Lesson to copy famous paintings

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Copy famous paintings to educate yourself! 

Why is this practice followed?

This practice will teach you so much.

You don't have to worry about composition, colors, subject matter, etc.  Cause its been done for you already!  

You see the practice done in every major museum across the country.  An artist comes in after getting the proper permission.  Sets the easel up a comfortable distance from a old master piece.  And starts slinging paint (if they are in the abstract section) in order to copy what is right in front of them.  When they copy famous paintings of the classical realistic genre it takes much longer.

This page talks about the why we paint famous paintings, but it also part of a bigger picture of lessons.  A navigation box below points you to other related pages.

Now, back to Copy famous paintings.  It is merely an exercise in hand to eye co-ordination.  It helps you learn technique.  We copy famous paintings to also inspire us to create something similar.

The practice will also quickly can get you into "the zone"  or "dual mode brain activity.

Remember "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" notes in the complex drawing lesson.

Before we get too far into this lesson, I got a great idea for you.  Most people that visit, and are artist's, will bookmark the site.  That's great, but I've got a better recommendation.

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Now, back to our lesson on how to copy paintings.

Here's a short list of what you need to do in order to copy a masters work:

  • obtain a great image of the painting you wish to copy.  (I provide a link below to one of the best sites I have found)
  • setup your materials, transfer your drawing to the support.  Multiple ways of doing this as discussed on this site in "learn to draw".
  • begin the painting using an indirect method of painting (layered approach) for classical and impressionistic works.  abstracts will require a bit of research on the methods used by the particular artist.  I discuss some techniques here on this site.
  • make sure you sign your name to the work someplace (keeps you out of trouble!)

Draw the painting first, then follow all of the seven layers steps from ink drawing, imprimatura (1st layer), burnt umber (2)(2nd and 3rd layer), dead layer(4th layer), color layer(2)(5th and 6th layer) and finishing layer(7th layer). 

Lots of work.  Yes!, but you will begin to think like the Master, understand the why's by doing. And imprint in your mind what a masterpiece really looks like and what it takes to complete!

Your memory will forever hold this piece.  And when you find yourself in a similar situation, your mind will remember and your paint passage will happen as if by magic!

That certain fold in the linen.  That twinkle in her eye.  That sparkle on the ear ring.  They become imprinted, and when a similar painting comes along.  You've already done it in once, and you will remember for the next one.

Here's an attempt I did of a very famous painting almost 10 years ago!

Copy Famous Paintings

I first saw this painting in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.  I was captivated by it's intensity, the gaze of the young woman, and the size (about 8" X 10").  I copied the painting to help learn working in this size, and color matching.  Though these photo's don't show it, the colorization was matched quite well but I lost the likeness somewhere in the process.  Again, it is an exercise and I learned a great deal in doing it.

Color is one of the minds most difficult thing to remember. especially certain shades.  But certain things in nature, the colors always stay about the same.  Once you have learned how to mix them, you will remember that in future paintings of the same subject. (Especially if you follow my advice below!)

Skin tones, hair, clothing certainly change, but after copying one master, you will remember what you used to paint those lips, the cheek, the scarf. 

Here's another example of a copy of a famous painting.

More Tips:

Keep a journal! of your mixtures, and techniques on how you accomplished a certain passage within the painting.  I remember when I first started painting drape.  The folds were killers for me.

I took notes of what worked and what didn't.  How I blended using a certain brush, what brush I used to touch or stab at to get a certain soft blend.  How I dry brushed softly to get a certain shadow.

So again, we say, copy famous paintings of the master's.  Looking back through history, it was common for artists to copy not only the work of masters, but they copied their own work as well.

Back then, they didn't have giclee printers!

So go ahead, copy famous paintings in order to learn the techniques or imitating the techniques and creating the same style of art for the purpose of education, self-exploration, and creation are legitimate actions on the part of an artist. 

The gold nugget for this entire page!


Here's a great website for you to get your copies of master paintings and begin your training!

Famous Painting Reference Site!

It opens in a new window so you can save your place here.  Just find the painting you like, there will be several photo's stored of the image including close-ups. 

Save these to your computer and then use  "A Real Art Lesson"  to create and produce your own famous painting!

Oh, I almost forgot.  There is another very legitimate reason to copy a piece of art work.  I've had customers that simply did not want a giclee print!  But having seen a piece and remembering it, coming back to make the purchase only to find it had already sold! 

The gallery advised to order a copy, and they did! 

It gives you the opportunity to do the painting a 2nd time, and improve areas you felt may have been weak in the first. 

It also can be completed quicker, because you know all of your tricks to accomplish that special effect. And you get to put that "II" next to the name!  Check out the daffodil painting named "Frontline II" below.

The customer was happy to get the painting she wanted.  It is still considered an original because no matter how hard you try, there will be differences from the original, and you're 2nd attempt will be an improvement!

Now, check this little bit of info out.

During the Renaissance era, some artist's made a living by painting only 2 or 3 paintings, over and over, because they were so popular!  So if you sell one that you've done.  Do another, and label it number 2. 

Did you know Claude Monet did this! (made copies of the same subject)

Now these 2 paintings are of the same subject, but Monet was exploring the different light on the subject at different times of the day.  So technically, it's not really the same painting.    

Go ahead, give it a try! Copy famous paintings and learn to paint like the Master's! 

Now finally, if your really interested in learning how to copy your own famous paintings, get more details on how you can copy  famous paintings yourself, then Click here to learn more!

You'll learn the technique that has been in use for over 400 years, and is not taught in our schools anymore!  This is a craft that can be learned, and learned well!  Try it!

OK, I understand there are some that simply believe it's too hard to learn.  Maybe this is all a bit complicated?  Maybe you need a whoooole lot of help?  Click here for a full REVIEW of an art course for beginners.

***Just a quick word!***

There are certain rules to be adhered to when copying a fellow artists work.

  • 1. The artist must be deceased! Plus a few years.  If the artist is still alive, your must get written permission to use their work for commercial means.
  • 2. You must sign your name to the canvas or it is considered a forgery!

Stick with these 2 main rules, and you won't get into any trouble!

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