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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.