The statement that “good artists copy; great artists steal” has been attributed to many. History is replete with examples of both sides, and not just in art but also in other fields. Is the assertion true? The answer, I think, depends upon both the reason for the copy and how well it was done. Let’s avoid the controversy and look at some old masters copying older masters.
All the Articles on the Site
Here is an ever-growing collection of articles related to the Sight-Size approach, as well as some digressions. Many of these articles expand on the lessons I teach my own students. Others are of more historical interest. And yes, many contain promotional content to my free guide, books, and online courses. You can learn how to see accurately so that you can successfully draw what you see. Therefore, all of the content I produce is centered on helping you do that.
Back in the mid 90s I taught alongside Charles Cecil at his atelier in Florence, Italy. The teaching pattern there followed that which I had previously experienced in my own education at various ateliers. Students received critiques of their work 4 times per week. Beyond that, they were left to work on their projects by themselves. It’s a fine system, but it can be a bit of a shock to beginners. So I’ve created something to help and I’ll tell you more about that shortly.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, each painting tells us where we’re supposed to stand. A painting whose artist was aware of the visual impression will position the viewer at the same place on the floor where the artist stood. It’s only at that distance where the painting comes into its proper focus.
Carolus-Duran is best known as the teacher of John Singer Sargent. Although he was well versed in other genres, in his day he was most famous for his portraits. As a contemporary remarked, “He makes living beings, and he makes them thus because he so sees them. One feels that when he has a subject under his eyes, he scrutinizes the very soul.”
Charles Gleyre (1806-1874) was a Swiss artist who took over Paul Delaroche’s Paris atelier in 1843. He is now largely unheard of outside of France and Switzerland, perhaps because his influence on later artists was due more to his instruction and less to his production as a painter.
Velazquez’s portrait of pope Innocent X changed my life, artistically speaking. In the Fall of 1988 I was traveling through Europe. I had spent a week in Madrid, where I was ill and was in bed much of the time. Nevertheless, I was able to visit the museums a bit and was not that enamored with the Velazquez paintings in the Prado. Chalk it up to my illness or to the academic-centric outlook I had at the time. Whatever the reason, I just could not get my head around his work. It was not that I disliked it, I was merely neutral.
A common saying in certain circles is to “go big or go home”. While some can do both (go big at home), most can’t. I say, if you’re stuck at home get small with the Sight-Size Mini. Because not everyone has the opportunity or the space to create a proper Sight-Size arrangement in a home studio, the Sight-Size Mini is also the perfect substitute. With that in mind, let’s get small!
No matter what you’re skilled at doing you are probably taking shortcuts. Oftentimes you take them without even knowing it. That’s equally true for drawing and painting as it is for anything else. Of course all shortcuts aren’t necessarily bad. But when they affect your accuracy they are. The problem is, how do you know when you’re saving time or introducing errors? While the answer depends upon the shortcut being taken, better is to stop relying on them. One way to do that is to keep your eye in tune by doing a cast a year.
I was taught that style was a choice an artist makes whereas manner is something which is not chosen but naturally occurring. Manner, therefore, was to be avoided. In fact, a part of one’s training in Sight-Size was subduing subconscious mannerisms in the student. You must learn to objectively represent nature before you can successfully engage in subjective representations.
There are many ways to categorize artists. One of the most useful divisions describes the ways in which they tended to view their subjects. Although the specifics sometimes vary, there are essentially two: seeing the whole, and piecemeal seeing. This article explains the latter, using a painting by the eighteenth-century Italian master Pompeo Batoni.