Sunday, 10 July 2011

The art of copying. Masters, that is

As I'm about to embark on another master study - something I've not done in a while, I thought I'd catalogue how I go about it, and what I try to get out of it, so those who've not done it before can understand why it's something I find super useful.

The master painting I've decided to copy is one by Sargent, called Fumée d'Ambris Gris. I've loved Sargent's work for a while, and was lucky enough to see a few originals in a local show, and was amazed by how economical his brush work is. This particular painting will be useful for me as I've always tended towards work that's quite sharply contrasted, and always has quite dark value, so this is a new way of using hue and tone for me. Plus there's something a little fantastical about the subject that makes it all the more fun to paint. I get pretty much all of my original jpgs from the Art Renewal Center.

So where to start?
• Firstly, I set up my 'grid'. With the original painting open, I drag guides in from the top and sides, and line them up with key features in the painting. I could simply use a predefined square grid, but I find dragging a number of guides in also helps me see how masters balance their imagery, and where their details sit in the canvas.
• Once I have a grid I'm happy with, I then save out another copy of the original image. Then I make sure I have both images open in photoshop, and delete the image from one of them. This ensure I have the exact same grid on both images, and that both are the exact same dimensions, so i can compare them easily in PS without worrying about fiddlign with zooms.
• Next I put a wash of base colour down. The colour you use will depend on the copy. If the image is hig enoguh, you might be able to spot which colour the original artist put down by zoomign in and looking at where you can see the canvas most clearly. Which is what I did here. There's a yellow ochre-y tint to almost everything in the image, seen most clearly in the white wall to the left near the bottom. So I scrub down a messy 'undercoat' of my digital approximation of yellow ochre. I use a textured brush to do so, something like the chalk brush you get as part of the brush sets with PS will do the trick - doing this rather than filling the whole canvas with a flat colour will give you more variation when you paint on top of it.
• With the wash in, it's a case of just sketching in the details loosely, just getting positioning right. What I'm most interested in with this copy is the actual digital painting, not drawing an exactl line copy. I don't put in details like the face, or labour over every crease in the clothing, just mark in where the major shapes are. Those are things I can fiddle with when I paint, especially since a lot of what I want to learn from this is edge control, and fine linework will only hamper me.

These are just the first stages. I shall update as I paint more. Hope this is potentially useful for someone considering a copy or two!

The Original Painting.

The grid and the underwash

The linework

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