Exactly when the first artist decided to place their artwork visually next to their subject is impossible to determine. Nevertheless, we can follow history back in time and see the possible origins of Sight-Size.
Articles About the History of Sight-Size
The history of Sight-Size began the first time an artist decided to place their artwork visually next to their subject. That placement allowed them to work one-to-one. This collection of articles relate to the history of Sight-Size.
What is Sight-Size? Sight-Size is simply an arrangement of the artist, subject and artwork that allows the artist to see their subject and artwork one-to-one.
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.
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.
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.
Beginning students must learn to see nature simply, unencumbered by all the little piecemeal details. Under proper lighting many casts can provide this. But Michelangelo’s nose of David gives us simplicity, regardless of lighting. Due to that, the first thing I ask my students to do is to buy a nose.
A walk through just about any atelier or art academy will likely reveal numerous plaster casts hung on the walls. Why they are being used and why were the particular casts chosen over others? The answers often have little to no impact on today’s students, but that was not the case in the past.
Every once in a while an artist becomes more popular for what they write than for what they paint. I think Harrington Mann (1864-1937) falls into that category. Although during the later half of his life he was a popular portrait painter, his 1933 book, The Technique of Portrait Painting, may have saved him from ending up a mere footnote in the history of art.
Sir Joshua Reynolds appears in every account of the history of Sight-Size. Why? Because numerous sitters wrote of their experiences sitting to him. He stood while painting. He placed his canvas side-by-side with his sitter. He continually viewed the arrangement from a distant vantage point. All told, Sir Joshua Reynolds practiced textbook Sight-Size.
The terms Impressionism and Impressionists normally refer to an art movement from the late nineteenth century, as well as to its adherents. Defining the qualities which make Impressionism impressionistic is a bit more difficult.
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You can learn cast drawing in Sight-Size at home!
Learning how to accurately see, as well as draw, is best done through cast drawing in Sight-Size. Ateliers exist worldwide to help you do that. But what if you cannot attend an atelier? Or, perhaps you're already in an atelier and would like to supplement that training? I can help.