellow, has a lesser value than a darker color, such as brown.

5. Mathematics of the Grid

Have students look at a completed grid and ask them:

  • How many squares are across the top?
  • How many are down?
  • How many squares are in the whole drawing?
  • Can they write an equation to express this?
  • Can they cut the grid along the lines to create smaller grids?
  • Can they write equations for these smaller grids?

6. Creativity

Cut up one of the finished grid pictures. Glue all the squares together to create a new work of art. Students can overlap the pieces—it does not need to be a grid when they are done!

7. Ratios

Measure the grid and draw a new one in the ratio of:

a) 2:1

b) 1:2 (Students will need to use larger sheets of paper for this, or two 8 1/2 x 11” sheets taped together.)

Have them transpose one of their grid drawings onto the new grid.


Activity Sheet (PDF)


  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standards for Math, Science, and Technology 3
  • New York State Learning Standards for Mathematical Practice 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1
  • College and Career Readiness Core Anchor Standards for Reading 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 4, 5, 6  


  • Audio for Younger Students

  • Audio for High School Students

  • Audio Description