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.
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 that 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.
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!