Charles Wellington Furse, in the studio, working on the painting, Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Fishing the River Laerdel in Norway (1903).
Cognitive psychologists tell us that visual perception is subjective, that sight is in the eye of the beholder. Any number of optical illusions prove this. But can you really afford to learn how to draw in a way in which your eye subjectively and subconsciously decides what you are seeing?
Learning to Draw via Sight-Size is Learning to See
It is teaching your eye to objectively observe, rather than to just subjectively receive.
Sight-Size is predicated on a direct, 1:1 visual comparison. There is no mental scaling up or down. There is no presupposition of construction, form, or idealized anatomy. As far as it is humanly possible, Sight-Size is pure sight.
Sight-Size training involves measure. This process of measure – comparing a known to an unknown – is standard practice in all other learning endeavors. Learning penmanship through copying letterforms, and music by practicing scales are two of the most obvious examples. That drawing instruction, for the last one hundred years, has in many cases deviated from the measured approach to teaching, is a shame.
Once acquired, accurate sight becomes less important than what you do with it. Additionally, other approaches to drawing become much more interesting. Accuracy is freedom. Through it, your ability to record what you want, where you want, and how you want is assured. You can then deviate at will, with intention.
A Method to the Approach
I’m sure that you’ll notice my penchant for calling Sight-Size an approach as opposed to a method or technique. The reason is simple. Sight-Size is more than a set of steps, rules, or formulae to be followed. It is the what that is behind those rules and what they allow the artist to accomplish that are important.
As you read through this site remember three things:
- Sight-Size is a way of arranging your easel, relative to your subject, which facilitates seeing and comparing your artwork to nature from a specific viewing position. Using Sight-Size, the size you see the subject is the size you draw, paint or sculpt it – a visually accurate 1:1 comparison, regardless of whether the artwork is under, over, or life-size.
- Due to the above, Sight-Size allows you to accurately represent a given subject in the same way your eye might see it. This implies selective focus, seeing the whole of the scene, etc.
- The opposite of Sight-Size is what is now known as comparative measuring*. When comparatively measuring, the artist determines a dimension on their subject from which they compare all other dimensions. These comparisons then allow the artist to enlarge or reduce what they are seeing to fit into the final artwork. Though opposed in meaning, Sight-Size and comparative measurement are not at odds with each other. They are merely different ways of drawing.
When Sight-Sizing, Nature is our Guide
One premise that all artists who use Sight-Size follow is that Nature is our guide. This primarily means two things:
- “As nearly as possible the work they have undertaken shall appear to the observer to be similar to the real objects of nature.” -Leon Battista Alberti
- Nature, though our guide, is only to be followed insofar as it helps the artist achieve their goals.
However, an important caveat to the second point is that the reader must understand we are discussing fully trained artists. Students need to follow Nature until they demonstrate that they are fully capable of doing so.
*Comparative Measuring is also known as Proportional Measuring and Proportional Drawing.
Next stop: Sight-Size > About