Sight Size Measuring

Skill Name: Sight Size Measuring

Sight Size Measuring

Sight size is the method of observation and measuring by which the artwork is placed directly next to the model and the artist stands back to view both artwork and model as a whole. It can be used both as training to draw from plaster casts or as a method for drawing or painting directly from a model for a portrait or figurative work.

- Ruler
- Plumb line
- Easel
- Drawing board
- Vine Charcoal / Pencils

 Masking tape
-  Paper

A studio large enough for you to be able to stand back and view both the model / object and the drawing together.


1) First, the object drawn and the paper upon which the object's appearance is transcribed must remain stable. Also, the drawing board on the easel must be precisely upright and the easel stable - in the same position on the floor - for the entire time the drawing takes to complete, which may be several weeks. The light upon the object should always be a stable, directional light or, if coming from a window, always from the same northern exposure. This means that the space or room must maintain the same setup until the drawing is finished.

2) The observing position of the artist as he or she studies the object and the drawing must always be the same. The observing position is usually at a comfortable distance from the setup and the easel, say, three times the largest dimension of the drawing (to reduce the angle of distortion) and at a spot where the drawing paper and the subject are visually side by side.

3) Mark the position of your feet on the floor with a tape, indicating the position of each foot. The feet are best planted at shoulder-width distance from each other; this increases your steadiness. Plant your feet in position, lock your knees, and stand up straight each time you step back to observe the subject or the drawing. Wear the same shoes throughout the drawing process. Even the slightest change of view, such as higher or lower heels - can affect your view and your judgement. Note: Never draw the object while looking directly at it; always study it from the same place and distance and draw from memory, aided by your measured marks.

4) A shadow box is usually used for cast drawings. If drawing directly from a model or other subject, a shadow box is not necessary. Remember that the light source must remain unchanged though. The shadow box used for the cast setup is a small, three sided box with a bottom but no top and two adjacent verticle sides. It can be built from scratch or reconstructed from a wooden box that elevates it to easel height, so that when you stand in position you are looking at the centre of the object. Line the box with black paper or cloth to absorb light and thereby lesson reflected shadows on the cast. (Some users prefer a middle-gray toned paper or cloth to lessen the depth of the shadows.) Light from a northern window or a lamp should create the best effect for the draftsman: clarity of form, outline and a sense of drama are to be sought after. 

5) In drawing from a cast or a model, making a life-size transcription, the drawing paper on its easel will be placed alongside and just slightly ahead of the subject. If the subject is a cast or a still life, it should be in a setup, either on a stand or in a shadow box. When drawing a live model, the model should be positioned behind the easel, at some distance from which both could easily be seen so that the apparent height of the model would fit upon the sheet of the drawing paper.

6) Draw two horizontals across the paper that define the height of the cast or subject. Since you need a plumb line while drawing the figure, the string of the plumb line is the handiest tool for this step. Use your thumbnails to mark the visible distance on the taut string. Stretch the string between two hands horizontally across the peak of the head of the model and over the drawing paper. Memorize the path of the line of the string across the paper; step forward and mark the path - one or two marks will suffice. Step back and use the string of your climb line to check the mark for accuracy then lower the string and repeat the process for the lowest point of the feet; do not lower your head for this measurement, just your eyes.

7) Decide on the placement of the cast's image upon the paper by estimating its width using the taut string or your eye. Measure the width of the cast at its widest point from your set standing position. Move the extended string over to the paper; decide where it fits most comfortably, but not too far from the edge of the paper nearest the cast. mark both ends on the paper. Check your measurements.

8) Draw a plumb line (a vertical reference line) from the top line to the bottom line. It should be drawn well enough inside the width limits you have previously set up.

TUTORIAL: James Otto Allen

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme: Drawing course

In Context

In the boxes below you'll find a list of 'Works' and 'Creators' who used this knowledge / skill.

For classes on basic Artistic Anatomy, visit JJ Arts London

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