Mark Carder – the not so academic approach in painting realistically

Artist Mark Carder 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 “the not so academic approach in painting realistically” ?

With this method, you won’t really learn to draw through observation. If you always use a tool to measure – if it’s a grid system, projecting, a knitting needle or a proportional divider – you most propably won’t obtain the skill to see lenghts and distances. 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.

For example when you project a printed photo onto the canvas with a projector and blindly trace the lines you’ll 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


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

  1. 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.

  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. 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…..

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