The Sight-Size approach is traditionally first learned via cast drawing. However, during the last 30 years many ateliers have begun teaching Sight-Size through the use of Bargue-Gerome plates. Bargue’s intent was to provide examples of the way a student should begin and finish a drawing, rather than to create a source for Sight-Size study. Nonetheless, it is convenient that each plate appears to have a beginning drawing on one side and a cast on the other. Normally, that’s how a Sight-Size project is set up: the artwork on one side and the subject on the other.
Some ateliers and academies have their students copy Bargue plates in pencil, directly from the book Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme, by Gerald Ackerman. Others enlarge the plates and have their students copy them using charcoal.
An important item to note is that the originals were lithographic prints, 14″ x 23″ large and that they were created using a lithographer’s crayon. Therefore, larger drawings in charcoal might be a more accurate option as the dimensions of the lines in the original can be more closely approximated using that medium. This is not to say, however, that doing smaller, pencil-based copies is a bad thing.
Bargue’s book was (and still is) excellent. Through it you learn how to correctly simplify what you see in a face or figure, and, by extension, anything. The reason, in part, is that many of the sculptures which Bargue chose to use as sources for his course were from Classical Greece. The tradition of Western figurative art stems from Classical Greece because it was the Greeks who ultimately understood how to simplify the human form down to its most beautiful essence. Bargue’s hope seems to have been that the student’s eye would be indoctrinated into this type of seeing.
This type of seeing begins with seeing accurately, for how can you simplify what you cannot truly see in the first place. The process of copying the plates, combined with, and compared to drawing the nude model from life is what allowed the student to simplify as did the Greeks. After enough practice, the copied forms became a visualized ideal to which the living model was compared. Deviation, as I mention elsewhere on the site, was done intentionally and with purpose.
Another advantage to using Bargue plates is that they provide a subject which does not require much space nor cost.
When learning Sight-Size using Bargue plates (or from any other source), you learn how to determine distance by first attempting the measurement with your eye alone. Once confident, you then check your eye’s accuracy by using a plumb line or other measuring instrument. This process, eye first > then check by measuring, is an important lesson. It is how one’s eye is trained. The opposite, measuring first, results in little benefit to the student’s eye.
If you’d like to begin your journey to better sight, try this free guide to Bargue plate drawing.
Cast drawing is an essential starting point for anyone seeking to learn Sight-Size. A plaster cast provides a static, three-dimensional image from which the student can make accurate observations. Although not always the first, cast drawing is the most important step in learning Sight-Size. Some ateliers require numerous starts before a student is allowed to bring a cast drawing to a tighter finish, whereas others pursue finish on each attempt.
Cast drawing teaches you how to visually flatten the subject – remember, the paper is 2-dimensional – and to then use value and edge to give the impression of depth.
A typical cast setup is below.
The view of the setup as seen by the student from the viewing position.
This student is left-handed, hence the drawing’s position to the left of the cast.
A view from the side of the arrangement showing the viewing position while checking a horizontal measurement.
In Sight-Size, you will never look at the cast while up at the easel. All viewing of the subject takes place from a distance. With this in mind, most Sight-Size artists prefer to stand while drawing and painting. For more about the viewing position and Sight-Size, see the HISTORY page.
Learning Sight-Size cast drawing through SightSize.com is the next best thing to attending an atelier.
Detail of a cast painting in progress.
In any good learning environment the teacher will attempt to separate instruction into identifiable stages. Atelier training does this by first making the student focus on seeing and drawing, through Sight-Size, before they are allowed to attempt painting.
Once you demonstrate an understanding of Sight-Size and are proficient in representing accurate shape, value, and edge, you are ready to begin painting. The process is the same as with cast drawing, along with the addition of paint-specific direction.
The advantages of using a plaster cast from which to paint are similar to those related to cast drawing. If a cast is not available, you could use white china cups, bowls, and vases.
I think in almost all modern training in art there is a lamentable neglect of the training of the memory . . . Half the value of a sound training in drawing would be lost if it were not made to include a training of the memory as well as of the eye and hand.
-Kenyon Cox (1913)
While it might seem odd to have a section on Memory Drawing in a site about Sight-Size, it truly is a perfect fit. An artist’s ability to recall something previously seen gives that artist a distinct advantage. That advantage is all the more when the artist’s subject is no longer in view. If you think about it, all life drawing and painting is at some point being done from the artist’s memory, even if that memory is only a few seconds old. Every time the artist takes their eyes off of the model or scene and looks at their paper or canvas, their visual memory is involved.
The basic premise is this. The marks which you put on paper, canvas, clay or stone, get there out of the memory you have of what you’ve seen. This is true whether the subject is physically right in front of you or only in your imagination. Therefore, it only makes sense to train your visual memory right along with your sight.
A thorough training of your visual memory would begin with simple shapes, before attempting memory cast work. However, some prefer to skip ahead and start with whatever Bargue plate or cast on which they are currently working.
For an exhaustive study of memory drawing, see my 2013 book, Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall.