It used to be standard practice at art schools for students to learn by copying the Great Masters. This seems to have gone out of fashion. Some months ago I was on an acrylic portrait course at my local college and we were encouraged towards the end of the course to choose a portrait by an artist we admired, and copy it. We were then able to use what we had learned by painting another portrait in that artist’s style. I copied a portrait of Henri Matisse by Andre Derain. I learned a lot about Derain’s techniques by copying (such as the importance of the grey priming layer) which made my self-portrait in his style much truer.
Portrait of Henri Matisse by Andre Derain
My copy of Derain’s portrait
My self-portrait in Derain’s style
As a result of this experience, when I find an artist and work I like, I am keen to try and learn from it by copying. Vincent van Gogh’s drawing “Wheat Field with Sheaves” from 1888 is one such work. I used a reed pen which made myself but had to use black Indian ink rather than the sepia brown used by van Gogh.
van Gogh’s “Wheat Fields With Sheaves” (from wikipaintings)
The fading across a set of lines, such as those near the bottom centre of the original drawing, I had assumed were purely due to the ink in the reed pen running out and the pen needing to be dipped again. This probably is the case, but I found to get the effect I had to rely mainly on variations in pressure – heavier pressure for the darker marks and gradually less pressure to get the lighter ones.