So what exactly is Sight-Size?|
Sight-Size is a way of seeing and comparing nature to your drawing, painting or sculpture from a given distance. Using Sight-Size, the size you see the subject is the size you draw, paint or sculpt it.
Using the definition above, any artist who draws, paints or sculpts with the work visually next to their subject may be practicing Sight-Size, as long as they are able to view both in one glance. Visually next to their subject is the important phrase, but we'll save the explaination of that for the Approach section.
Some students believe that Sight-Size is merely a measuring technique.* But the proper definition of Sight-Size must use the broadest definition of measuring. Measuring not only means ascertaining the length or width of something, it also means comparing the look or impression (comparing being the important word here). It must be remembered that while many students rarely get past the literal, length and width measuring aspect of Sight-Size, a fully trained artist who uses Sight-Size might never use a plumb line or even consciously think about measuring in the normal sense. He or she will strive toward achieving the same retinal impression in the painting as is seen in nature. This impression is much easier to see and compare when the painting and nature are visually the same size as is the case when following the Sight-Size approach.
*Please see the Misconceptions section for more information.
Art, like politics and religion stirs up passions. We at Sight-Size.com believe in the Sight-Size approach and also see historical evidence for its use in the past. Rather than present our opinions of the following artist's writings we'll let them speak for themselves so that the reader can come to their own conclusions.
"When you draw from nature, stand three times as far away as the object you are drawing." -Leonardo da Vinci
"Know that a painted thing can never appear truthful where there is not a definite distance for seeing it." -Leon Battista Alberti
Sir Henry Raeburn was a brilliant, eighteenth century Scottish portrait painter. In describing a painting session, one of his sitters said, "...and then having placed me in a chair on a platform at the end of his painting-room, in the posture required, he set up his easel beside me with a canvas ready to receive the colour. When he saw all was right, he took his palette and his brush, retreated back step by step, with his face toward me, till he was nigh the other end of the room; he stood and studied for a minute more, then came up to the canvas, and, without looking at me, wrought upon it with colour for some time. Having done this he retreated in the same manner, studied my looks at that distance for about another minute, then came hastily up to the canvas and painted a few minutes more." -Allan Cunningham, Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Vol. II., 1831
A student of Legros and an acquaintance of John Singer Sargent was William Rothenstein. In his memoirs he wrote, "Sargent, when he painted the size of life, placed his canvas on a level with the model, walked back until canvas and sitter were equal before his eye, and was thus able to estimate the construction and values of his representation ..." -William Rothenstein, Men and Memories, Coward McCann, 1931 *
The preceding quotes are but a few of the written references to Sight-Size. Nicholas Beer of Salisbury, England has researched Sight-Size history at length. Sight-Size.com presents his findings in the essay section.
*In the book, Cast Drawing Using the Sight-Size Approach, I correctly attribute the quote to Rothenstein. However, I incorrectly state that he was a student of Duran's. -DR
Images (top down):
Portrait of Janet Dundas (detail) by Sir Henry Raeburn | Private Collection
Portrait of Carolus-Duran (detail) by Sargent | Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute