Learning to See (and draw) on Your Own

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

The-Young-Draftsman-Jan-Lievens-1630-Louvre-CropThe Young Draftsman, by Jan Lievens (1630), detail.

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?

Ideally, everyone who desired would be able to locate, afford, and attend a quality atelier in person. They would also have the time and drive to make the best use of that education. Unfortunately, far too few are so blessed. Most let the dream slide away as life and responsibility take over. Or, they never had the opportunity in the first place.

If you’re reading this and do have that opportunity, grab it with both hands and never let go! It is clearly the best way to learn how to see and draw.

Given what I know of my subscribers, I have no doubt that most of you cannot attend an in-person atelier. In fact that’s the main reason you give for subscribing: an attempt to get a small taste of atelier training in one of the few ways they practically can.

Before I go on, let’s take a brief look at atelier training for a beginning student. Understand that my background ultimately stems from R. H. Ives Gammell, and that bias is not something I care to shed. Having said that, no one can deny that there are other, equally valid atelier experiences.

Gammell-based ateliers, like The Atelier, Charles Cecil Studios, The Florence Academy of Art, Thomas R. Dunlay Studios, The Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art, JHess Studios, and many others, begin their students’ training with cast drawing in Sight-Size. Some preempt that with a few Bargue plate drawings, though that is definitely a practice that is post-Gammell and Richard Lack (who was one of Gammell’s students and arguably the founder of the modern atelier movement).

Why Sight-Size? Because Sight-Size is a way that both teaches the student to accurately see as well as allows their teacher to better critique their student’s work. Due to its one-to-one relationship, Sight-Size is entirely objective. Most other ways of drawing and learning to see are not. It is that objective view which allows the teacher to properly critique and figuratively transfer their trained eye over to the student.

Self-taught students primarily miss two things:

  1. A teacher’s knowledge
  2. A teacher’s well-trained eye

Knowledge comes from study (reading, experiencing, etc.), and much of that can be acquired on your own. The times in which we live have never been better for doing just that. Had he or she your access to quality books, websites, and in many cases, museums, an apprentice from the Renaissance would squeal with ecstasy! The main problem now is separating the wheat from the chaff. Wrong turns and dead-ends are abundant.

To see is the student’s first and last concern.
Without a well-trained eye a student can never rise above mediocrity.

Richard F. Lack

More importantly, the other missing aspect is the well-trained eye of a good teacher, guiding you along. That problem is not easily conquered on your own. However, here again a help with that problem is Sight-Size.

Why?

Because when in Sight-Size your source is also the unchanging standard. And it is that standard, with or without a teacher, to which your eye is being trained. If you can put in quality time at the easel drawing casts in Sight-Size, with a little direction you will learn how to see and draw.

That direction is now much easier to acquire.

Atelier-Rousar-Sight-Size-Cast-Drawing

Atelier Rousar | online is live. Currently on offer are two online courses: Sight-Size Cast Drawing and Memory Drawing.

There is a lot to talk about, so head on over to the new site and signup for the demo content to learn all about it.

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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?

You can learn how to see through Sight-Size, or enhance what you already know with Darren R. Rousar's book The Sight-Size Cast.