The Sight-Size Mini

Article by Darren Rousar. Most recently updated in February of 2022.

s-sm-1A detail from an illustration by Gordon Browne, for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

A common saying in certain circles is to “go big or go home”. While some can do both (go big at home), most can’t. I say, if you’re stuck at home get small with the Sight-Size Mini. Back in 2016 I introduced a version of the Sight-Size Mini in my ebook, An Accurate Eye. It is used there as a means to assess the progress of your accurate eye training. Because not everyone has the opportunity or the space to create a proper Sight-Size arrangement in a home studio, the Sight-Size Mini is also the perfect substitute. With that in mind, let’s get small!*

What is a Sight-Size Mini?

Essentially, a Sight-Size Mini is simply a Sight-Size arrangement that’s temporary. There are a few versions, which I’ll explain below. But despite the different versions all share numerous aspects, both among themselves and with the traditional Sight-Size arrangement. Therefore, what follows may seem familiar to you.

If not, check out the What is Sight-Size page.

Those shared commonalities are:

  1. A side-by-side arrangement.
  2. A consistent vantage point.
  3. Drawing what you see.

So if the main aspects of the Sight-Size Mini and the traditional arrangement are the same, what is the difference? I’m glad you asked.

The differences are distance, scale, orientation, and perhaps lighting.

Distance

Given the small size of a Mini, a heroic distance is not possible. In fact, that’s often why one would use the Sight-Size Mini arrangement – because of a lack of space.

The standard distance for your vantage point when in Sight-Size is three-times the greatest length of your artwork. That distance is what allows your eye to take in the whole of your subject in one glance. As an example, if your subject is around 12″ x 18″, your vantage point should be at least 4 and a half feet back.

Of course, the farther back the better.

Scale

Though it may seem surprising for a Sight-Sizer, yes, I wrote scale. But not that scale! In this case, scale is determined concurrently with distance. If your art space is a mere six feet deep, you’re limited to a 24 inch wide artwork at most.

It’s actually less than that because you’ll need to account for the depth of your setup.

Vertical?

Another factor not in the list above is the orientation of your artwork. The majority of Sight-Size setups have the drawing board or canvas vertically oriented. They are also at eye level when viewed from the vantage point. Sight-Size Mini’s do not always provide that vertical opportunity.

But vertical really isn’t the point. Perpendicular is.

The picture plane of your artwork should be perpendicular to your line of sight. When it is not, distortions happen. At times, Sight-Size Mini setups have the subject lower than eye-level. In that case, the top of your drawing board should be tilted away from you. This is often the orientation that occurs when the lower edge of your drawing board is in your lap.

Exactly how much tilt is not that critical so you don’t need to worry too much about that. However, tilt it enough so that it seems like you’re looking at your drawing surface straight on.

Lighting

The lighting in traditional Sight-Size arrangement is both controlled and fixed. It does not move over time. But that is not always possible for a Mini.

Version #1

Let’s look at the Sight-Size Mini options, beginning with the high-end. This one is the closest to the traditional arrangement and it may require some carpentry skills or relying on someone who has them. If you like to build things with wood, and have the time, this one’s for you.

You’ll need the following:

  • A small platform.
  • A tabletop easel (one that can be vertically aligned).
  • A shadowbox (optional).
  • A high counter, table, or desk.

As you can see in the images below, these are purpose-built. You might similarly make-do with far less. The important factor here is to get your artwork and subject up to your eye-level (even if you have to sit), or to tilt the drawing surface such that your artwork is perpendicularly aligned to your eye. The arrangement shown below has that tilt.

s-sm-2A Sight-Size Mini setup. The high-end version.

s-sm-easelThe bespoke easel used in the setup above.

Why would you bother? Lack of space for a proper setup would be a good reason.

Version #2

This version simply needs some kind of tripod easel. Using one you would be able to place your objects on a bookshelf and therefore be able to stand while drawing. Or, you could place them on a table top. You would then need to either sit or tilt the drawing surface attached to the tripod perpendicular to your standing vantage point.

s-sm-3

You can see a tripod setup above. I used my landscape painting tripod easel as the main support. I then attached a short piece of workbench t-track to the camera mounting plate. Finally, I made a couple of brackets to hold the drawing board or canvas. The brackets slide along the t-track using t-bolts.

There are artist’s tripod easels available as well, so you won’t have to create your own.

Version #3

The next version down the scale of complexity is more common, and that is simply placing your setup on a table in front of you. It’s basically, “just draw something.” Though much more convenient, it is also more difficult to properly arrange and keep static. You’ll likely be sitting as well.

If you look back at the requirements near the top of this article, you’ll notice that consistency is key for all versions of Sight-Size Minis. In other words, both your arrangement and your vantage point need to remain consistent throughout the entire drawing process. This will probably not be an issue if you’re only planning on a one drawing session. But for an extended drawing, it will be.

The solutions are not ideal, but they do work.

s-sm-4

First, make sure that the setup of your subject can remain in place throughout the course of the drawing. Second, before the first session ends, do your best to get all of the main shapes accurately drawn in. That way, when you return to the drawing you can use those shapes to help you to properly position yourself.

This is really no different than when using a traditional Sight-Size arrangement, where you have to slightly adjust your vantage point every time you step back into it.

Another issue may be the side-by-side placement of your subject and artwork. Odds are that you’re used to a literal side-by-side arrangement, with your subject horizontally next to your artwork. That arrangement is the easiest to use in part because we’re used to working in that way.

However, nothing says that a diagonal or even a vertical side-by-side arrangement is unusable. In fact, with a little practice you can be as accurate in any arrangement as you are horizontally.

The remaining factor is the aforementioned perpendicular aspect of your drawing surface. Keeping that orientation to your line of sight may be the most troubling because your drawing board will not be fixed in place, especially for a multi-session drawing. Still, with a little practice most can manage it without too much difficulty.

s-sm-5The typical copying from the flat setup using a Bargue plate.

Version #4

The final version is called copying from the flat. I list it here because that’s how Bargue plates and old master drawings are copied in Sight-Size. It is also what most do when using photographic reference in Sight-Size.

However, unless you’re a beginning student or learning drawing techniques by copying an old master drawing you’ll be better served by using actual objects for your Sight-Size Mini sources. A lack of space may well push you into the flat too and if that’s the only way for you to get small, then go for it.

The basic principles of copying from the flat are identical to those when working in Sight-Size from life. The advantages for copying from the flat, especially for beginners, are that the ease of maintaining a consistent vantage point and orientation is quite simple. How? Since the entire arrangement (drawing surface, and drawing source) are affixed to the same board, your vantage point and orientation are effectively locked-in.

Regardless of your situation, there will likely be a way for you to work in Sight-Size. It is important to do, so that your eye’s accuracy stays sharp.

* Readers of a certain age will recall Steve Martin’s late 70s comedy album, Let’s Get Small.

steps-to-seeing-cta-2021

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