Sizing up a few Sight-Size Issues Part II

drawing
sight-size

(Anthony Waichulis) #1

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Sir Joshua Reynolds, first President of the Royal Academy of Arts, was a firm opponent of teaching mechanical copying of any kind. In his Discourses on Art (p.29) he says:

“I consider general copying as a delusive kind of industry; the student satisfies himself with the appearance of doing something… as it requires no effort of the mind, he sleeps over his work. Some…confining themselves entirely to mechanical practice, toil on in the drudgery of copying; and think they make a rapid progress…though it takes up much time in copying, conduces little to improvement. This appears to me very tedious, and I think a very erroneous method of proceeding.”

Carolus-Duran

Mr. Rousar states that:

Regarding its instruction, R.A.M. Stevenson, a fellow student with Sargent at Carolus-Duran’s atelier, provides written descriptions of the atelier that a modern day atelier student would recognize as sight-size”. (Sight-size.com)

A modern day atelier student may believe that if they choose, but here is how R.A.M. Stevenson describes a painting of a portrait in atelier Carolus-Duran:

…a slight search of proportions with charcoal, the places of masses were indicated with rigger dipped in a flowing pigment. No preparation in color or monochrome was allowed, but the main planes of the face must be laid directly on the unprepared canvas with a broad brush. …. no conventional bounding of eyes and features with lines that might deceive the student by their expression into the belief that false structure was truthful…” (Stevenson 147).

Careful mechanical measuring and tracing methods of sight-size is incompatible with such approaches.

But here is a description of Carolus-Duran actually drawing:

“As the drawing proceeded, and one began to grasp its meaning, it became obvious that he was reserving all effect for the painting, towards which this was the sternest preparation. With the care of a general, who surveys the ground on which he is about to hazard battle, did Carolus place his masses and lines: rubbing out occasionally, making alterations, and holding up the stick of charcoal between his eye and the model to take measurements, as humbly as any tyro setting out his first drawing from the antique. When done, the only remarkable thing about the drawing was its extraordinary precision: the lines were such as anyone might trace had he the knack to persuade them to go exactly into their right places.”* *H. Arthur Kennedy, THE CONTEMPORARY REVIEW VOLUME LIII. JANUARY— JUNE 1888 ISBISTER AND COMPANY LIMITED

Side-size tracing would automatically put lines “to go exactly into their right places”, so there wouldn’t be anything “remarkable” about it. This description of Carolus-Duran drawing by “holding up the stick of charcoal between his eye and the model to take measurements” undoubtedly shows use of a “sighting” measurement of traditional drawing.

Here is one of the axioms of Carolus Duran:

“_Educate the eye before you educate the hand. The hand will become cunning soon enough when the eye has learned to see, whereas if the hand be educated before the eye one may never se_e” *

  • Notes of the Fine Arts, Gossip about painters and sculptors. The New York Times, January 9, 1881

A description of Duran’s atelier:

“On Monday morning the students set up their easels in whatever place they could find.
There they would remain all week”* *Carter Ratcliff, John Singer Sargent, p. 41

Anybody familiar with sight-size method would know that it is impossible to work in “whatever place they could find”, because in order to practice sight-size, the arrangement of object and model, easel, light and observation point must be perfectly set up.


Carolus-Duran at Chase School of Art, New-York, 12 April 1898

In the above photograph Carolus-Duran is painting at the Chase School of Art, founded by his student William Merritt Chase. Here this “sight-size portraitist” paints in a free, normal way, no model is sitting or standing next to the easel, the canvas is slanted and Carolus-Duran does not even have space to move back; this is not the sight-size method.

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Photograph of Carolus-Duran painting a portrait of Siam royalty clearly shows that he was painting in a normal, traditional way. The slanted canvas and the level of painting not been aligned on the same level as the head of the sitter, makes it impossible to use sight-size method.

Léon Bonnat

Sight-size promoters suggests that any mentioning of drawing or painting being put next to the model at any time during the artist’s work, represents the use of the sight-size method. In the essay named: “The Sight-Size Portrait Tradition”, Nicholas Beer makes a great effort to legitimize the sight-size method and to make it appear historical.

According to Mr. Beer almost anyone who was any good was a “sight-size portraitist.” Here Mr. Beer quotes Edwin Blashfield describing Leon Bonnat painting:

We have seen how, instead of sitting or standing before his canvas with his model at a distance, he placed the latter close beside the canvas, and then went away from his subject to the very end of his studio. There dropping upon one knee to bring the point of sight to the proper level, and half closing his eyes, he carefully compared model and picture, then going quickly to his easel, painted a few strokes, and repeated his journey.”

*John Charles Van ■■■■ ,“Modern French Masters”

By examining the words “he placed the latter close beside the canvas,” and “…he carefully compared model and picture” it becomes obvious that Bonnat did not start his painting with sight-size at all, and at the time of positioning the model to his picture, he was well advanced in his painting. “…There dropping upon one knee to bring the point of sight to the proper level…” indicates that even when he put the picture close to the model, it was LOWER than the model! Understanding perspective is imperative to understanding this point.

One of his pupils describes his teaching method: “Begin, Bonnat said, by looking for the overall proportion and movement in the body…. Screw up your eyes to see the proportions”* *Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, Sue Prideaux

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Léon Bonnat painting portrait of Victor Hugo, 1879 by Claverie

Bonnat painting a portrait of Victor Hugo has been depicted by artist Claverie, and as it is seen in the drawing, Bonnat is painting in the traditional method and not with sight-size.

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Portrait of Victor Hugo by Léon Bonnat

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Painting entitled “Bonnat and his pupils” clearly depicts a slanted canvas which cannot possibly be used in the sight-size tracing method.

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Bonnat atelier

Photographs of the Bonnat Atelier provided above illustrate the fact that sight-size was not used there.
John Singer Sargent

Julie Helen Heyneman, a pupil of John Singer Sargent, describes Sargent’s method of painting:

“To watch the head develop from the start was like the sudden lifting of a blind in a dark room. Every stage was a revelation. For one thing he often moved his easel next to the sitter so that when he walked back from it he saw the canvas and the original in the same light, at the same distance, at the same angle of vision.”*

(‘For one thing he put his easel directly next to the sitter’ is quoted by Nicholas Beer in his essay The Sight-Size Portrait Tradition).

The part “ …he often moved his easel next to the sitter…” unmistakably shows, that the painting was done away from the sitter, and periodically moved next to the sitter for better comparison.

He advised doing a head for a portrait slightly under life-size, to counteract the tendency to paint larger than life. Even so he laid in a head slightly larger than he intended to leave it, so that he could model the edges with and into the background.”** Julie Helen Heyneman papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Mr. Beer goes after Whistler using T.R. Way’s description of Whistler’s studio:

While Bonnat and Carolus Duran aimed at a naturalistic representation, James McNeill Whistler exploited sight-size for more unconventional ends……T. R. Way gives the following description of Whistler’s Tite Street: studio “I remember a very long, not very lofty room very light, with windows along one side, his canvas beside his model at one end, and at the other, near the table he used as a palette, an old Georgian looking glass, so arranged that he could readily see his canvas and model reflected in it. Those who use such a mirror will know that it is the most merciless of critics … he darted backwards and forewords to look at both painting and model from his point of view at the extreme end of the long studio.

Here again, having canvas next to the model and moving “backwards and forewords” he calls “exploited sight-size”, while this quotation of T.R. Way does not even mention the size of the painting, so it is unknown whether it was painted the same size or not.
And even if it was, it wouldn’t mean that Whistler side-traced the model.

The recycling of names such as of Lawrence, Raynolds, Rayburn, Van Dyck, and Sargent becomes a routine, as they have been repeated in claim-to-fame attempts on most sight-size websites and articles, but periodically we can see inclusion of other names, completely out of the blue such as, Rubens,Velasquez, Leonardo da Vinci and almost any famous artist.

Examples of misinformation

The intention of this article is not to insult sight-size instructors, but to clarify the true definition of the sight-size method as it is taught in sight-size ateliers (a mechanical transfer process), and to stop the circulation of false claims on historic and academic roots of the sight-size tracing method.

The following statements were taken from various Internet sites. These statements exemplify the unfortunate misrepresentation of the sight-size method:

“Sight-size is a unique method of drawing and painting. It can be traced back through the works of Sargent, Lawrence, Raynolds, Rayburn, Van Dyck, Rubens and Velasquez to Leonardo da Vinci”. (http://www.ingersportraits.com/ inger hodgson)

“Throughout the course, students are taught according to sight-size practiced by such artists as Rembrandt, Rijn and Sargent.” (http://marymolony.net/modern_renaissance.php)

Now, Rembrandt is also put in the same company. I don’t know who “Rijn” is, but I think she meant Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

It’s one of the oldest methods for drawing having evolved from the Renaissance, the method was fully developed and taught as it is taught today by the 17th century. The list of artists who used the sight size method for figurative drawings and portraits is amazing” (askville.amazon.com/)

The word “certainly” goes together with putting Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds in the same century with Sargent.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lawrence, John Singer Sargent, Philip De Laszlo, John Collier, John Everett Millais, and many other artists (including myself), have been placing the picture next to the model, using their nearness to check and compare. Claiming they are “sight-size portraitists” unfairly misrepresents their philosophy, training, skills and methods of painting. They all studied drawing and painting in academies and ateliers which never taught the sight-size method.

In fact, any academic literature on the history of art education never mentions the sight- size method. These books include, but are not limited to: Academies of Art: Past and Present, by Nikolaus Pevsner; Teaching Art: from Vasari to Albers, by Carl Goldstein; History of Methods of Teaching Drawing, by N.N. Rostovtsev; The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century by Albert Boime; The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth- Century American Painters and Their French Teachers, by H. Barbara Weinberg.

More claims, now on lineage

In Continuing a Long Tradition of Training Painters, author Peter Bougie says:

“Richard Lack studied with the Boston painter R. H. Ives Gammell, who was a student of the American Impressionist William Paxton, who in turn studied under Jean-Leon Gerome in Paris during the late 19th century. Gerome studied with Paul Delaroche; and Delaroche was a pupil of the great neo-classicist Jacques- Louis David”.

Another article by Peter Bougie, The Atelier Method of Learning Art: a Living Tradition
claims that:

“Through Gammell and these young men, his earliest students, a tradition of painting skills passing from teacher to students could be traced all the way back to the French Neo-Classicist Jacques Louis David.”

“Tradition of painting skills?” What kind of a tradition is that? Teachers were passing their knowledge to the students in studios, bottegas, ateliers, and academies long before Jacques Louis David. Is this a claim that David was using a sight-size method?

From “Michele Mitchell” by Arlene Winkler, Western North Carolina Women’s Magazine:

“I’m part of a wonderful lineage,” she explains. “From Master to Apprentice, from Boucher/Vien 1703-1770 to Jacque Louis David 1748-1825, then to Antoine Jean Gros 1771-1835 to Delaroche/Gleyre 1808-1874 (students of Charles Gleyre included Monet, Renoir and Whistler), then to Jean-Leon Gerome 1824-1904, to William McGregor Paxton 1869-1941, to R.H. Ives Gammell 1893-1981, to my teacher, Richard Lack 1928-present. And then I am next in line, with my contemporaries at Richard Lack’s atelier.

Here is an appropriate comment by Gerald Ackerman about sight-size mythical lineage:

“Some adherents [to sight-size method] have attempted to resurrect an ennobling lineage of artists who used the method, much like Renaissance dukes and popes extending their family trees back to Hercules” (Ackerman 318).

By Jack El-Hai, Minnesota Monthly December 2006 :

“Gjertson’s and Lack’s other students claim an artistic lineage that connects them to Jacques-Louis David, Paul Delaroche, and Jean-Léon Gérôme of France, in addition to Americans William McGregor Paxton, R. H. Ives Gammell, and Gjertson’s mentor Lack. (Lineage is important to classical realists because they believe that the essence of their tradition moves from master to apprentice, from teacher to student.)” (Bold letter highlighting is mine).

Creation of the term “Classical Realism” by Richard Lack is well documented.

It is also admitted by Stephen Gjertson in his article: Classical Realism; a Living Artistic Tradition.

So, then Classical Realism is certainly not the lineage that could line them with Jean- Léon Gérôme, or Jacques-Louis David, since nether Gérôme, nor David have ever heard of such a thing as Classical Realism.
Then the questions are: “…the essence” of what “tradition”? Or, why “Lineage is important…”?

The answer to these questions is simple: to legitimize the teaching of sight-size method as authentic, credible and traditional is to imply that such artists as Jean-Léon Gérôme, Paul Delaroche, and Jacques-Louis David were using and teaching the sight-size method.

Most consistent lineage claims, repeated like a mantra on sight-site websites are - Jean-Léon Gérôme - William McGregor Paxton - R. H. Ives Gammell - Richard Lack.

Gérôme’s position in this lineage is crucial; he was very significant figure in European art and art education. He is made to be the “missing link” between traditional European academic system and the sight-size method; the lineage implication is that if Lack used the sight-size method then Gérôme used it as well.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word implication as:

“a logical relationship between two propositions in which if the first is true the second is true” and “a logical relation between two propositions that fails to hold only if the first is true and the second is false”.

The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Art states on their website:

“A portion of The Atelier’s educational lineage is as follows:

• Jaques-Louis David (1748-1825)
• Paul Delaroche (1797-1856)
• Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)
• William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941)
• R. H. Ives Gammell (1893-1981)
• Richard F. Lack (1928-2009) “ http://theatelier.org/
It makes one wonder of what other “portion” of their lineage is.

Here is an example of how Florence Academy of Art (registered American organization) creates an impression that sight-size method is academic:

Figure drawing, the academic method

Students are introduced to the academic method of figure drawing, employed by the major Realist ateliers of nineteenth century Paris, best exemplified by Jean Léon Gérôme and the French Academic tradition. They are taught to use the sight-size method of measurement ….

http://www.florenceacademyofart.com/summer_florence.php

We can see how by putting the sentence “They are taught to use the sight-size method of measurement ….” after the sentence “ Students are introduced to the academic method of figure drawing, employed by the major Realist ateliers of nineteenth century Paris, best exemplified by Jean Léon Gérôme and the French Academic tradition” – they IMPLY that major Realist ateliers of nineteenth century Paris used sight-size, that sight- size is a part of the French Academic tradition and that Gérôme also have used the sight- size method.

Jean-Léon Gérôme

Examination of Gérôme’s own education, his drawing, painting or his teaching practices shows no trace of sight-size method. Detailed descriptions of teaching ateliers of both teachers of Gérôme, Paul Delaroche’s and Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre, could be found in a most scholarly account on the nineteen century French ateliers, book written by Professor Albert Boime: The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century. No signs of anybody using, teaching, or even knowing about the sight-size method could be found their ether.

Description of Gérôme’s atelier was given by his student Earl Shinn:

Shinn explains that the students would “range themselves, with the maximum of noise, in a crescent around the model.”

“The nearest semicircle squatted, embracing their drawing-boards; those behind them sat, with the natural circularity of back, upon tabourets; another range were standing at easels; while over their shoulders loomed a number of isolated, daring spirits, based upon various pedestals of an impromptu and more or less precarious nature.” *Earl Shinn, “Art-Study at the Imperial School in Paris,” Nation 9 (April 15, 1869): 293.

This is NOT a description of the sight-size atelier; sight-size method requires very controlled environment; upright easels, stable directional light, standing position of the artist/student (no tabourets), plenty of space to back up from the easel.“ …Space or room must maintain the same setup until the drawing is finished…observing position of the artist as he or she studies the object and the drawing must always be the same”.*

  • Ackerman, Gerald. Charles Bargue Drawing Course,’ Necessary Conditions for Sight-Size Practice’, p. 319.

Painting of Gérôme’s teaching atelier (bellow) parallels Shinn’s description and shows graphically that the sight-size method was not used there.

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Gérôme’s atelier by Jean Louis Lefort

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Jean-Léon Gérôme drawing a model.

The above photograph is self evident; it clearly shows Gérôme working in a traditional way, not the sight-size.

Jean-Léon Gérôme had many students including a big number of Americans; many of them became influential teachers:

“He [D.M Bunker] was one of Gérôme‘s many pupils who helped to revise American art institutional practices and to align them with those of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Ander their influence the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Eakins), New York’s National Academy of Design (Wilmarth), Art Students League (Cox, Brush, Volk, Weir), and Cooper Union (Low, Eaton, Volk, Weir) and other art schools throughout the United states were transformed.”* * The Lure of Paris, Nineteenth – Century American Painters and Their Teachers by H. Barbara Weinberg. Abbeville Press Publishing.

None of Gérôme‘s students, French, other European, Canadian, American, or from anywhere else, have ever taught sight-size method.

Kenyon Cox, American artist who studied under both Carolus-Duran and Jean-Léon Gérôme, was teaching at the Art Student League for many years… A photograph depicting his class shows no signs of sight-size tracing method being taught.

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Kenyon Cox teaching drawing, ca. 1890 / unidentified photographer.

Thomas Eakins, “The favorite student of Jean-Léon Gérôme” who taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, wrote a drawing manual which expresses his philosophy of drawing and emphasizes geometral method, structure and perspective.

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George de Forest Brush, American painter, studied under his friend Jean-Léon Gérôme. He named his son, sculptor Gerome Brush after Jean-Léon Gérôme. Brush also taught in the Art Student League antique drawing (casts) and figure drawing. None of his teaching referred to sight-size.

Frederick Arthur Bridgman was a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme. Bridgman would even become known as “the American Gérôme.” In the photograph bellow again one can see no sight-size method has been used.

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Frederick Arthur Bridgman in his studio painting, ca. 1885 / unidentified photographer. http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/searchimages/images/item_3818.htm

George Brandt Bridgman (another Bridgman), the father of the North American constructive anatomy and one of the most brilliant teachers of constructional drawing, was also a student of Jean-Léon Gérôme. Among many of his students were painters and illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, but also some of the most influential teachers of their own generations: Kimon Nicolaides, Frank Reilly, Andrew Loomis, and Robert Beverley Hale. None of them claimed any lineage to Gérôme. They did not need to justify anything, and of course, none of them ever taught sight-size.

Bridgman authored many books on drawing, none of which ever hinted to the sight-size method.

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In fact, the history of drawing and painting manuals is very long; thousands of books have been written on methodologies of these disciplines over the period of hundreds of years, starting from the Renaissance and continuing to the present day. An amazing number of courses on drawing were written in the nineteenth century alone–just in the United States. According to Michael Kimmelman, in his July 19, 2006 article in The New York Times, “From 1820 to 1860 more than 145,000 drawing manuals [were] circulated-- now souvenirs of our bygone cultural aspirations.” However, in my extensive research, I could find only one book on the subject of sight-size by Darren R. Rousar published in 2007.

If there were more books, I think sight-size method apologists would have presented it by now. If this method was traditional, academic, and classical, then we would have evidence to that effect in historical and professional literature; and also in pictorial data showing art classes in academies, ateliers, and other teaching studios of the past. From drawings, paintings, and photographs we see only traditional, comparative measurement- based classes.

In production of painting, artists have been using various mechanical tools including grids, veils, cartouches, tracing paper, photographs, etc. Means by which an artist chooses to execute their art is a personal preference and should not be judged as wrong, or cheating. Learning to draw and paint from life, however, requires mastering various

disciplines, the most fundamental of which is training the eye to see and execute spatial proportions, as Leon Bonnat have said:” Screw up your eyes to see the proportions”.
Teaching this discipline by mechanical sight-size tracing is not possible and students who spend years on drawing and painting using the sight-size method will find themselves disabled to draw and paint normally.

In conclusion I would like to say that all efforts in teaching realism are a positive development. The New Renaissance movement is gaining strength on all grounds – spiritually, intellectually and aesthetically. In this cultural war against madness, mindlessness, and aesthetic terrorism of the Dark Ages of art, all ateliers and academies are allies, because all of them are promoting a return to values and beauty. It is my deepest desire to see them grow and develop into the very best schools of Art of all time.

©2009 Semyon Bilmes is a founder and teacher of the Ashland Academy of Art

References (included in PDF)


This is indeed an interesting “critical overview” in the sense that it does not really delve into the benefits and disadvantages all that much and instead addresses, quite successfully, the many spurious claims of historical use.

There are also quite a highly problematic statements and arguments fallacies put forward in this overview which I feel needlessly diminishes its potential success. Allow me to share a few things that jumped out at me right away:

  1. Blimes writes of Sight-Size, “I found this method to be a mindless, mechanical transfer process, which retarded the development of the student’s artistic eye: development of which is based on seeing and recognizing proportions.”

This statement is utter nonsense, and as I suspected, was never explored or substantiated within the text. Such claims are little more than a product of a delusion that is on par with the idea of a homunculus (a little inner self that is “driving” the human machine.)

While we can indeed skillfully create a stimulus with the careful application and arrangement of colorants on a surface that successfully elicits an effective perceptual experience that can even be mistaken for a perception of nature at times—we are incapable of the mindless, utilitarian tasks alleged by some.

We have no direct perceptual access to the physical world. For even the most mundane visually guided task, there is no veridical perceptual intake any more than there is a static mechanical output for use in a “mindless”, utilitarian “copying of nature.” So no matter to what degree a target percept surrogate and the source percept elicit the same perceptual experience—all deliberate mark-making artists utilize the same perceptual, cognitive and motor resources to participate in the activity. There is just as much “human” contribution in a sight-size task as there is within the most celebrated abstract expressionism.

  1. Bilmes goes on to state that the sight-size practice, “retarded the development of the student’s artistic eye: development of which is based on seeing and recognizing proportions.”

I’m not sure how one would begin to define the “artistic eye” referenced by Bilmes. He states it is "based on seeing and recognizing proportions–but the nebulous nature of such a defining makes it nearly useless. Terms like this are often a red flag for me in that they can often signify we are heading into the waters of magical thinking.

  1. However, within the last twenty years there has been a rise of small, private schools in America, that teach realism. These schools are in a constant search for any remaining pieces of traditional art education; they are called ateliers, or sometimes academies.”

Not every educator is developing their curricula solely from past systems of training. Thankfully, a good number are looking to new insights from the hard sciences to learn effective and efficient means of visual communication.

  1. Bilmes writes, “The sight-size tracing method bypasses the need for proportional measurement and directly traces the points from the model to the surface, evading a serious and lengthy study of proportion and form. If the student does not quit this practice fast enough, he or she will end up lacking proportional measurement skills and with a severe dependency on this mechanical method.”

Wow. Bilmes goes off of the rails a bit here. The use of a sight-size method does not mean that proportional measurements are “bypassed” altogether. Many artists often revisit their proportional relationships throughout a sight-size exercise. Furthermore, sight size does not mean that proportions and form are not studied in depth. This is some false-dilemma/non-sequitur/strawman version of sight size that Mr. Bilmes requires for his argument.

  1. One of the most “ugh-worthy” aspects of this paper was the focus on sight-size as tracing. Mr. Bilmes brushes the definition of the term that Mr. Rousar uses for tracing and goes on to attempt to show how sight-size fits this perjorative use. He writes, This definition was conveniently selected, but there are certainly many more definitions of the word “trace” on Dictionary.com including: 1. The intersection of two planes or of a plane and a surface.2. The point at which a line, or the curve in which a surface intersects a
    coordinate plane.3. The intersection of a plane of projection, or an original plane, with a
    coordinate plane."

This poor attempt at equivocation really does a disservice to the strong arguments against the historical claims surrounding sight-size. It’s a truly unfortunate inclusion.

  1. Bilmes, like many others, claims that "Sir Joshua Reynolds, first President of the Royal Academy of Arts, was a firm opponent of teaching mechanical copying of any kind. In his Discourses on Art (p.29) he says :“I consider general copying as a delusive kind of industry; the student satisfies himself with the appearance of doing something… as it requires no effort of the mind, he sleeps over his work. Some…confining themselves entirely to mechanical practice, toil on in the drudgery of copying; and think they make a rapid progress…though it takes up much time in copying, conduces little to improvement. This appears to me very tedious, and I think a very erroneous method of proceeding.”

Pulling from Reynolds’ discourses can be tricky. It indeed sounds like he is against copying of any kind in Bilmes chosen quote, yet, in Discourse III he states: “The first endeavours of a young painter, as I have remarked in a former discourse, must be employed in the attainment of mechanical dexterity, and confined to the mere imitation of the object before him. Those who have advanced beyond the rudiments, may, perhaps, find advantage in reflecting on the advice which I have likewise given them, when I recommended the diligent study of the works of our great predecessors; but I at the same time endeavoured to guard them against an implicit submission to the authority of any one master, however excellent; or by a strict imitation of his manner, to preclude ourselves from the abundance and variety of nature."

There are indeed more problems to be found here–unsubstantiated assertions, nebulous terms and descriptions, as well as a host of blatant logical fallacies. I wish that Bilmes confined his arguments to historical use as once he leaves that arena, his “critical overview” is little more than nonsense.

I’d love to hear some thoughts on this.


(Anthony Brenny ) #2

I was trained in sight-size at the atelier, at the time there was very little excitement around the lineage aspect of the training or sight-size, it was a bit of dead subject and most looked at it with a bit of indifference or skepticism, but of course I was there long after Lack and the students that were passionate about those aspects had moved on from the school. Anyhow, while I studied there we looked at sight-size a like a tool or training wheels, after about 4 years most all abandon it and moved on to working without it, it was sort of looked at as the next step in your development.


(Sigrid Junold Käppeler) #3

i heard about the sight-size technique in a book, i think probably one of juliette aristide’s, and decided to use it to prepare a drawing for a still-life oil painting. previous still-lifes of mine would usually suffer from some usually minor but irritating proportional errors. with the sight-size approach, it was so easy to quickly identify key points for the main lines, and it did not take long to identify and put down the main proportions and relevant details. the painting step was then so much easier, because i did not have to try and correct errors in addition to the usual struggle with value and colour… i also found it very intuitive to simply step back to my viewpoint mark on the floor, and look side-to-side between setup and painting to compare values/colours. it worked for me! and the painting was the first one which which i was really happy.

i don’t really understand why anyone would dismiss this technique as being “slavish” or mere “tracing”. it’s a useful tool, i suppose like practicing from bargue plates, or using munsel chips… these are also tools that train the eye/brain. you use them for a while and then move on. i have nothing remotely approaching an atelier training, but i can see how sight-size can be a highly useful tool for anyone who wants to produce realist works. anthony brenny’s “training wheels” analogy is perfect - i suppose with time and experience, you get to the stage where you can sketch an accurate drawing without the need for the sight-size aid. i’ll be using it for quite a while yet… :roll_eyes:


(Anthony Waichulis) #4

I completely agree Sigrid. I think it is a useful methodology for observational representationalist drawing and painting. I understand that some claims are not not historically accurate and that’s the part of the essay that I really enjoyed. The rest was just nonsense.

Happy drawing and painting my friend!