The Art of Starts

Article by Darren Rousar. Most recently updated in July of 2021.

Darren Rousar - Art of Starts 1.These are two of the first cast drawing starts that Mr. Lack had me do.

As a private student of Richard Lack’s during my Junior year in high school, one of the first things he impressed upon me was the art of starts. By this time in my training (early 1982) I had already learned much about Sight-Size from Annette LeSueur, a former Lack student. Nonetheless, Mr. Lack preferred to begin students with the rudiments of Sight-Size cast drawing and through them, starts.

As I recall, foremost in Mr. Lack’s mind was the idea that the start of a project was prime-time. In fact, he never allowed me to finish most of the cast drawings I did with him.

What about you? Think about how you are learning to draw. Odds are, you begin a drawing and carry it to completion. But where in that process is most of the real training of your eye taking place?

It is at the start.

  • It is at the start when you try to decide on the placement of the scene onto your paper.
  • It is at the start when you try to determine the main proportions and measurements of the scene.
  • It is at the start when you try to relate all the pieces of the scene into one cohesive whole.

If we could create a chart depicting the time spent on the various activities involved in drawing a cast it would likely show that you spent roughly 20% of the time on pursuing accuracy and 80% of the time pursuing finish (filling in those little holes in the paper, etc.). The result is that, over the course of your drawing, your eye is learning progressively less and less.

Hyperbole aside, the percentages above are backwards. To best learn how to see, you should be spending most of the time pursuing accurate sight and less time on finish. Understand that I am not here to negate finish – it is important after all. However, finish can be a major time suck. It can also place your learning on hold until you finally finish and then begin another project.

Let’s look at this another way. Assume that you drew the nose on your latest cast project as perfectly as a Apelles would have. You even worked it up to a fine finish. That’s great. But is that perfect nose in the correct place, relative to everything else on the cast? How about its size, is it properly sized? Those are really the issues. If it was not in the proper place and/or in the proper size, what then? You’d have to either redraw that perfect nose or redraw the rest of the cast to fit that perfect nose.

Darren Rousar - Art of Starts 2.Two more cast drawing starts.

A better approach, following R. H. Ives Gammell and Richard Lack’s lead, is to set your mind on doing a number of starts of different casts before ever attempting to finish one. I phrased it this way because we want to finish. We need to finish. However, if you first set your mind on starts you will arrive at the larger, more important goal much more quickly.

Because the start is where the learning is, doing many starts will help you to improve your visual accuracy. They will also mitigate the misaligned-yet-perfect nose problem because your main concern will be accurate relationships.

Remember that for the student, finish is fine but accuracy is better.

The art of starts is more fully explored in my book, The Sight-Size Cast. To get your copy, or to simply learn more about the book, see here. Also, I’ve written a companion article called The Art of Starts Revisited which you can read over here.

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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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