Painting with the Sight-Size Method

Colleen by Judith Kudlow, oil painting, 16 x 44.
Colleen by Judith Kudlow, oil painting, 16 x 44.

I’ll be honest with you all–I am not a painting technician. I read a lot about art and, as you know, love to look at paintings and drawings all day long, but I am still a babe in the woods when it comes to many methods and approaches to painting.

For example, I’ve heard a lot about the sight-size painting method, but it’s been challenging to find someone who can answer my questions about it and really prep me on both the rudiments and the big-picture aspects of it. But I was determined to dig up the story.

Girl Arranging Her Sleeve by Judith Kudlow, oil painting.
Girl Arranging Her Sleeve by Judith Kudlow, oil painting.

I mean, seeing the subject in a natural way that allows you to compare your work directly to nature sounds pretty good to me. I knew that with the sight-size method you position your surface side by side to what you are drawing or painting, so that when you step back they are the same size and you can view them together. But when I would ask people for details, they’d scurry away with lame excuses, or I’d often I’d read a good article and have questions that I couldn’t get answered.

Is it really that complicated? Fortunately, I found that it is not–thanks to Judith Kudlow, an expert instructor and practicing artist whose video workshop, Classical Painting: The Realist Sight-Size Method, is now available on ArtistsNetwork.tv. Judith answers my questions: where this approach came from and why, how to improve my hand-eye accuracy, and how to conquer proportions, which is one of my biggest and continuous challenges (never let me paint you–your head will always be way too small or way too big).

Like I said, I know I have a lot to learn, but what keeps me from getting overwhelmed and crying in the corner is that I’m always game for trying. I now feel ready to try sight-size, which seems like the gateway for rendering accurately, and Kudlow’s painting instruction is what gave me the confidence to do that. Classical Painting: The Realist Sight-Size Method definitely gave me the answers I wanted and a start on the technical savvy that I need. I hope it is the same for you. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

One thought on “Painting with the Sight-Size Method

  1. In no way do I mean the following comments to detract from what may be a marvelous book. But as a professional artist and long-time teacher and mentor of students, I have found the sight-size method to be a dubious help to many people. I have had in my figure painting and drawing classes several former students from various ateliers in the Midwest and East, and they have all used this method in my classes. Because they made such glowing claims for it, several other students were motivated to try it. Fine, for their artistic future is their own. They are not my possessions, merely people in my classes seeking to draw or paint better, and I am happy for them to use anything (except opaque projectors!) that works for them. But I have witnessed a lot of sight-size activity, and here are my primary concerns.

    First, the sheer limitations of the sight-size method. I do not want to be limited either by the size or perspective of or in what I draw. If I learn to draw accurately WITHOUT sight-size, I can draw a figure (or anything else) any size I want successfully: life-sized or tiny images for the artistic trading cards (ACEOs) so popular today…or anything in between. Also, I can stand close to the model or far away to achieve the proper perspective (Try looking at the feet of a standing model when you are two feet away and see how much they change when you back up ten yards.) for my purpose.

    If I am using sight-size, I am severely restricted in where I can stand and how large I can work. Of course, I can scale up a smaller drawing made using sight-size, but why learn such a limited method in the first place as my PRIMARY drawing method? Of course if you want to learn an ADDITIONAL method for specific circumstances, that is fine. But why learn one that is so inherently limiting as your principal method for drawing. Why not just learn more basic things (comparative measurements, anatomy, etc.) and draw so much that you learn to draw well as second nature? Or rather first nature?

    Second, an intangible: the sheer rush of picking up a pencil or other tool and drawing well…naturally, almost as a bird flies…what we sometimes call effortlessly. The whole sight-size method is such a mechanical process that for many people, it robs the joy of drawing by its mechanistic procedures. I am not against some kind of measuring while drawing; I still do that after decades of drawing…when I need to. But learning the sight-size method becomes a true inhibiting crutch for many people, and it robs them of much of the fun in what ought to be a joyful activity. Remember that this method is advocated primarily by the same people who insist their students spend months or years with plaster casts in black and white or other two-toned media before moving to living beings in color. That is obviously fine for some students, for these ateliers have produced some brilliant artists. But like most learning methods, it is certainly not the best approach for everyone. A quick perusal of modern learning methods in ANY subject will disprove the claim that there is one best method for EVERYONE to learn something. It is the job of the true teacher to help find a method for each student, not to try to force the student into a particular method the teacher prefers.

    Any artist who has learned to draw using techniques (even measuring ones) other than sight-size can draw tiny or huge with enough practice from virtually anyplace he or she can see the subject being drawn. That is true freedom. Sight-size may eventually lead to a general ability to draw with more fluency, but it is often a long, frustrating, and severely restrictive path. I do not recommend it as a method for most artists.

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