Although some may prefer to always work in Sight-Size, not all do or are able to all the time. Furthermore, not every subject or scene lends itself to the Sight-Size arrangement. In those cases the only other option is comparative measurement. Scaling your drawing should be no trouble for you if you’re skilled in seeing through Sight-Size. Since it is a distinct skill, however, it only makes sense to train that ability. And once you do, you’ll have gained a comparative eye.
Articles about Sight-Size
Here is an ever-growing collection of articles related to the Sight-Size approach. 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.
To solve the problem of values, you must determine the true hierarchy of them. Many artists do that by beginning with the darks, and a few do by beginning with the lights. In either case you’ll need to keep the range from darkest darks to lightest lights in mind. But what about beginning with the halftones? Is halftones-first a valid choice?
Plates from what is known as the Bargue-Gérôme Drawing Course are routinely copied by students in dozens of ateliers around the world. Some schools even base their entire curriculum on them. Thousands of self-taught students use them as well. In fact, the Free Guide I offer on this site is dependent on Bargue plates. But did you ever wonder, is Bargue bad?
Sight-size is mainly considered a portrait painting technique and its use was quite common during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some of the evidence for this is in photographic form, while other evidence has been handed down to us in books and manuscripts. In fact, the Sight-Size portrait has more of a recorded history than does that for Sight-Size cast drawing and Sight-Size still life.
Sight-Size cast drawing is used to teach students how to see shape and value. Oftentimes still life painting in Sight-Size is a common next step, and it is used to teach atelier students how to correctly see color notes. But Sight-Size still life is not only a student-level task. Many professional artists use Sight-Size for still life painting as well.
There is more to being a portrait painter than just capturing the sitter’s likeness. Among the other considerations is creating an effective composition, one that gives the viewer a reason to look at the painting beyond the mere factual aspects. A far too often overlooked compositional tool are the sitter’s hands. And when you miss that tool, you risk representing radiator fingers.
Finishing one area at a time is death to relational seeing. It interferes with your ability to compare relationships, whether that’s between shapes, values, color, or edges. Better is to keep everything moving along at the same pace. That not only eliminates the risks of piecemeal seeing, it also helps to assure an accurate representation. But how do you keep everything moving when nobody can effectively do more than one thing at a time?
Proper training in any subject requires you begin with simple elements and only after they are mastered would you move onto the next. That is why most ateliers begin their students education by drawing casts in charcoal. From there they move onto cast painting en grisaille, and then still life in full color. But some skip over the grisaille cast stage and jump straight to color by having their students paint a color cast.
Every now and then you may have heard the comment, “do as I say, not as I do.” The intent, of course, is to get you to do something that the speaker might not normally do. And so it is with the Isolator. It’s not normally part of my artistic kit. Nevertheless I have on occasion recommended it to my students.
One of the directions often given by Mr. Gammell was that the student should “See the big shapes. See them truthfully and then move on.” This is vitally important advice because if your big shapes are not correct, any additions will also be in error.