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.
A single point of view is required for all forms of drawing what you see. One way of assuring that is by closing one eye. But closing one eye alone will not give you a consistent single point of view. You also need to position yourself in the same place throughout the process of working on the drawing or painting. One of the first to recommend this was Leon Alberti, in reference to what is now known as Alberti’s Veil.
One of the early reasons for museums was to help in the training of artists. They would go and copy whatever works interested them or were assigned by their master. Nowadays most visitors are the general public. But whatever the reason for the visit most people barely glance at what they’re seeing. That’s a shame. To counter that, let’s go to the museum as an artist might.
If you’re reading this, you can clearly see. The question is, how clearly do you see? It’s an important question because although vision is a biological wonder, not everyone’s vision is equally comparable. For some, the most obvious issue is a lack of focus. But other issues are often less obvious. One possible tell is your ability to see a perfect circle.
Did you know that more often than not you don’t see what you think you see? Relative to drawing and painting, two critical factors are involved. The first is inaccurate observation, and the second is confirmation bias. The solution to both problems is the same.
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?
When drawing and painting from nature we’re hindered almost as much by our tools as we are by our lack of skill. Foremost among those difficulties is nature’s range of value compared to that of our chosen medium. Nature’s gamut is far wider than ours, and the divergence is tilted towards the darks. That is one reason why it’s almost always best to begin with the darks, and only after darkness, light.
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.