I have been asked by several artists over the past couple of weeks about the blue tool that I use in my instructional DVD’s and wanted to take a minute to answer those questions here for others who might be wondering as well.

Question: What is it?

Answer: It is simply a set of calipers that came in an X-acto set many years ago. I was going through the attic a few years back and came across them and decided to put them to use when painting.


Question: How do you use it?

Answer: I use it to measure distances, especially at the beginning of a painting, in order to start off accurately. I like to start off with a correct measurement at the beginning of a painting which can then be used as a reference point for all other measurements. Instead of re-measuring this same reference point over and over again, the calipers allow me to lock in a set measurement by simply sliding the lower half either up or down. It allows me to make several accurate, quick measurements without having to approximate distances, which often result in having to go back at a later stage in the painting and correcting problems.

Example of how I use the calipers in my instructional DVD, “Drawing

Question: Where can I buy one?

Answer: This particular model is no longer being made, but there are several calipers that would work just as well. Here is a link to a company that sells a nearly identical model to the X-acto version.

The important thing to remember is that no set of calipers will make a difference in your paintings, but the fact that you take the time to accurately measure will greatly impact your drawing ability.

John Singer Sargent would often get frustrated with students who were willing to settle for an approximate measurement when working. The problem with working this way is that you will end up with a painting that is “almost” right, but not quite.

Whether you choose to use a pair of calipers, a paintbrush, your thumb, etc., just be sure to take the time to measure. It’s better to take a little more time in the beginning in order to save time in the end.