Equal To, Larger Than, Smaller Than

Article by Darren Rousar. Most recently updated in October of 2020.

Three drawings of the same cast, done in Sight-Size but with the easel at different distances from the subject.What three drawings of the same cast would look like when done in Sight-Size but with the easel at different distances from the subject. The middle drawing is life size.

The size of a drawing or painting done in Sight-Size can be equal to, larger than, or smaller than life size. Which size you are in depends entirely upon the placement of your easel, relative to your subject, and your viewing position. To understand that, you first need to understand exactly what Sight-Size is.

Sight-Size is an arrangement that allows the artist to see their subject and artwork visually one-to-one. It is the only arrangement which provides this opportunity because the easel and subject are always visually side-by-side. Whether you mechanically measure, establish the envelope first, paint indirectly with glazes, or in an opaque manner, etc., has nothing at all to do with Sight-Size. Rather, if you are drawing, painting, or sculpting directly in the size that you see your subject, then you are in Sight-Size.

Nothing in its definition requires that Sight-Size be done life size. Oftentimes, however, it is, and as such life size Sight-Size is a normal experience for most atelier students.

A life size Sight-Size setup, as seen from the viewing position.A life size Sight-Size setup, as seen from the viewing position.

To do a life size Sight-Size project, your subject and artwork are placed both physically and visually side by side. You would then stand some distance back in order to view both in one glance. All comparisons between your subject and artwork would be done from that distant viewing position and you would never look over to your subject when up at the easel.

A life size Sight-Size setup, as seen from the side.A life size Sight-Size setup, as seen from the side.

In the photograph above, notice that the plane of the drawing board is roughly centered on the cast. This placement averages the distance from front to back and results in as life size a drawing as is possible. Were this a portrait drawing, and I wanted to draw a life size head, I would make sure that the plane of the drawing board was placed just to the front of the sitter’s ear. Other artists prefer a behind the ear placement.

A larger than life Sight-Size setup, as seen from the viewing position.A larger than life Sight-Size setup, as seen from the viewing position.

If your easel was farther back from your viewing position than was your subject, the result would be a larger than life Sight-Size drawing. Doing this is not common, principally because larger than life drawings and paintings are not that common in modern homes.

A larger than life Sight-Size setup, as seen from the side.A larger than life Sight-Size setup, as seen from the side.

Above, you can see the setup for a larger than life Sight-Size drawing. The viewing position is the same for this drawing as it is for a life size drawing. If the easel was moved farther back, or the still life stand was pulled closer to the viewing position, the resulting drawing would be even larger.

A smaller that life Sight-Size setup, as seen from the viewing position.A smaller that life Sight-Size setup, as seen from the viewing position.

Smaller than life Sight-Size drawings are common in many ateliers, but rarely for cast work. Instead, figure drawings are often done in this way. Why? There are three reasons. The first is that more students can make use of one model. Since the easel is closer to the student than is the model, more easels will fit around the room.

Second, the size of paper being used often defines the dimension of the drawing. When the easel and student are closer together, as well as far enough away from the model, the model appears smaller than life size. If you place your easel at a distance of three times the height of the model and then stand back at arm’s length from he easel, the figure will appear to be between seven and ten inches tall.

The seven to ten inch figure nicely explains the third reason for doing a smaller than life Sight-Size drawing. At sizes greater than ten inches, pencil becomes a more difficult medium to manage. This is one reason why the figure drawings done in the ateliers with which I have been acquainted were done in charcoal when a larger size was required. In that situation, the easel is moved closer to the model than when using pencil, but the viewing position is from the same place. For some interesting thoughts on smaller than life Sight-Size, see this article here.

A smaller than life Sight-Size setup, as seen from the side.A smaller than life Sight-Size setup, as seen from the side.

The setup for a smaller than life Sight-Size cast drawing is shown above. The same viewing position is used for this setup as for the other two. If the easel was moved closer, or the still life stand farther away, the resulting drawing would be even smaller than is shown.

Looking at the three setups from the viewing position, the visual size of the cast and its drawing is identical between all three. This is because they are all in Sight-Size, despite the fact that the literally measured size of the drawings is different.

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Learning how to accurately see, as well as draw, is best done through Sight-Size cast drawing. Ateliers exist worldwide to help you do that. But what if you cannot afford atelier training, or there is not an atelier nearby? Or, perhaps you are already in an atelier and would like to supplement that training?

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