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Mark Carder – the not so academic approach in painting realistically

Artist Mark Carder (see his website) has a wonderful YouTube channel with great videos (these videos are listed in a more structured order on his website Mark employs different tools with which he is able to achieve accuracy in his measurements. If it’s the measurement of lengths and distances or the measurement of color.

The first tool is a proportional divider with which he is able to draw bigger or smaller than the actual visual image that he sees depending on how he adjusts the proportional divider.

  1. how to use the proportional divider
  2. how to make a proportional divider

The second is a color checker where you can paint your mixed color on a little swatch, hold the color checker in front of the subject and compare the subjects color with the mixed color.

  1. how to use the color checker
  2. how to make a color checker

So why is this post’s title called “Mark Carder – The not so academic approach in painting realistically” ?

With this method, you won’t really learn to draw through observation. When you are always using tools for measuring you most propably won’t obtain the skill to see lenghts and distances. No matter if it’s a grid system, projecting, a knitting needle or a proportional divider. For the finished artwork it plays no role how it has been drawn. But with relying on a crutch like any of those tools you won’t see the mistakes you are making.

Imagine you project a printed photo onto the canvas with a projector. If you then blindly trace the lines you will never see and realise that you most propably are tracing a distorted image. First the camera lens will definetly create a distortion on your photo to a more or less degree (see my post on how to compensate this with software like Photoshop or GIMP ). Secondly the projector itself does have a lens too which will cause additional distortion. So if you are tracing blindly your projected image you won’t see that the image is wrong. Learning to see is learning to recognize those sources of error and this skill only can be obtained through observational exercises like drawing from life.

Drawing from life is something that you are taught in a classical atelier and not with the method that Mark Carder employs. You can make stunning realistic pictures with this method but only if you are aware of the sources of error.

Use this template to make your own color checker:

Color Checker by Mark Carder
Color Checker by Mark Carder

10 thoughts on “Mark Carder – the not so academic approach in painting realistically”

  1. Of all the web-sites I have searched on how to paint,
    none compares with yours, I am glad that I found,with many years of painting,
    my painting has improved in the last
    six months due to your teaching via your videos. it’s a pity
    it took me all this time to find your site, many thanks Mark…..

  2. I tried out Mark’s proportional divider method to paint a horse from a photograph. I was extremely pleased with the results. Next, I will begin using it to try to draw human portraits. This is method is hands down the best I have seen for making accurate drawings.

    I’m not at all concerned that it isn’t the classical atelier approach. It works! That’s all I need!

      • Bjorn, I just have seen your question. To answer, yes, I have made several of my own proportional dividers and they worked quite well. I have just purchased one from Mark tomsee what it is like.

        What I have found is that it is very helpful to have good sharp points on the dividers. With the dividers, I am finally able to do portraits with a good likeness!

  3. He himself says that the divider is a tool, just like the color checker. If you watch a bunch of his videos he says he doesn’t use them personally, and doesn’t expect you to after 10 or 20 paintings. It’s a way for students to practice doing things correctly. It’s a way for people without the “knack” to develop their artistic eye. If you’re used to painting with correct value, and proportion, you are more likely to recognize it when you deviate from it. His method only becomes a handicap when you choose to never grow out of it.

  4. I have now completed 6 portraits using Mark’s Methods as well as I can. I can tell that I am not using them perfectly, but I have been extremely pleased with my results. If I had continued struggling with the “Classical” techniques, I would have given up long before now. This is the biggest advantage to the Carder Method. The artist can be successful in portraits rapidly.

    As I use the dividers, I am also training my eye. I will try the sight-size method to locate a feature and then come back with the dividers to see how I did. My eye is getting better!

  5. Hi,
    I have started following Mark Carder’s method for color checking a few years back, it really helped me to confirm the values of the colors. It is a wonderful tool. Over the time, it helped me to train my eyes to check values. Now a days I do not use it that much, but still sometimes, especially when I am looking at a shadow in light or light in shadow. I really want to thank Mark Carder for the method he taught. Now a days I do semi impressionistic works but Mark’s method of value checking still helping me. I must say this this is a good tool, one should not label it as a crutch.

    Regarding drawing. I never used any divider. I was always good at drawing. I used to do site sizing using my pencil. Over the time I developed the skills of doing comparative measurements. I am glad that I am developing my skill for doing life Portraits.

    I think Mark teaches these methods more that actually he uses them for himself. He is an excellent teacher. Glad that I found his channel on YouTube. I was very demoralised as my paintings were pathetic even if I could do decent drawings with pencil. I almost gave up before I found Draw mix paint.

  6. I have been painting for (too) many years and discovered Geneva Paints only last year (2019). I simply LOVE those paints and also the limited palette technique – even if sometimes additional colors can be used (It is my lazy side). I find the limited palette a lot easier to use than the eleven or so colors I used to use.

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