Sight Measuring How To...

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    Sight Measuring How To...

    Sight measuring techniques are the cornerstone of observational drawing and painting, yet it can be difficult to find good information on how to go about it. Here are a couple of diagrams that illustrate this basic skill, I hope they will answer some questions and help people develop good observational practices:

    Edit: I realized I didn't really describe the "method" very well first time around...

    A) Hold the measuring tool (a thin skewer works best) at arm's length with elbow gently locked (this maintains the distance to your eye).
    B) Close one eye and use your thumb against the tool to gauge the particular width/height/distance you are measuring.
    C) Simply move the tool to check or gauge how many units the next width, height or distance is.
    D) Transfer the relative information to your drawing - it is not a direct transfer of the distance by the way - but a ratio based on the size of your drawing.

    (Note: When sighting a foreshortened angle or one in perspective, do not let the tool "tip" in the direction of the angle - keep it flat to the picture plane at all times. Sight measuring works much better when working with your drawing surface vertical at an easel or mule and placed just to the left or right of the subject. Also do not confuse sight measuring with "sight-size" approach - which just takes this method to a much higher level.)

    (Note 2: Most artists I know use sight measuring in one way or another - the more experienced just tend to do it without the need to measure with anything but their eye. I'm not sure I used any "measuring" except by eye when I did this 30 minute sketch - it just turned out to be a good pose to show how to check all the information.)

    Subject: 30 minutes, charcoal, 18x24
    Name:  SightMeasureFigure_01_72.jpg
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    Define a "Unit of Measure" (usually the head works well but not always)
    Name:  SightMeasureFigure_01_Unit_72.jpg
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    Use that unit to gauge relative distances, heights, widths, etc.
    Name:  SightMeasureFigure_02_Unit2_72.jpg
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    Also compare negative spaces, check angles, find landmarks, check overlaps, etc.
    Name:  SightMeasureFigure_05_Intersections_72.jpg
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    Last edited by JeffX99; June 16th, 2011 at 03:56 PM.
    What would Caravaggio do?
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    (Note: It is important to keep your sighting tool/stick at arm's length by simply locking your elbow. Also when sighting a foreshortened angle or one in perspective, do not let the tool "tip" in the direction of the angle - keep it flat to the picture plane at all times.)
    One of the problems I have had is simply lack of space for a proper studio: whatever I want to draw, I have to draw at a small desk where there isn't enough space to hold a measuring tool at arm's length.

    I did find, however, that it greatly helps to use a small desk easel, so that at least my drawing is in the same line of sight with the subject. That way I can rapidly look back and forth between subject and developing drawing. It is rather uncomfortable, but once I have the proportions more or less right I can then put the drawing flat on the desk and still get it more or less right.

    It's a different thing when drawing out of doors, with, for example, a clipboard. Then I have little choice but to look up to the subject and down to the drawing, in the process losing the correct proportions.

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    are you familiar with william coldstream, jeff? i don't know any other artists for whom measuring is such an integral part of painting.

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    No cro-magnon - but I'll look him up, thanks. I mainly wanted to share this because there isn't much good "how-to" information out there on it - it's taught a great deal of course in classes, but many people here are unable to take good courses for various reasons.

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    This is really helpful. I've had several teachers try to explain this to me, always unsuccessfully. (durrr)

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    Glad you found it helpful jc! It is one of those things that is hard to write about, fairly easy to diagram, difficult to explain...but makes sense when you start doing it.

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    Here is the sight measuring technique applied to still life:

    Name:  SightBlocks_Diagram_01_72_A.jpg
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    Name:  SightBlocks_Diagram_03_HeightWidth_HO_72_B.jpg
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    Name:  SightBlocks_Diagram_06_AxisCenters_HO_72_C.jpg
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    What would Caravaggio do?
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    It's an old thread, I know, but I want to say thank you anyway.
    I'm setting up a curriculum for myself and your posts and explanations offer a great deal of wisdom, you'd normally need personal lessons for. (e.g. I often measure figures in terms of heads, but I never applied that to still life so I struggled with those ... now I feel a bit stupid that the answer is so obvious ^^)
    Just know that you helped me and likely others a lot and also spared us many embarrassing newbie threads.

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    I've got it in my head from somewhere that for this type of measuring you should stand in profile to your subject and sight along your shoulder. Is this so?

    "Three's so little room for error."--Elwell
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    Glad you found it useful Steeljren, thanks for the kind words!

    Hey Cory, not sure where that might come from, never heard it. What is important is to lock your elbow or at least use a very straight arm, simply to keep the measuring consistent.

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    Thinking about it makes me realize trying to sight along your shoulder as I described would lead to an awful lot of awkward, distracting twisting and turning. Wherever I saw it I must have misinterpreted what was presented.

    "Three's so little room for error."--Elwell
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    This should probably be a "Sticky In WIP."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cory Hinman View Post
    Thinking about it makes me realize trying to sight along your shoulder as I described would lead to an awful lot of awkward, distracting twisting and turning. Wherever I saw it I must have misinterpreted what was presented.
    In art fundamentals, we're taught to stretch the arm (locked elbow, so it's always the same distance) in front of your dominant eye.

    Also, they tell us to position the canvas or the drawing board so that there is least possible movement between sighting position and drawing position. Only inches if we can arrange the setup that tight.

    One teacher in particular doesn't like us using a smaller item from the set as a measure unit. He says that can introduce a lot of error. He prefers that we take the overall width or height (whichever one is longer), and then locate interior grids as fractions of the whole.

    Another teacher likes us to locate the center, (sometimes quarters too) horizontally and vertically, and work from the center - out, again, with fractions of the whole.

    A third teacher likes to use the unit of measurement method described earlier in this thread.

    Personally, I seem to get better results with fractions method.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cory Hinman View Post
    Thinking about it makes me realize trying to sight along your shoulder as I described would lead to an awful lot of awkward, distracting twisting and turning. Wherever I saw it I must have misinterpreted what was presented.
    Theoretically speaking, it is the best way, although practically, it is uncomfortable. Looking over your shoulder, keeping your arm in line with, loosely speaking, your collar bone, eliminates another degree of freedom, and another source of error.

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    D) Transfer the relative information to your drawing - it is not a direct transfer of the distance by the way - but a ratio based on the size of your drawing.

    D is always a bitch to me, I can never seem to get it right.

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    I hope I'm not straying too far from the subject matter, but would this method work the same way if I were trying to draw something more accurately from a reference photo? A little similar to gridding, perhaps, but not so rigid in turning everything flat? Kind of like instead of standing back from a real subject and measuring, you'd just lay the pencil over the photo with your thumb and get the relative measurements that way? I hope that doesn't sound completely dumb.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Sight measuring techniques are the cornerstone of observational drawing and painting, yet it can be difficult to find good information on how to go about it. Here are a couple of diagrams that illustrate this basic skill, I hope they will answer some questions and help people develop good observational practices:

    Edit: I realized I didn't really describe the "method" very well first time around...

    A) Hold the measuring tool (a thin skewer works best) at arm's length with elbow gently locked (this maintains the distance to your eye).
    B) Close one eye and use your thumb against the tool to gauge the particular width/height/distance you are measuring.
    C) Simply move the tool to check or gauge how many units the next width, height or distance is.
    D) Transfer the relative information to your drawing - it is not a direct transfer of the distance by the way - but a ratio based on the size of your drawing.

    (Note: When sighting a foreshortened angle or one in perspective, do not let the tool "tip" in the direction of the angle - keep it flat to the picture plane at all times. Sight measuring works much better when working with your drawing surface vertical at an easel or mule and placed just to the left or right of the subject. Also do not confuse sight measuring with "sight-size" approach - which just takes this method to a much higher level.)

    (Note 2: Most artists I know use sight measuring in one way or another - the more experienced just tend to do it without the need to measure with anything but their eye. I'm not sure I used any "measuring" except by eye when I did this 30 minute sketch - it just turned out to be a good pose to show how to check all the information.)

    hey, really good attempt, I believe you were clear and understood by most. I'd like to ask about ''sight-size'' approach. What is it exactly? I've seen people saying it's bad and you actually learn nothing using it. Does it mean you make something exactly the size you see it? I don't know xd.

    About the measurments you talked about I did the same on this drawing but instead using the head length (Which I use almosts always when I draw) I used the length from the toe ( left leg) till the knee of the other (right leg). I mean not the diagonal that connects those two points but the vertical distance. I hope you can understand..damn..I can not explain it any better.. XD so, this is it

    edit: the drawing is not from life, it's an ''analysis'' of a drawing from bargues book I think

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    Last edited by ezion; April 24th, 2012 at 06:38 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by zx52hg View Post
    I hope I'm not straying too far from the subject matter, but would this method work the same way if I were trying to draw something more accurately from a reference photo? A little similar to gridding, perhaps, but not so rigid in turning everything flat? Kind of like instead of standing back from a real subject and measuring, you'd just lay the pencil over the photo with your thumb and get the relative measurements that way? I hope that doesn't sound completely dumb.
    I use a similar method to get proportions right from skeletal references when reconstructing dinosaurs or other prehistoric critters. It's pretty useful when you want to close or open jaws or move limbs around.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ezion View Post
    hey, really good attempt, I believe you were clear and understood by most. I'd like to ask about ''sight-size'' approach. What is it exactly? I've seen people saying it's bad and you actually learn nothing using it. Does it mean you make something exactly the size you see it? I don't know xd.
    Thanks ezion.

    "Sight-size" approach is basically a more rigorous approach to sight measuring...essentialy the same thing just much more about copying the subject exactly. Yes it means doing the drawing the same size as well and placing the drawing on an easel next to the subject physically. It also tends to involve more tools, in particular a plumbob to sight verticals.

    Sight-size drawing is no better or worse than any other type of drawing depending on what you're after.

    Hope that helps.

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