What is a sharp? There are many answers, each specific to one of our senses (the same is true for the opposite – soft). Foods, like some cheeses, can taste sharp. Roadkill can smell sharp. A musical note can sound sharp. The edge of a razor can feel sharp. The edge between two distinct forms can look sharp. In all cases, the concept of sharpness is relative. Equally important is that in all cases sharpness is not ever-present.
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.
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.
Common in the world of business is a concept called the Pareto Principle, which is better known as the 80/20 Rule. Generally speaking, it states that roughly 80% of the results come from only 20% of the effort. The principle has been shown to be valid in a surprising number of fields including economics, athletics, and computer coding. Relative to learning to see, the 80/20 rule also applies to cast drawing.
Relational seeing is a hallmark of many ateliers that are influenced by the teachings of R. H. Ives Gammell. Seeing relationally requires that the specifics of every aspect of the scene relate to each other: All values are compared to the darkest dark. All edges are compared to the sharpest sharp. And so on.
Movement is one of the most challenging elements students encounter when graduating from still life to portraits. Whether they’ve conquered it or not is best seen in how the eyes in their drawing work together. Often they don’t, and just as often the error is so slight that the student fails to see it. The solution is to stop chasing the distant eye.
One issue many students face when first attempting Sight-Size is keeping their plumb line level. The problem is the relative strength of your dominate arm, and oftentimes the result is a drawing that is higher on the paper than is the subject. The solution is to level up!
Scattered throughout a book of letters (written to Richard Whitney from R. H. Ives Gammell) is perhaps the best advice ever given to an aspiring painter: “Do your memory work for 10 to 15 minutes daily.” In fact, Mr. Gammell instructs Richard to bring some memory drawings with him to their very first meeting.
The fundamental element of Sight-Size is accurate comparison. Without it, your guesses are akin to guesses in arithmetic. One common way is using a plumb line. But what happens when you can no longer clearly see the line? What happens to Sight-Size with older eyes?
Memory training must be integrated into a mature painter’s working method if his or her talent is to be truly fulfilled. I myself, when doing a portrait commission, will spend up to three times as much time on memory work as I do on direct observation. Much of the weakness of contemporary realism done from nature comes not only from poorly trained eyes, but also from poorly trained memory.