Create an effective portrait drawing using sight sizing

If you are interested in creating either portrait drawings or paintings, then I highly recommend using sight sizing. This method works both as an exercise and also as an approach for your more serious works. It enables you to create an accurate drawing that, in turn, will lead to a strong finished work of art.

Sight sizing began as a technique for portrait painting; every successful portrait artist is familiar with it.

sight sizing - useful in portrait drawing

John Singer Sargent for example, is famed for using sight sizing in his portraits.

Another benefit of sight sizing is that it helps train your eye to spot mistakes without the help of an art instructor at your side.

When I was studying oil painting and portrait drawing, I used sight sizing for both cast drawings and life models. The result was less messing around when drawing and a stronger finished painting.

Although I generally use a relative sizing method for my portrait drawing and painting these days, what I learned from using sight sizing has really helped me as a portrait painter (and for any other subject matter).

The definition of Sight Sizing

To put it simply, sight sizing is drawing or painting the subject the same size as you actually see it from a specific distance. You compare your work to your subject in nature.

For accuracy, you must place your work right next to the subject. Then you look at both your work and the subject from a distance far enough away so you can see both of them clearly at the same time.

You do all the drawing and viewing from that same distance (instead of right at your easel or sketch pad). Every time you make an observation, you walk forward to your work, draw what you just saw, and then walk back to the same spot and repeat the process over and over again.

Sight sizing is a very different from your normal sketching. You may find the process is tedious and mechanical, particularly if you are used to sitting with a drawing board in your lap and the model in the distance.

There is nothing wrong with the latter approach, but if you have been commissioned to do a portrait drawing with a live model, then sight sizing is a great way to make sure you capture the likeness. It is also a fantastic tool for learning how to paint or draw whatever you see in front of you, an invaluable skill for any realist artists.

Because of the way it is set up, sight sizing will tend to make errors clear. Therefore, you can use it to train yourself to observe accurately without having to go to a classical art atelier.

Sight sizing is usually done using cast drawing, and for good reason.

A plaster cast does not move, so you have ample time to finish your work. You don't even need to pay a model fee (except the cost of your cast).

Most casts come in a white or cream color. This helps you learn to render accurate tones (values) before you move on to a more complicated element: colors.



I recently found a little book written by Darren R. Rousar titled "Cast Drawing—Using the Sight Sizing Approach".

The author is a classically trained artist, and he covers everything you need to know for drawing a cast using the sight sizing method.

The book covers everything from the history of sight sizing to setting things up, to the actual process of drawing. The author shows you step by step how he works, so you can compare your work to his and evaluate your progress.

This is a simple, but thought provoking book. Even if you are already intermediate or advanced, you can still benefit from it.


With all these resources available, the knowledge you need to develop your art is not locked up in the classical atelier any more. You can learn and apply these techniques in the comfort of your own home!

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