Learn from the Masters
Howard Lyon recreates a classic.
For this workshop we’ll take an in-depth look at the benefits of copying an Old Master painting. I’ve chosen to copy a portion of the painting Jeanne, by William Adolphe Bouguereau.
There are many artists who I admire, but I think Bouguereau sits at the top of my list because of his technical mastery. I’ve worked in the video game industry for 13 years, as a freelance artist and a gallery artist, and while my subjects and clients are varied, I’ve always been able to look to Bouguereau for inspiration.
The goal of doing a master copy is three-fold. The first goal is to learn from the aesthetic sensibilities of the artist you choose to copy. This is key to developing taste or connoisseurship.
During the 19th century the French government, concerned that French artists were declining in taste, commissioned Charles Bargue to create a series of plates from classical works that students would copy. This trained them to draw with great accuracy, but also informed their mind as to what was pleasing or ideal. This is subjective, of course, but when you choose a painting to copy, keep this in mind that you’re training your taste.
The second goal is to learn how the artist approached colour, value, edges, and design or composition. I try to pay close attention to the way edges are handled and where the artist makes stylistic decisions, as opposed to being rigid to what can be observed. For instance, Bouguereau has greatly simplified the hair in his Jeanne piece to create larger shapes, and only in a few key spots does he render individual hairs.
The third goal is to be accurate. This is the least important, but still of great value. I say this because there may be portions of the painting that are nearimpossible to copy with complete accuracy and paint in the same way that the Old Master did. If the original painting was done with big brush work that feels spontaneous and loose, you don’t want to get out your smallest brush and try to mimic a single brush stroke with a hundred small strokes, just to show how meticulous you can be.
I suggest that painting with similar vigour and manner as the original artist will be much more valuable to emulate, than creating a ostensibly perfect copy that misses out on the original technique. Howard has worked in the video game industry as a concept artist and art director. He has also freelanced on properties like Magic: the Gathering and Warcraft, as well as a fine artist for galleries. See his art at www.howardlyon.com.