Back in the mid 90s I taught alongside Charles Cecil at his atelier in Florence, Italy. The teaching pattern there followed that which I had previously experienced in my own education at various ateliers. Students received critiques of their work 4 times per week. Beyond that, they were left to work on their projects by themselves. It’s a fine system, but it can be a bit of a shock to beginners. So I’ve created something to help and I’ll tell you more about that shortly.
Instruction in Sight-Size
Sight-Size is as much about learning to draw and paint what you see as it is about actually drawing and painting. This collection of articles provides a wealth of information on the subject. If you've not done so already, a perfect place to begin your journey is through a free guide to doing Bargue Plate copies in Sight-Size.
A common saying in certain circles is to “go big or go home”. While some can do both (go big at home), most can’t. I say, if you’re stuck at home get small with the Sight-Size Mini. Because not everyone has the opportunity or the space to create a proper Sight-Size arrangement in a home studio, the Sight-Size Mini is also the perfect substitute. With that in mind, let’s get small!
No matter what you’re skilled at doing you are probably taking shortcuts. Oftentimes you take them without even knowing it. That’s equally true for drawing and painting as it is for anything else. Of course all shortcuts aren’t necessarily bad. But when they affect your accuracy they are. The problem is, how do you know when you’re saving time or introducing errors? While the answer depends upon the shortcut being taken, better is to stop relying on them. One way to do that is to keep your eye in tune by doing a cast a year.
Many children in America learn to play baseball early in life. One of the first principles commonly taught is to not choke the bat. Choking the bat means gripping it too close to the top. But there are situations when choking the bat may be a good thing and some players routinely do it. The way an artist grips their instrument is as important as a baseball player’s grip on the bat. And as in baseball, it’s important to know when to choke the bâton.
A small error at any point in the process of creating your drawing can have an adverse effect on the result. It does not really matter when the error takes place, but the earlier the error the larger its effect will be. This concept, that a small change can have large consequences, is known as the butterfly effect.
Many beginners see starts as merely a means to an end. But the art of starts goes well beyond learning how to see, for how well you start can affect how well you finish. That’s especially true for cast drawings. Therefore, let’s revisit the art of starts with an eye towards learning how to do them for practice.
One of the advantages of attending an atelier is partaking in an established system of regular critiques. Such critiques are arguably the most beneficial part of one’s training because it is through them that the master’s eye gets passed down to the next generation. Given their importance it’s wise to wonder, “what is a critique?”
The modern day theory of mastery prescribes 10,000 hours of practice. That’s not a magic number, of course, it’s merely a guideline. But more important than the number of hours of practice is the quality of that practice. Practice needs to be focussed and deliberate. And you must also fail. In fact, better than 10,000 hours of practice are 10,000 failures. Even better is to use your failures.
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?