A detail of a lay-in by Sargent (Eleanora Duse, 1893).
After spending enough time on this site, or at an atelier that comes down through R. H. Ives Gammell, you will soon notice phrases like, the big-look and piecemeal seeing. The former is always deemed to be good and the latter, bad. The surest way to avoid the bad and pursue the good is to work on the farthest back straggler first.
The farthest back straggler or, more grammatically correct, the furthest back straggler*, means to always work on the most incorrect area first. In other words, you should attempt to keep the whole drawing or painting up to the same level at all times. The opposite is finishing one area at a time, which is sometimes known as window-shading.
Naturally, one cannot physically draw or paint on more than one area at a time. However, when you push an area too far, your eye’s ability to keep that area in sync with the whole becomes compromised. Besides the aforementioned ideas of the big-look and piecemeal seeing, you also risk contextual errors when you finish one area at a time.
Another Sargent lay-in (The Gondolier, 1900).
So how do you go about keeping everything at the same level of resolve? You give preference to the farthest back straggler.
When you begin a drawing or painting, the farthest back straggler will always be the areas that you have yet to start. But once the block-in or lay-in are complete, the straggler will be any area that remains the furthest from finish and/or is the most incorrect. Unfortunately, as the drawing or painting gets closer to completion, what is farthest back can sometimes become a bit difficult to determine.
To help keep your drawing or painting progressing at the same rate, follow this process:
- When arriving at your studio space, or after an extended break, search out the errors.
- Try to decide which is the most egregious, followed by the next, and so on.
- You might write them down as well. In my case as a teacher, I put little dots (in
charcoal) on the student’s paper near the errors.
- Before working on any new area or progressing to any new stage, correct the worst five offenders.
An unfinished Velazquez (The Needlewoman, 1643).
Doing those steps will force a number of good things upon you. Besides causing you to keep the drawing or painting progressing altogether and at the same pace (which is also a remedy for piecemeal seeing). It will provide you with some direction so that you will always know what to do next. Furthermore, it will let you know when you are finished.
This article had as its genesis my book, The Sight-Size Cast. To get your copy, or to simply learn more about the book, see here.
* The word farther always denotes physical distance. Therefore, the word further in the aphorism’s context is more correct.