September 25, 2007

Daniel in the Lion's Den

Original painting: "Daniel in the Lion's Den", by Peter Paul Rubens

Day 1. The original is 130" wide, and the maximum the museum allows for a copyist's canvas is 40". So my canvas is 27"x40", which is about the same proportions as the original. I know that Rubens painted on a toned surface, and I started on a white canvas. But I'm not reproducing his method here. I am mainly interested in the composition. The first day I concentrated on getting the elements all drawn on correctly. I stood across the room from the painting, since it is so large that that was the only way I could see the whole thing without distortion. I started with a blank canvas, and copied it by measuring by eye from where I stood.

Day 2. I got my basic colors in place.

Day 3. I only painted for two hours today. I worked on the background on the left, and started developing the individual lions.

Day 4. I worked a long time on the figure, although it doesn't really show it. I notice I'm progressing pretty slowly on this copy, which is good. Sorry these photos are out of focus - I try not to use the flash, and the lighting wasn't too good.

Day 5. I worked on the lions on the left. The anatomy of the lions is very apparent. I am interested in animal portraiture, which is one reason I chose this painting to copy. I had a most interesting day of talking with people - lots of interruptions, but nice ones.

Day 6. A very long time after Day 5, which was back in October. I stayed away through the holiday season. This day I worked on the two lions in the lower right, and a little on the yawning lion in the middle. I also put in the skull and some bones at the bottom. I'm a little bothered by the fact that my drawing is off; I'm finding that I have more negative space between the lions than there should be. But I'm not going to go in and redo the drawing - I just don't care enough about it.

Day 7. I worked mainly on the figure today, but also a little bit on the surrounding areas - the darks in the negative space, and the red cloth. If you look closely you will notice the original painting on the wall beyond my painting, and you may get a feeling for how large it is. I have found it difficult to get much detail into this "miniature" copy, even though it is 40 inches wide! I could stay on this painting for the foreseeable future, but I have decided to turn in my permit on this one and move on to the next. It is not finished, but I'm putting it on hold for now, and will probably come back to it at a future time. I have my next painting lined up, which will be Monet's "Woman with a Parasol". Watch this space for developments!

September 4, 2007

Why do I copy?

Many visitors ask me why I copy at the museum. The best answer is "Because they let me!" This free program is too valuable to pass up, and it's a privilege that I want to take advantage of. Also, it is a priceless opportunity to study works of art in person, and at length. When I visit a museum to look at paintings, I spend maybe five minutes at the most in front of a particular work. I also see so many works in a single visit that none of them makes a very big impression on me.

However, when I copy a painting, I am immersed in that particular work of art for many weeks or months. I study it minutely, and am able to get up close and scrutinize the artist's brush strokes. I am able to see which strokes were put on first, and which came later. This kind of insight is not apparent when you see a reproduction in a book.

I also feel a connection to the artist. When I copied Monet's "The Japanese Footbridge", I had an almost eerie feeling that Monet, wherever he is, was somehow aware that I was studying his painting. I know this is silly, but that's how it felt as I stood there studying and copying his brush strokes. I got lost in making the marks, and just felt connected to him somehow. Monet is just about my favorite painter, and I love studying him and his work.

I can remember seeing copyists at the National Gallery when I visited there as a child. I used to think that I would NEVER want to be in that position, of being on display trying to make a copy of a great master's painting! I thought it would be embarrassing, and the public would criticize my efforts. But in reality, copying is nothing like that. Visitors to the museum are as nice as can be, and never criticize my copy. The biggest problem I have is having my concentration interrupted constantly, as visitors want to ask me questions. But that is just part of the copying experience, and I am used to it. I am used to painting in public from working outdoors in "plein air" at crowded parks and other tourist sites, so I'm pretty good at screening distractions out.

Past copies

Here are some past copies I did, at various stages of progress. Unfortunately I haven't kept track of the dates. I've done many other copies, but have not yet found the photos. I've mainly copied the Impressionists, because their approach (direct painting from observation of life) is closest to my own.

after Willard Leroy Metcalf's "Midsummer Twilight"

after Claude Monet's "Interior, After Dinner"

after Mary Cassatt's "The Boating Party"

after Berthe Morisot's "Mother and Sister of the Artist"

after Walt Kuhn's "The White Clown"

after Claude Monet's "The Bridge at Argenteuil"

after Frans Hals' "Portrait of a Man"

after Edouard Manet's "The Railway"

copying Monet's "The Japanese Footbridge"

A museum visitor took this photo of me on my last day of copying Monet's "The Japanese Footbridge". I did this copy in three days.