Being a Copy Cat Is a Good Thing

4 Nov 2014

It's funny when you think about it but the art world is built on copying. However, unlike plagiarism in journalism or literature, copying master drawings is something many artists have incorporate into their studies for centuries because it is an excellent way to study and evaluate incredible artwork. It was a widespread method during the 16th and 17th centuries, and allows artists now and then to demonstrate their growing ability to draw and render, or to create an homage honoring a revered artistic.

Kneeling Female in Orange-Red Dress by Egon Schiele, mixed media drawing, 1910.
Kneeling Female in Orange-Red Dress
by Egon Schiele, mixed media drawing, 1910.
When you think about it, getting drawing lessons from the masters in this way is a bit of a luxury. All the works are laid out and front of you and all you have to do is observe. There's no pressing timetable or hoops to jump through. You can focus on drawing techniques that they used and work through their work process as a drawing exercise to hone your own skills.

If you are interested in creating a line drawing or contour drawing after a master, it will be good to remember a few things. First, make a copy of a drawing in the style you like. It seems like you don't want to pick Rembrandt if Schiele is more your style. Go with what you are drawn to aesthetically. After all, you're going to be giving the image a lot of attention.

You'll also want to get a good quality image to work from. Sometimes that can be from an exhibition catalog, or you might be able to find a poster-size reproduction of the work. Just look for good tones and a clear representation of detail and gradation. You may also want to tone your paper in the style of the Old Masters. They rarely had pure white paper, so go with a surface that has a bit of neutral color on it.

Der Trunkene Lot by Rembrandt, 1630/31, drawing with black chalk.
Der Trunkene Lot by Rembrandt, 1630/31,
drawing with black chalk.
Copying master drawings is an enjoyable and rewarding way to improve drawing skills. Right now, the Strokes of Genius Collection is available which is a great way to get your hands on the works of contemporary masters, with top drawing tips, interesting practitioners, and more. If, after looking through the kit, you find yourself wanting to recreate a master drawing you see, don't question the artistic urge because I felt the same way! Just make sure to claim it as your own riff on the work and then get copying and enjoy!

P.S. Calling all artists! Please take a few minutes and fill out the Artists and Art Materials Survey, an international study going on right now in the art community. Thank you!!

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KatPaints wrote
on 2 Apr 2012 6:31 PM

I think if someone is at least an intermediate painter this can be a good task to do. Having already established a strong understanding of color, form, light, perspective, and other aspects of creating art, an artist can further learn what an artist's approach is by copying the work as a study. I did this once long ago and I felt as if I was getting inside the artist's head. Creating a work of art is more than just technique. It's a whole mind set.

I think it is also important to never share this work as if it is your own artwork. The lessons should be purely for your own growth and not put on display to show people what "you" have done. Unless the work is some sort of spoof or adapted considerably, it is best to view this work as a study or destroy it when you are finished.  

LenDavis wrote
on 28 Jun 2014 12:01 PM

I consider imitation to be the highest form of praise.  The copy should be notated somewhere on the front or back, making clear it is a master copy and stating the name of the artist and the work.  However, I see no reason to ever destroy a master copy.