studio drawing from life

Drawing from life, methods and science

There are several approaches and rules that you can follow when It comes to drawing from life. That depends on if you want to realise a very accurate and detailed drawing, faithful to what our eyes see, if you want to do an analysis of the object observed, if you want to do an interpretation of It, etc… In this article we will explore drawing from life in order to make an accurate drawing suitable as a starting point for a painting or as an artwork itself.

There are two main approaches in order to accomplish that, which are:

  • Sight Size
  • Comparative measurements

From the first pencil marks that we make on the paper, we are establishing the proportions of the subject that we want to portray. These two approaches that we have listed above, differ basically just for this aspect. There are, so, mainly two questions that we ought to ask ourselves, before starting drawing:

1)Do I want the drawing to be in scale 1:1 to the real subject?

2)Do I want to choose the size of the subject is going to occupy  on my paper?

Let’s exam the answers for each one of these questions:

If the answer to the first question is YES, that means we need to follow a Sight size approach, which means to draw the subject the exact same size as our eye see It from the point where we standing. You can use sight size in two different ways:

  • in a mobile position
  • in a fixed position

Fixed Position sight size

You can use this method when you want to draw the subject the exact same size as it is in the real life. In order to accomplish that, the support on which we are painting or drawing, must be on the same “image plane” of the subject, which means that the easel must be located beside the model ( to the right if you are right handed, or to the left if you are left handed). In this way It not only allows you to depict the subject in a 1:1 ratio, but It also allows you to easily detect and fix drawing errors, as the eyes can compare the drawing with the subject suddently next to it, losing no information during the path from the subject to the paper. With this method, the support on which we are drawing/painting is fixed on the same image plane of the subject, so we can freely move around the room, checking the work from a distance, without worrying about losing losing the point of view which is fixed to a 1:1 ratio. A very important thing that we have to keep in mind, Is that we must take our measurements and judgements far away from the easel since, from too close, distortions in the drawing will occur. We need to be at a distance from where we can easely see both the canvas and the subject in our cone o f vision .

This method has a big limitation. You must have a support at least big as the subject you have to depict. But if you want to continue to benefit of the sight size method of checking the drawing side by side with the subject, and using at the same time a smaller support, you have to option for a sight size method in mobile position.

Mobile Position sight size

You can use this method when you want to continue to benefit of the sight size approach, but the subject Is too far away (for istance a landscape), or the subject It’s too big for the support on which we are drawing. The difference from the fixed position approach Is that we can enlarge or reduce the dimension of the subject as we please, simply by moving away from the easel, or moving towards the easel. Notice that the easel Is not placed side by side with the subject now. The main rule when a subject Is very large as for in a landscape Is that, as we move towards the canvas, the subject will become tinier, while going away from the canvas, the subject will become bigger. this Is due to the fact that we are basically enlarging and diminishing the size of the canvas, optically, since the distance from were we stand and the canvas Is smaller than the distance from the canvas and the subject to depict, which proportions are so huge that they can’t be affected by our smll steps away or towards the canvas. But this Is a thing valid only for huge subjects. If we are talking about smaller subjects, such as a full lenght person, the thing slightly changes, since that a human being will not be greatly distant from our easel, but just bigger that our canvas. That way in order to determin the size of the subject that we want to obtain, there Is a new factor we have to consider. the size of the  easel from the subject, beyond the distance from were we stand to take measurements, in relation to the easel. If, after we have placed the easel at a distance from the subject, and moving away from It to take measurements, we still notice that the subject Is bigger that our canvas, we need to move the easel a little bit further from the subject. But the opposite thing can happen. if I notice that the subject is too small, then it means that I have to move the easel towards the subject.

This Is Marc Dalessio, an american plein air artist( In this video he shows what I have said so far.

Advices from Leonardo Da Vinci and some notes on cone of vision.

Leonardo Da Vinci said that in order to draw something from life without distortions in proportions, we have to stand at a distance of three times the height of the subject we want to depict. This is due to the fact that we have a very limited cone of vision, approximately 210 degrees  in width and 135 degrees in height. The cone of vision represents  the area where our eyes can sense. At 40-60 degrees from the center Is located the most sensitive part of our vision which Is called angle of central vision where we can sense tone values and where we can clearely see. This is the limit from we can see things without moving our heads or moving our eyes, but the things are rasor sharp only in the center of our vision. The ability to percieve the detail fall drastically as we move outward the center of vision. After only 20 degrees from the center, our ability to percieve the detail with clarity fall of the 90%. This Is a very important thing. Moving further from the canvas ( expecially in a fixed position-sight size apporach) we can fit both the subject and the painting nearer our center of vision where the ability to percieve tone values and color is at our best.

in the next article we will explore comparative measurements and other notes on sight size.

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