One of the 5 classes I'm taking this term is Painting Studies from the Masters taught by Lucas Graciano. It focuses on master studies, a practice that belongs in every art student's curriculum. It's an effective method of learning because it reinforces other art lessons, as you closely observe how the master applies the "rules" of art making. As an added bonus, you get to pick your "teacher". Today's teacher is Anders Zorn. I choose his painting "Mona" because I like Zorn's loose efficient brushwork and edge control. Also the palette he used here is fairly simple (8 colors), and I like the lighting scheme---a primary warm light to the left and a softer cool light to the right of the figure. A lot to learn here.
Method: Since this is a copy of a reproduction, not a copy of the original painting, it's important to obtain a good quality reference photo. I used a photocopy from a book (shown below). I traced the projected image onto a 20" x 16" linen canvas with a pencil, then re-stated the tracing with black india ink. I prepared a burnt umber pick-out as a value guide, then painted the final image wet-into-wet. The palette included cad yellow pale, cad yellow deep, cad red light, ultramarine blue, viridian, burnt umber, titanium white and ivory black. The painting took about 35 hours to complete.
In this exercise I focused on the fundamentals (materials, brushwork, color mixing). I shaped and blended edges, mixed colors on the palette and canvas, and experimented with different brush techniques. Of note in this painting, Zorn did a lot of skimming of dark blue over warm-hued areas to model the form. This optical mixing kept the colors from going muddy. You can see this everywhere the form turns away from the warm primary light. I did this by loading the body of a sable brush with ultramarine blue and gently skimming over the wet base painting with the side of the loaded brush. Finally, I tried clove oil, which slows paint drying time. Really nice if you're slow like I am and want to work wet-into-wet. A drop of clove oil mixed into an inch or 2 of tube paint will keep it wet for a week or more. Smells good, too.
While I tried to match colors, my painting background, primarily W&N burnt umber, is darker than the reference. The other colors don't seem to have a similar problem. I've read that some paint may dry darker depending on quality, drying conditions, mediums used, etc. Couldn't find any firm guidelines. Less of an issue when creating an original painting, but something to be aware of.
- There are no secret techniques for master copying, but Juliette Aristides has a good discussion of the subject and a copying exercise in her book, Classical Painting Atelier.
- A good beginner's book for brushstroke technique, which I read before starting this piece, is Brushwork Essentials by Mark Weber.
- If you're interested in Zorn, check out this article from American Artists. Or go here for a listing of his complete works.