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Working Digitally: Studio Set Up & A Sight Sizing Method

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Every time after I finish up a big deadline, I have to do a bit of studio tidying. When I’m in the depths of a project, my environment just kind of degrades. My clean desk gets cluttered with reference books and coffee cups start to pile up on any available horizontal surface nearby. Sketches float around, pencils get dropped on the floor and I pretty much turn into a caveman.

I had one such deadline last weekend and after doing some cleaning I felt this was a good opportunity to show how I set up my digital workspace before everything becomes a mess yet again 😉 Everyone has different workspace preferences and I actually find it kind of interesting to see the setups of other artists!

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When working digitally, I like to keep things minimal. I’ve long considered getting a second monitor but I think I probably wouldn’t use it very effectively. What I’ve found works well for me is actually having an iPad on a gooseneck clamp, positioned to the right of my monitor. This serves as my reference screen. It seems sort of odd to have this additional device but I’ve found I really like having reference images in an album on my tablet that I can quickly swipe through with my right hand while drawing. Not having to navigate to a window of reference images on my computer means I can be a bit quicker by simply tapping the iPad’s screen and saving a few seconds every time I have to see a different reference image. I use at least 10-15 references while working so this is a big time saver!

Another odd thing you might notice is the clamp next to my mouse. That’s just a U-clamp from a hardware store, holding a cutting board and a mousepad. I did this to stop my mousepad from scooting around while I was using it. The handle on the cutting board serves as a good spot to hang my headphones.

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These are all the devices I have grown accustomed to using over the years. The one thing I am considering upgrading is the iPad. The mini 2 has been handy, but I think I could use a larger screen. I know a lot of artists that love the iPad Pro so it’s something that’s on my mind for the next art gadget…

Why all the weird gaming gear such as the keyboard and mouse? I actually don’t play any PC games but it just so happens that gaming gear is the best for solid hardware that can take hours of abuse (and I tend to put my devices through a lot of abuse). The mechanical keyboard is super heavy and doesn’t move around while I’m using shortcuts. The mouse is mainly for 3D applications like Blender, but also offers a very high degree of resolution and accuracy when I’m not drawing. I often use it to lasso shapes in Photoshop.

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One thing you might have noticed is how I’ve set up my computer screen with two windows. This is for a drawing method I’ve started to call “digital sight sizing”. After I stumbled upon this method last summer, it is something I have started to use all of the time!

Sight sizing is actually an academic drawing method used for accurately measuring shapes with the naked eye. Basically, the method is to draw an object from life in the exact same size and shape as it is seen it with no shrinking or enlarging. This post from studydrawing.com shows how it is traditionally done.

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The above photo is one shot – the bust of Franklin in the background is drawn at precisely the same size as it appears to the artist in a 1:1 ratio. Traditionally, the artist will draw ruler lines horizontally to make sure that their drawing matches reality as precisely as possible.

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Digital sight sizing is the same process, but digitally in two windows in Photoshop. The same idea applies in that I am trying to match the proportions of the reference image in my drawing in exactly the same dimensions.

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Every few minutes, I will rotate 90 degrees to make sure I am matching on the other axis as well. This is especially useful as it tends to make me observe more obliquely and think in abstract forms rather than individual parts, which is very helpful in the beginning of a drawing.

The major caveat with this method is that you must resist the impulse to zoom in and out! The moment you change the zoom, the proportional matching will no longer apply. Sometimes, I will write down the original zoom (like 54.6%, etc) so that if I accidentally press the zoom button, I can get back to the right number where the drawing proportions are matching my reference image exactly.

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That being said, you can start to zoom in on details like hands and faces once the major forms are established. The same method applies and you can use sight sizing to get these details right too!

One thing I will note is that academic sight sizing is usually a very long, tedious process that trains artists to measure with the naked eye. I tend to work much faster when I am doing it digitally so it is by no means the exact same technique. Also, I tend to change major elements like clothes and drapery as needed to fit the needs of the illustration and this is totally outside the bounds of traditional sight sizing. However you use sight sizing, I highly recommend it if you want to get better at drawing accurately, without resorting to tracing. Tracing is the enemy! Do whatever you need to in order to stave off this terrible temptation and if sight sizing is what works, then go for it 🙂