Imagine this is what we see (in fact we see considerably more - the camera viewfinder has already cut this right down!
 If we hold up a sheet of A4 paper - we could get this on (if we draw at the size we see - in which case notice how tiny the houses are!)
If we get a nice big canvas, we can get this on (if we draw at the size we see - another prob is how 'far out' to set the botton edge of the drawing/canvas)

(By the way, I've discovered some painters I really love – Douglas Fryer, Michael Workman)

When I decided to practise 'drawing', what I meant by drawing, in fact, was establishing proportion.

For me (an idea I picked up from Richard Schmid's book 'Alla Prima') 'drawing' is nothing to do with the tool (pencil, brush...) it's just -

drawing = proportion = relative sizes = measurement

so (today's maths lesson, à la Jon):

drawing = measurement (by eye or with a tool)

Recently, I've been thinking about vision, when you look at something your view is pretty 'panaromic' – I guess this is because the eyes constantly move a bit (I don't know if that's so). As soon as you pick up the camera to take a photo, the field of view becomes much more restricted (very annoying).

I read somewhere that the camera's angle of vision is ? degrees (oops, I've forgotten – 60°, was it?), I also read that the human angle of view is ? degress (also forgotten – mind like a sieve) – and finally, I also read that, for a drawing/painting, you're best advised not to use an angle of vision beyond, um, guess what? yep, forgotten! There's also the issue of how far out (close in) you put the nearest objects on the ground (bottom edge of the frame).

Anyway, to get back to the field of view, what's incredible is that the image on your retina must be tiny – I mean, the retina is a very small area!

If you measure objects you see between your thumb and finger – the size you see them is very small – so I was thinking about this in relation to the sight-size technique where you draw objects the size you see 'em – their visual size - and about the different ways of 'measuring things' (by eye and/or with a tool)....

What struck me was, that all artists teaching tell you to keep drawings/paintings small when you're a beginner – because it's easier to handle/not get lost.

If I want to draw this head, it's easier to draw it small – easier for my eye to see the general proportions on the page and (I guess) all the errors are relatively smaller too. It would be easier to copy this this size:

than this size:

To get an accurate drawing (which is essential with a portrait/figure, and I'd rather be accurate with a tree or rock too, anyway!), I need to develop my eye. Well, the main thing is lots of practice, but practice is probably more effective if I can objectively see where my errors are, and to do that, I need to measure.

The best-known way is to use a grid, but a regularly spaced grid doesn't really help train your eye much, it seems to me and, 'in the field', the only measuring tool you have is a straightline (pencil/brush handle or plumb line)

One way of measuring is to use a relative unit as a basic unit of measure, e.g. an apple in a still life, an eye in a portrait (I can use my pencil to measure how many 'eyes' the head is wide, etc. etc.).

I could, I suppose, combine this with supposed known 'standard' proportions (e.g. the eyes are about halfway down the head/ the figure is seven and a half heads tall, etc.). I could even, for a portrait, combine this with doing it real size (e.g. my face is about 19 cm from bottom of chin to top of forehead and my eye is about 3 cms wide).

Seems fiddly to me. And I'm not very keen on tiny works of art either. So for portraits I've been doing them sight-size (= drawing and subject same visual size, as explained above) and about life size. For figures I've been doing them beween 15 and 30 cm tall. And I've been using a single vertical central line as reference axis. But today I was pratising drawing landscapes... and I don't really know... maybe the thing to do is to do them sketch size and grid them up for a painting???


  1. I'm an idiot! I've never checked to see how you can leave comments. I wonder if there's some sort of security level feature? It's going to take this OK - because it can 'see' it's me!

  2. OK, I think I"ve solved it - it should be easier to leave comments? Please do! Let's dialogue, folks!

  3. Interesting post. I think for drawing people a "formula" is of little value, because people are all too different. Sight/size drawing was a new concept to me until just a week or so ago. "Learning to See" by Paul Foxton's 4 part blog was very easy to understand and helpful to me. I think this is the way to go when measuring matters. http://www.learning-to-see.co.uk/portrait-copy-1

  4. Yep, Paul Foxtoin's blog is extremely rewarding -but you'll need some time to read any amouint of it!

  5. Hello Jon,
    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing all this. Don't you see people differently everyday, trying to imagine what could a painting of them look like ? Proportions, axis etc ? kind of professional distortion.

  6. Hi Gael, yep there sure is "professional" deformation! (it's maybe called obsession!)