Learning from the Masters – Study #1

| July 19, 2009
Masters' Study #1 - 11x14 Oil on Canvas. Original art © Clyde Aspiveg

Masters’ Study #1 – 11×14 Oil on Canvas. Original art © Clyde Aspiveg

Author’s note: I want everyone to know that the image above is not my my original work. It was painted by me but as a study of an original piece by Clyde Aspevig for learning and educational purposes only. The original work can be found here.

During my life, I have played viola, french horn, alto saxophone, guitar and piano. Not one was I able to pick and play beautifully the first time. Why would painting be any different? I am sure my favorite pianist Ingrid Fliter did not even come close to doing Chopin justice the first time she took the bench. The reality is, although she must have a heap full of natural talent, she had to work endlessly at the keys to arrive at where she is today as an artist. I am sure that she not only studied Chopin himself, but also the performances of scores of other accomplished pianists that came before her. I am not embarrassed to say that performances of Chopin’s work have brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Not sure what that is about but what I can say is that it is a wonderful thing to have an emotional response to art by the hand of a master. I can only hope that I can create art someday that strikes an emotional chord at some level for someone.

Anyway, enough of the mushy stuff. I have been reading a lot lately about artists including Vermeer, Cezanne and Renoir among others.  I mentioned in an earlier post that while visiting the Louvre in Paris last summer, I saw a number of students copying the works of the early masters. To be honest, that was the moment that I decided to take up oil painting in earnest. I did not think much more about the students until I read a book about Renoir. As the art historians tell it, from 1860 to 1864 Renoir applied and was granted permission to study and copy works in the Louvre. I find it fascinating to think about Renoir studying in the Louvre only to become one of the masters hanging on the wall. I also learned that even earlier, Vermeer’s Saint Praxidis from 1655 was based on on a work by the 17th-century Florence artist Felice Fircherelli. Vermeer was adept at emulating other artists’ techniques and styles, which may account for the range of styles in his early biblical and mythological paintings. Renowned current-day portrait artist, Mark Carder taught himself to paint in oil by studying and copying works by John Singer Sargent, Rembrandt, George Inness and Henry Raeburn.

So were does this all lead? It seems that much can be learned from the age old practice of studying the work of the masters. For me, the study above is my attempt to glean some wisdom from a landscape artist I respect. I painted the piece from a low-resolution image displayed on my Mac Cinema Display. Not exactly the Louvre but the best setup given my situation. To follow are a few things that I learned as a result of this six-hour exercise. Some may disagree with these findings. Please chime in if I am off base or some of you have a different opinion. I welcome your input.

  1. Even though I had a reference right in front of me, things still turn out different. Obviously my technique is no where near Clyde’s, but even so, I think our individual influence is hard to abandon.
  2. The use of edges makes or breaks the painting.
  3. The selective use of the lights and darks are critical to getting things to read right. The lightest lights are kept to a minimum.
  4. I could not emulate the brightness of the sky with Ultramarine Blue and Titanium White. I had to use Cobalt Blue and Virdian to create a similar effect to the sky in the original work.
  5. I really could get by with a fairly limited palette. I used Cad. Red, Cad. Yellow Lt., Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Viridian and a bit of Colbalt Blue plus Titanium White. I had Cad. Orange on the palete but rarely touched it.
  6. There was a trail of knocked-back medium blue on the shade side of the trees that seems to have a unifying effect across the mass of trees.
  7. Each mass is a combination of colors that add beauty and interest while staying within the color/value space of the mass.
  8. Although my snow reads with more color that Clyde’s, I found out that snow can have red, blue, yellow and white and still read as snow. My camera seems to be amplifying the blue in the snow for some reason.
  9. Shadows get lighter as they move away from the object casting them.
  10. Tree trunks get darker as you move to the ground, which helps them appear to be planted instead of floating.
  11. Designing a visual path through the painting is critical to maintaing interest in the entire piece.

Well that’s about it for now. I am not sure who will be next. I plan to switch between these types of studies and my own pieces so that I have an opportunity to apply what I have learned as I move through the process.

Category: Fine Art and Painting

Comments (2)

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  1. Nice job – this sounds like it was a good learning experience. I keep thinking that I need to do the same thing and copy some paintings just for the practice. It’s tough with Aspevig because his brushwork in real life is so layered and intricate that I always feel like it would be tough to copy a photo of his, but you’ve shown here that it can still be a great tool for working on color and value lessons, as well as edges and composition.

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks Stacey. Interesting thought about the brushwork. I have not had the privilege of seeing Clyde’s brushwork first hand. It may have seemed more intimidating if I had. Again, I appreciate you comments!