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.
Seeing. We all do it, but we can do better.
Sight-Size is predicated on a desire to accurately draw what you see. Then, once your eye is trained to objectively see, you can make intentional, intelligent, and artistic choices about deviating from your source. These articles are all about seeing.
“It will be like scales falling from your eyes” was a statement I frequently heard during my years in various ateliers and it is something I tell my own students. That’s fairly straightforward. But let’s look a little closer to better understand how it applies to learning to see.
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.
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.
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.
The fundamental element of Sight-Size is accurate comparison. Without it, your guesses are akin to guesses in arithmetic. One common way is using a plumb line. But what happens when you can no longer clearly see the line? What happens to Sight-Size with older eyes?
Responding to an artist’s claim of being self-taught, a friend of mine once replied that they couldn’t have just “sprung from the earth.” She meant that, one way or another, that artist had to have had training because representational art is a skill-based endeavor. Of course there’s training, and then there is training! And that begs the question, can you learn to see and draw on your own?
Most people see in stereo. But for representational artists, that is not always a good thing. Why? Because stereo vision gives you two visual points of view. And since your paper is flat, seeing both can be problematic. Better is to pick an eye and stick with it.