Technique Tuesdays: Sight-Size

Technique Tuesday sight size

What is it?

If you’ve ever amused yourself by holding up your thumb and noticing how someone across the room appears to be tiny and thumb-sized next to it, you’re well on your way to understanding the sight-size method of painting and sculpting. Sight-size is a technique long used in schools and ateliers to teach art students the fundamentals of correct proportions. Essentially, it involves the artist setting up to create their painting (or sculpture) at a vantage point where the subject appears to be exactly the size they plan to depict it. The closer to life size the finished image, the closer to the subject the painter and his or her canvas will be arranged. Here are a couple of visual examples:

sight size collage

Example from art history:

Sight-size is a method with roots far, far back in art history. For centuries, it was a popular and effective way to teach students to draw and paint with accurate proportions. It went out of fashion for a time, but its popularity was revived by ateliers such as that of R. H. Ives Gammell, Carolus-Duran and Léon Bonnat. The latter two names were teachers of the great American portrait painter John Singer Sargent. Sargent’s use of the sight-size method was a large contributing factor to its renewed popularity in both America and Great Britain.

Sargent Collage
A photograph (center) of Sargent painting with the sight-size method, alongside two of his incredible portraits, Theodore Roosevelt (left) and Madame X (right)

Example from Principle Gallery:

Not many artists these days continuously use the sight-size method throughout their career, and event those who do do not always use it exclusively, for all their work. But Teresa Oaxaca, a Principle Gallery artist with extensive classical training from the Florence Academy and her private teaching with Robert Liberace and Odd Nerdrum, gave us a glimpse of sight-size in action last year during her live painting demonstration.

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Teresa Oaxaca painting live at Principle Gallery, April 2014

We are more than thrilled to have Teresa back with us this year for yet another live painting event (followed by a demonstration by the amazing Robert Liberace two weeks later!) on Friday, May 15th. Join us on the 15th in the gallery from 6-9 PM for an incredible opportunity to watch Teresa paint a live model from start to finish! It is truly fascinating to watch her step back and forth, studying the model as she brings the resemblance to life on canvas with the sight-size method.

Even if you are unable to join us in person, keep an eye on our social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, because we’ll be broadcasting a live video feed of the event that evening! We’ll be sure to post links where you can go to watch the live stream as soon as we can!