The Sight-Size Still Life

Article by Darren Rousar.

frans-mortelsmansFrans Mortelmans (1865-1936), Belgian still life painter.

Sight-Size cast drawing is used to teach students how to see shape and value. Oftentimes still life painting in Sight-Size is a common next step, and it is used to teach atelier students how to correctly see color notes. But Sight-Size still life is not only a student-level task. Many professional artists use Sight-Size for still life painting as well.

The reasons are fairly obvious. In many ways the typical still life setup is like a cast setup. Your subject is static, nor is it at the far end of the room. It is often arranged on the top of a table or platform.

Furthermore, the one-to-one aspects of Sight-Size enable you to see accurate color notes without the need to scale first.

sl-1This photograph shows the typical Sight-Size still life arrangement. The painting is simply laid-in, and is also a simple lay-in.

Stand or Sit

Most Sight-Size students and artists of today prefer to stand when working. Standing more easily allows you to achieve a heroic distance, which is helpful for seeing the big-look.

But many artists of the past chose to sit while painting their still lifes in Sight-Size. With that in mind, of interest in the images shown in this article is the fact that all of the artists are leaning back in their chairs, as if to get a look from farther away.

george-wimpenny-clara-potts-sitting-at-an-easel-painting-a-still-life-of-flowers-1897George Wimpenny, Clara Potts Sitting at an Easel Painting a Still Life of Flowers (1897).


Imagine a ray extending from your eye to your canvas. That ray should be perpendicular to your it, otherwise your view of the canvas will be slightly oblique. That slanting angle may result in a painting whose image is either bigger or smaller on the top than intended.

On first glance, it would appear that the angle of the artists’ canvases in this article are titled. And it’s true. They are.

But look at their viewing positions.

The vantage points of the artists shown in the Wimpenny and Fantin-Latour paintings are above their subjects. Therefore their canvases should be titled slightly forward so that their viewing angle is perpendicular to their canvas. And they are.

Conversely, the vantage point of the artist in the Mortelsmans’ painting is such that he has to look up a little in order to best see his entire setup. Therefore his painting should be tilted slightly back. And it is.

Fantin-Latour-TheStudyFantin-Latour, The Study (1883).

Whether seated or standing, when doing a still life in Sight-Size be sure to keep your canvas at a perpendicular tilt to your angle of view. Also adjust your vantage point such that you can take in the whole of your subject in once glance.

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You can learn cast drawing in Sight-Size at home!

Learning how to accurately see, as well as draw, is best done through cast drawing in Sight-Size. Ateliers exist worldwide to help you do that. But what if you cannot attend an atelier? Or, perhaps you're already in an atelier and would like to supplement that training? I can help.