Sight Size Approach to Drawing – All in a Term’s Work at the Welsh Academy of Art

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Having painted in watercolour for over 25 years I realised the value of a good sound drawing – but I could never have imagined the delights and enlightened teaching that awaited me when I enrolled by telephone for the Summer Term 2016 at the Welsh Academy of Art.

I had decided that I needed some serious educational input into my art in order to eventually aim to paint portraits. I had heard of the WAA via other artists and after searching online I found out a little more and then decided to take the plunge!

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I really wanted to be shown exactly how to draw. Not just be left to my own devices and to “express” myself as I felt as so many college courses now teach.

Being completely self taught I had no idea of the discipline and results that could be expected through using the sight-size approach. This classical study of drawing or more importantly – to seeing is explained below.

Sight-Size is a method of drawing and painting an object exactly as it appears to the artist, on a one-to-one scale. The artist first sets a vantage point where the subject and the drawing surface appear to be the same size. Then, using mirrors and plumb lines, the artist draws the subject so that, when viewed from the set vantage point, both drawing and subject appear the same in dimension. When properly done, sight-size drawing can provide the artist with an accurate measuring technique.

“Drawing correctly from nature is a basic skill and the foundation to good painting.”

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Lucy Corbett who founded the Academy 6 years ago trained for 3 years in the oldest atelier in Florence under Charles H. Cecil – and what a privilege it is to be taught by her.

Lee Wright and Tessa Stabb who also teach at the Academy were taught by Lucy and over the weeks their wonderful guidance and expertise helped me get into a rhythm of working and slowly built my skills.

Each Thursday for 10 weeks I travelled via a beautiful scenic route from my home town of Pontypridd via the Brecon Beacons to Cwmdu – a tiny hamlet just outside Crickhowell. It really is an idyllic rural location and the studio and gallery are housed in an old primary school. The charm of the buildings adds an academic feel to the studio and meadows and trees surround the whole site.

Over the weeks I was shown exactly how to approach my subject – how to arrange my easel and still life or cast – how to place my paper – the wonderful Angra and Roma papers are all that are used and how to sharpen my charcoal to a super fine point for accuracy.

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But then – the magic began – I was shown that by standing at least 6feet away from the easel/still life set-up – that it was possible to plot exact measurements by eye and then to proceed slowly by squinting to see the masses of tones first rather than discrete objects as I began to shade in the paper.

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This began to immediately hone my eye – I began to know what I was looking for and why and the discipline of working slowly with one subject over 2 or 3 weeks meant I got an in depth knowledge of my subject.

I became more sensitive little by little to the subtle changes in tone and did my best to express that in charcoal.

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I used a chamois leather and a tiny watercolour brush to help with delicate shading to “turn” my edges softly.

I had been bitten by the sight-size bug by the second week and couldn’t wait for Thursdays to come around.

Using the best materials helped to work is what is a very demanding yet fulfilling style and medium and I look forward to continuing my studies after the summer break when we all go back in September.

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6 thoughts on “Sight Size Approach to Drawing – All in a Term’s Work at the Welsh Academy of Art

    1. Thanks so much Icy! What is it about them that appeals I wonder? I have had the time of my life doing this course. It is the best and I love that students are not allowed to progress on to the next stages until the tutor feels they have mastered the one they are at. In art schools these days anything goes and nothing is really taught! I love your blog and have subscribed – thanks – Alison

      1. I teach graphic design in a college and it upsets me a little that the focus is often placed on “just experimenting” and “having fun” with materials, rather than learning how to use them properly. I’d give anything to have proper technial tuition!! Glad you like my blog though 🙂

      2. I totally agree with you theer Icy – I think there must be a balance but first of all you must at least get the fundamentals of your materials and tool musn’t you?! This is why I enrolled at the academy – there is NOWHERE else apart from London doing this – shocking!

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