Drawing + Painting the portrait from life

Drawing / Oil / Figure - Materials included

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Course details

How do you paint realistic portraits with great accuracy and detail? One way is to use the classical sight size technique, a technique used by famous artists such as Singer Sargent and Velazquez, aligning the model to the canvas and transferring the image across. 

oil painting portrait of a man by Emily Roberts

The practice of painting head studies in the sight size technique originated with Titian, and has a long history in the UK, perfected by court painters such as Van Dyke and elegantly applied by portraitists such as Reynolds, Rayburn and Lawrence.

Artist, Emily Roberts who trained at Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence has been teaching and mastering the sight size technique for many years and will be sharing all she knows with you in the studio over four days.

The emphasis of the approach for this course is on light and shadow, so that, while structural accuracy is important, anatomy is only touched upon; the approach is visual.  

Explore ways to make a charcoal drawing with an emphasis on creating contour and isolating light and shadow shapes. Emily will provide an example of each stage of the drawing and painting process as the course progresses. She will show you how to transfer this drawing to canvas and start painting in oils, using traditional mediums to layer paint and build up colour, using the model as a constant reference.  

The aim is to come away from the course with an introduction to the sight size technique, knowledge of traditional approaches to charcoal portrait drawing and an introduction to mixing using a limited palette, as well as a firm grounding in searching for the light flow on a subject. By the end of the session you will take away a charcoal drawing on paper and a 30x40cm painting on canvas. 

Emily’s approach to teaching is one of mutual discovery. She always works alongside the student in order to guide and move through obstacles together. The basis of the method that she use is very step by step, offering guidance to those with less
experience, but allows for personal expression and the touch of the individual to shine through.

What will I learn?

  • An introduction into the sight size technique
  • How to find light flow on a subject and create subtle transitions from light to shadow
  • Traditional approaches to charcoal drawing
  • Transferring a drawing to canvas
  • Colour mixing using a limited palette of oil paints

Who would this course suit?

This course would suit any interested student with any level of experience. The technique is very ‘step-by-step’, so even students with no background in drawing or painting will be pleased with their progress. Those with experience of life drawing or portraiture will enjoy this in depth exploration into a historic technique, and those looking to tweak their current practice may find elements of the approach beneficial.

Drawing and Painting the portrait from life

Drawing / Oil / Figure – Materials included

Book Selected Date

Taught by


View Emily’s Work

“My approach to teaching is one of mutual discovery. Firmly grounded in the atelier tradition, I always work alongside the student in order to guide and move through obstacles together. The basis of the method I use is very step by step, offering guidance to those with less experience, but allows for the personal expression and touch of the individual to shine through.”

What to Bring

Our studios are fully equipped and we provide you with all the materials you need for your course. However, if you have a favourite set of brushes or any specialist materials that you would prefer to use, please bring them with you.

Timings and Breaks

The first day starts at 10am and finishes at 4.30pm, please aim to arrive ten to fifteen minutes before the start time.

All course days after that start at 9.30am and finish at 3.30 on Sunday after a short lunch break to try an enable people to get home that day.
There are plenty of nearby places to eat and we will serve tea and coffee at break times during the day.


Studio Courses

How can I get help in choosing a course?

Our friendly expert staff are always happy to discuss your needs and our courses in more detail to help you with your decision. Please call us on 01736 797180

How do I get my work home?

Tutors have special techniques for transporting oil paintings and the school has plastic folders available in our shop for £3.50 or do bring a portfolio.

For international students we are happy to arrange transportation of your work back home.

What do I need to bring?

Absolutely nothing! All materials and aprons are provided although some people do like to bring their own set of brushes.

What do I do for lunch?

Courses allow an hour’s break for lunch and there are numerous places nearby or you are welcome to bring a packed lunch into the studio.

What times do courses run?

Most of our courses start at 10am and end at 4.30pm on the first day. Subsequent days we start at 9.30am ending at 4pm.

Weekend Courses run 10am – 4pm on the first day but the final day starts at 9.30 and ends at 3.30 with a short lunch break to enable people to get home that evening.

Do you have to be experienced to come to the School?

The School is a very friendly and welcoming place for all ages and experience. Our drop-in life classes and August half-day workshops are ideal for those wanting to have a go for the first time. Most of our longer courses are also fine for novices.

If any of the courses do need a bit of experience we flag this up in the brochure and on the website.

Booking a Course

Can I pay by cheque?

Please get in touch by phone and we can hold your place for a few days whilst you post your cheque (made payable to: St Ives School of Painting) to us at St Ives School of Painting, Porthmeor Studios. St Ives TR26 1NG

How can I reserve a place?

We will hold a provisional reservation for 24 hours if you give us a call whilst you find accommodation. Otherwise please book online or by telephone 01736 797180.

You can reserve a place with a £100 deposit; balance is due 12 weeks before course start date.

About St Ives

Where do I park?

The nearest long stay public car parks are the Island and Barnoon both 5 minute walk away. In the peak summer months it may be easier to park at the big top car park by the leisure centre and walk down into town. If you don’t fancy the walk up the hill at the end of the day there is a shuttle bus which runs from outside the cinema.

How do I get there?

Public Transport: If you are coming from further afield the main train line runs into St Erth which is a 15 min taxi ride away or you can take the St Ives Bay Line which runs approx. every 30 minutes. The School is a 10 minute walk from St Ives station.

Driving: M5 will take you to Exeter where we recommend that you take the A30 across Bodmin Moor and into Cornwall. After passing Hayle, leave the A30 at St Erth roundabout for St Ives. Turn right at the second roundabout. This road will take you through Lelant and Carbis Bay into St Ives.

Where can I stay?

St Ives has a huge selection of hotels, guest houses and self catering accommodation to choose from. Please browse the art holidays St Ives section on our website and give us a call if you would like any help.

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