Beyond the legal and ethical limits, though, copying the work of a master is a good way to become at least passingly familiar with their techniques and media. Certainly copying has been worthwhile in my own learning and growth, and I've used any number of previous artists as models. As a realist, it's obviously been more important to me to learn the craft of representational art, and it's those kinds of works that have attracted my interest. Early on, I copied Velasquez, and Goya (two favorites) before branching out to other "old masters" and then into other representational work. Although I have copied works by artists of the 20th century, most of my study has been of the great realist painters of the past. I've made copies of quite a few painters including a few of the early 20th century.
|After Durer: "The Large Turf, 1503" watercolor, 2002|
Here is a watercolor copy I did of a well-known painting, also in watercolor, by the great master Albrecht Durer. It was painted in 1503 in Durer's studio in Nuremberg. He was perhaps twenty-five and already a master of many media including engraving, watercolor, and oil painting. This watercolor seems to clearly be a study of grasses and weeds, perhaps intended by Durer as a way to improve the backgrounds and other vegetation in his larger and more ambitious works. For me this piece provided intense study of draftsmanship, color, and meticulousness. It also showed me that his control of values, particularly the darks, gave true depth to his work, which of course this copy sorely lacks.
|Albrecht Durer, "Wild Hare," watercolor 1502|
|After Frederic Remington: "The Hungry Moon," oil on panel, 2013|
This oil painting is a copy of a work by the renowned illustrator Frederic Remington, which is in the collection of the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This particular nocturne dates to 1906. Remington was a highly successful and wealthy illustrator and writer around the turn of the 20th century whose main subject was the American West. But in his last few years he began a series of night paintings that he called "nocturnes" with an eye to the fine art market. The series was very successful, so much so that Remington wrote to a friend that he had "landed among the artists, and well-up, too." The series was exhibited a few years ago at the National Gallery and other museums, where I had an opportunity to see them. These are mostly dark, low-key paintings with somber Western subjects. In this particular painting, he depicted three Native American women skinning a downed buffalo in the snow, at night, while their braves keep watch. The title says it all--these are desperate, hungry people. It was interesting to recreate Remington's composition (note how the horse to the right keeps us looking at the women) and imitate his palette. He used a generally cool blue-green tone overall to provide a sense of moonlight in many of his nocturnes, as he did in this one.
Again copying this work provided clues into what Remington's entire process. That is, by drawing the composition, then transitioning to a copy in oil I had an opportunity to follow his thought process and what digital artists today call "work flow." This copy is hardly up to the standards of the original, but as a way of learning and advancing craft, it was a valuable experience. To give an example of Remington's uncanny and delightful expertise, here's his nocturne, "The Stampede," from 1908, the year before he died. The moving cattle, galloping horse, and bold of lightning simply stopped me in my tracks as a 13 year-old boy in his first visit to an art museum (The Gilcrease Museum, in Tulsa, Oklahoma). This painting is fairly large and engages the viewer more completely in person.
|Frederic Remington, "The Stampede," 1908|
Bio of Frederic Remington