Velazquez’s portrait of pope Innocent X changed my life, artistically speaking. In the Fall of 1988 I was traveling through Europe. I had spent a week in Madrid, where I was ill and was in bed much of the time. Nevertheless, I was able to visit the museums a bit and was not that enamored with the Velazquez paintings in the Prado. Chalk it up to my illness or to the academic-centric outlook I had at the time. Whatever the reason, I just could not get my head around his work. It was not that I disliked it, I was merely neutral.
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.
There are many ways to categorize artists. One of the most useful divisions describes the ways in which they tended to view their subjects. Although the specifics sometimes vary, there are essentially two: seeing the whole, and piecemeal seeing. This article explains the latter, using a painting by the eighteenth-century Italian master Pompeo Batoni.
What is a sharp? There are many answers, each specific to one of our senses (the same is true for the opposite – soft). Foods, like some cheeses, can taste sharp. Roadkill can smell sharp. A musical note can sound sharp. The edge of a razor can feel sharp. The edge between two distinct forms can look sharp. In all cases, the concept of sharpness is relative. Equally important is that in all cases sharpness is not ever-present.
Although some may prefer to always work in Sight-Size, not all do or are able to all the time. Furthermore, not every subject or scene lends itself to the Sight-Size arrangement. In those cases the only other option is comparative measurement. Scaling your drawing should be no trouble for you if you’re skilled in seeing through Sight-Size. Since it is a distinct skill, however, it only makes sense to train that ability. And once you do, you’ll have gained a comparative eye.
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.
“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.