Big Sur and the Failure of Sight-Size

Here a few of the sketches from Big Sur this week. Local painter Mark Farina showed me Garrapata Beach where I ended up painting a number of pieces (Garrapata means ‘tick’ in Spanish which is rather ironic since I spend most of my summers trying to avoid Lyme disease on Shelter Island).

Garrapata Cliffs. Oil on linen. 14 x 10 in.

Morning, Garrapata. Oil on linen, 10 x 14 in.

Big Sur has huge views. To get a decent composition you often need to capture about a 90 degree viewing angle, which is impossible to paint on a small panel using sight-size, even with one’s nose pressed up against it. Most sketches I do on small panels occupy about 30 to 50 degrees of my field of view (normal human filed of view is 160 to 200 degrees), and sight-size works perfectly in those instances.

Garrapata Surf. Oil on linen, 8 x 12 in.

To sight-size a 90 degree field of view would require about a 6 foot canvas to work on at a comfortable distance which, in high winds coming off the Pacific, would lead to a whole ‘nother set of logistical problems.

The following two sketches of Pfeiffer Beach, for example, completely fail to capture the grandeur of the scenery.

Pfeiffer Beach #1. Oil on linen, 10 x 14 in.

Pfeiffer Beach #2. Oil on linen, 8 x 12 in.

That last one especially would have been the guest of honor at the after-painting turps party, if it wasn’t for plan B: I’ve been doing detailed drawings at all these spots to figure out compositions and hopefully, between that, the color sketches, and reference photos, I’ll be able to make something of them in the studio.

In the meantime, I’m back to focusing on smaller views.

Monastery Beach. Oil on linen, 10 x 14 in.

Point Lobos Sketch. Oil on linen, 10 x 14 in.

I’m using very the very nice (and expensive) Classens-mounted-on-dibond panels from New Traditions, and a mix of M Graham, Old Holland, and Williamsburg colors. I find that some colors are better than others across brands.

Sight-size in Landscape Painting

Using the sight-size technique for landscape painting.

Using the sight-size technique for landscape painting.

There is a lot going on right now in my life and haven’t been posting much. This is just a quick post to help better explain to my weekend landscape students the principle behind using the sight-size method for plein air sketching. In the photo above you can see how the camera was held in a position where the subject is the exact same size in nature as the painting on the panel. When using sight-size in the studio, the painter moves back to view the subject and the painting together from a distance. In the case of sketching the large view of a landscape onto a small panel with the sight-size method, the trick is to make sure your head is always in the right position where the subject ‘fits’ onto the panel. I personally believe many painters do this instinctively without realizing it.

The sight-size method is incredibly useful for landscape painting as it allows the painter to focus on the colors, values and edges, and the shapes almost seem to take care of themselves. For atelier-trained painters especially, who have spent years painting with the sight-size method already, it seems a waste not to continue using it outdoors.

Painting at the Badia a Passignano.

Painting at the Badia a Passignano.

Above is a panoramic photo of Wendy, Takuma and I painting at the Badia a Passignano this weekend.