Why I paint from life and use the sight-size method under natural light
Since my summer spent in Florence, I have painted exclusively from life and usually using the sight-size method. Many people have asked why. Here is my answer:
1) It is the ACT of painting that I find fulfilling, and at no time am I happier than painting from life. for me, observing nature makes me feel present and grounded. This alone is reason enough for me to paint.
2) When painting from a photograph you are simply copying an image of a thing, not creating an object that represents reality. The difference in the end result is also startling and one can almost always tell when a painting is done from a photograph: they feels flat, dry and dead, often with a depth of perception that is alien to the human eye but natural for a photograph. Paintings from life however, carry a certain quality and depth to them which is extremely difficult to replicate from a photograph.
3) Sight-size is a technique employed by respected figurative art schools such as The Florence Academy, Charles Cecil Studios and The London Atelier of Representational Art because it is one of the fastest way of training the eye. The canvas and the subject are placed side-by-side and the artist stands three steps back (or three times the height of the subject) so that the artist can observe the entire subject and canvas at once. I have found that this slows down the painting process and forces one to observe the subject more closely. The distance also means that they eye simplifies the details, which is half of the challenge when painting.
4) One can immediately tell if a painting is done under natural or electric light. Natural light has a way of softening the form and bending around edges, where as electric light is often too warm and harsh.
There are times when I don't paint exactly sight size (landscape for example), but in general, I find it useful to at least use it for composition and to find the top, bottom and sides of the subject on my canvas.