Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The How-To's and Why of Cast Drawing

Written and Illustrated by Brianna Lee

Cast Plate by Charles Bargue

First, lets start with a little bit of History.

Cast drawing is a tradition that originated in the Ă‰cole des Beaux-Arts academies in Paris, established around 1648. Here, young artists would apply to participate in 4 years of rigorous art training. 
Before students were allowed to approach drawing a live model, they would begin by learning to copy prints, drawn by other artists, of classical sculptures. This was the best way for the student to learn about contour, light and shadow. A popular series of plates were created by artist Charles Bargue (see left). 

    Once proficient at copying the plates, the student was then allowed to draw from plaster casts of famous Classical Sculptures. Once they had a mastery over form, the student was then brought in front of a live model. 

Ecole De Beaux Arts Students working from a Live Model
Bargue Drawing by student    

Why should you learn Cast Drawing? Well, to put it simply, it will teach you to see the errors of your ways. 

We all have bad habits when we draw. We make things too long, too wide, too big, too small, too round, too square. The number of ways you can make an error is as varied as Nature herself. 

Cast drawing using the Sight-Size approach can help you understand the way you perceive the subject and help reveal your tendencies towards one habit or another. Essentially, what we are doing when we draw from observation, is translating. Cast drawing can help you learn to translate better. And drawing from Classical casts teaches you a lot about design, anatomy and enables you to carefully study the true nature of an object. Even for the abstract painter, there is much to learn from Cast Drawing.

Think of your artistic skills as tools in a toolbox. One tool does not fix everything. But it serves a special purpose and does that task very well. Sight Size Cast drawing is one of those very special tools every artist should have in their toolbox. 

                                                       Click to enlarge. Sight Size Tutorial © Brianna Lee
What is Sight-Size and how is it done?
Sight-Size is a technique used for drawing the subject the same size it appears visually from a static vantage point. 

It allows the student to measure the subject and directly translate it to canvas without having to scale down or enlarge the drawing. This enables the student to be more accurate and direct.
Here are some tips for completing a Sight-Size Cast Study:

1. Create your set-up using a Bargue Plate or Cast. Make sure that you can view the cast and your paper at the same height from a distance of at least 5 feet. If working from a live cast, make sure you have a nice single-source of light on the object so that it has a strong sense of shadow and light. Establish your vantage point (5 ft or more back) and mark with tape. This is the point from which you will take your  measurements.

2. Using a home-made Plumb Line (a thin string with a weight) or a straight thin stick (knitting needle or skewer will work) establish the top and bottom of the cast by bringing your p-line horizontally across. Memorize where it is on the page, walk up and make a mark. Go back and check again using horizontal lines. Double Check your overall height by using your thumbs for accuracy (see image 3).

3. Visualize a line dividing the cast vertically. You may pick the approximate center of the object or another easily identifiable location on the cast. This will be used to measure widths and find alignments, so draw a vertical line on your paper as well, between your height marks.

4: Using your thumbs (image 3) use your string to measure the widest points on the cast, starting at the plumb line. For example, starting at the plumb line on my cast, I would measure to the widest point on the cast to the left of the plumb line (thumb). I would then directly bring that measurement over, memorize the approximate width and height of that point and walk up to mark my paper. Then check for accuracy.

5. Try to establish only the exterior contours in simplified, straight angled lines until you have it accurate. This keeps you from going into detail and prevents you from making mistakes in placement later in the drawing.

6. Try to think in terms of "shadow" and "light" shapes instead of "fingers, eyes, nose". It abstracts what you are seeing so that you actually draw what you see, not what you think you know. Try to be as objective as possible, and when in doubt, measure!

Finally, have fun and remember that these are exercises to help train your eye and help you become more aware of your drawing (mis)conceptions. 

If you are interested in taking a class with me to learn the Sight-Size technique, Click Here

1 comment:

Cheryl Kline said...

Brianna heads up our academic drawing program and let me just say that I have seen her students cry after finishing their first Bargue drawing because they could not believe how great their drawing came out! She is a wonderful instructor and I urge you all to take a class with Brianna. She Teaches Tuesday 10am to 2pm, and starting in August, Saturday figure drawing 2pm to 5pm and Friday 10am to 2pm a really great course in color mixing for skin tones and applying this to the model.