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Sight-size vs. Constructive method

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

What is the fastest way to learn how to draw and paint? Which method to use? Let’s talk about different methods in art academies around the world.

We will compare the main methods and you can make your conclusions about which one fits you best you, and which is not worth spending time and money for.

There are many art schools in the world and each has its own way of teaching.

But if to speak generally, there are two core methods practiced all across the globe which dominate in the realistic art world today. 

It is SIGHT-SIZE method and CONSTRUCTIVE (or analytical) method. 

Let’s address pros and cons for both and compare. 

What is Sight-Size?

As described by Darren Rousar

Sight-Size is an arrangement of the artist, their subject and their artwork that allows the artist to see the subject and artwork visually one-to-one.

What are the core components of this method? 

--A Visual Side-By-Side Arrangement

--A Consistent vantage point

--Drawing Exactly What You See

A Visual Side by Side arrangement

Sight-Size is often done in life-size. This means that the artwork is the same literal size as the subject that we draw.

A Consistent Vantage Point 

Your subject and artwork should be viewed in one glance and in a one-to-one relationship

Equally important is to always view your setup from the exact same vantage point.

Drawing e x a c t l y What You See

You should make your best attempt to accurately perceive what’s visually in front of you and then record that observation identically. 

What are the pros of this method: 

It allows you to work with one model or one object in never changing conditions, because the set-up is always the same. You are not dependent on daily light conditions since the pallet is typically limited to a few colors and you work with artificial lighting. Allows you to create a perfectly looking image identical to what we see and achieve likeness with the model.

What are the cons of this method: 

Does not teach you to draw or paint from your imaginationLimits you to holding one and only position (vantage point) throughout development of the imageDoes not provide tools for understanding the construction of forms in drawing and using the full range of colors in painting.

What is Constructive (analytical approach):

As described by Terra Chapman

Constructive method is conceptualizing the form, honing the anatomy knowledge, and thinking primarily in 3D. The goal of this type of study is to use the model as inspiration to create an artwork, not only to copy it.

What are the core components of this method? 

--Main focus goes to analysis of the form and 3D construction

--Model serves as an inspiration, but is not meant to be copied exactly

--Composition and vantage point are not confined to a specific position

Main focus goes to analysis of the form and 3D construction

Understanding the construction of each element and grasping fully the three-dimensional nature of objects are the core of the method. Comprehension of anatomy, principles of perspective and proportions are essential to this approach.

Model serves as an inspiration, but is not meant to be copied exactly

The content of the form itself has a higher value then observation. Once the foundation principles are synced in the comprehension and enough of practice has taken place, the artist can draw or paint from imagination without depending on the model.

Composition and vantage point are not confined to a specific position

The artist can choose any distance or placement in relation to the model. If the conditions slightly change (the light or the position of the model) it does not affect the work dramatically.

What are the pros of this method: 

1. It teaches you to interpret the image based on the knowledge and universal principles

2. It enables you to do draw and paint from imagination

3. It provides a vast range of information in various disciplines that are interconnected. As a result, the artists’ development is more complete.

What are the cons of this method: 

It takes a lot of time to learnIt takes a lot of discipline and brain workThere are fewer number of art schools in the world

1. It takes a lot of time

In order to master this method, you need a lot of time. A lot. Meanwhile, sight-size can be conquered in a year or two, constructive method would require minimum 5 years of training and dedication to get good. It is certainly not a “learn how to draw in 30 days” project.

2. It takes a lot of discipline and brain work

This method is based on analysis, so the end goal is not a creation of a flawless imitation of what we see in front of us. But instead it is a constant process of exploration, examination and interpretation. In other words, it’s a lot of brain work!

3.The art schools which promote this method are fewer in the world

Since complex and time-consuming studies are not anymore popular with our “immediate click” generation, the schools that provide this type of education are fewer in the world and harder to find.


After my little research and weighing pros and cons, I made my personal conclusion.

For the artists who want to learn how to make a perfect realistic image and sell the artwork, the best and the shortest way is sight-size. Meanwhile, for those who want to pursue a creative career in visual arts, draw from imagination and come up with new things, certainly the constructive method is better.

Although constructive method is more complex and takes more time, and hard to find, my personal preference would still go towards it. I also found out that all successful artists who work in animation, design or illustration have had this training at some point. For example, Pixar and Disney industry are full of those creative professionals.

So, overall, to me the constructive approach proves to be a more whole-rounded comprehensive education system which will give me more options for my future.

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