A Sight Size Head Study for Affresco

Il Risorto (The Ressurected Christ), pastel on paper, 50cm x 70cm
Il Risorto (The Resurrected Christ), pastel on paper, 50cm x 70cm

I am currently developing a couple of affresco projects for churches in Matera, Italy.  A lot of preparation is required: compositions sketches, presentation drawings, studies, cartoons etc; before the actually painting can begin.  Studies made from life are important not only for working out ideas but for creating the references that are used to complete the painting.

My pastels
My pastels

My medium of choice is pastel.  I make my own sticks using the same earth pigments that will be used in the affresco.  For the head study of Il Risorto that is shown above, I  used the sight size method.  An approach used by portrait painters for centuries, it is perfectly suited for head studies.

Model with study with a sight size set up.  There is a slight distortion from the camera.
Model with study with a sight size set up. There is a slight distortion from the camera.

Essentially a practical application of one point perspective, sight size is based upon the relationship of viewing point, model and picture plane.  Instead of looking through the ‘veil’ the picture plane is the canvas placed along side of the model.  The least amount of distortions and errors occur when the model and the picture plane are the same scale, thus the natural power of this method for life size portraiture.  However, for my project the head of Christ is to be over life size. To achieve the correct scale I placed my board roughly a meter behind the model.

Easel placement seen from the side
Easel placement seen from the side

In designing large, in situ wall decoration a lot of different factors come into play.  Compostion, visual corrections and varying viewing points all must be considered and orchestrated to create a successful painting.  Sight size, when used intelligently, is a fundamental and necessary tool for not only shapes and proportion but giving work the power of impact at a distance.

To learn more about my pastel approach there is a post here.  For an example of the affresco technique there is another post here.

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