Learning from the Masters

I grew up in a small New England town.  It was idyllic except for the fact there was no art instruction.  I learned to draw by copying other artists.  Later, in the era of individualism and experimentation I discovered copying was a big no-no.  (Obviously, copying is still taboo if we copy another’s work of any type, call it ours, or seek to profit from copying another.)   To be clear, I’m referring here to copying as an exercise in learning.    And thus, I’ve recognized  more recently, that imitating masterworks can be a practical help in the process of learning to draw.  First of all, anything that helps one learn to see is a plus.  Secondly, by practicing the styles of other artists, we discover techniques we might not have readily found on our own.  And most important we gain a deeper appreciation of how they responded to their subject thus better understanding what they were trying to communicate.  All of this helps us grow as an artist.

And all of that is to lead in to this week’s topic – learning about line drawing from the Masters. We are so fortunate to live in the age of Google Images.  We can find examples of our favorite artists’ drawings instantly.   Just now I’ve looked up two of my favorites:  Matisse and Van Gogh.   Here’s a sample of a Matisse drawing-


And an example of Van Gogh’s work-


The simple fluid lines of Matisse express the charm and grace of his subjects.  By contrast, Van Gogh uses short choppy lines, yet they also express  emotion and passion.

With these two styles in mind, I’m going to try two quick drawings. I’ll use as my subject a man rowing a boat.  The first, a la Matisse:  I imagine Matisse effortlessly drawing flowing lines.  While he makes it look easy, after a couple attempts I found it quite difficult.  No, you don’t get to see the first attempts.  Because I wanted to jump in and draw without a preliminary sketch,  it was very challenging to make simple lines expressive.  I wonder if Matisse had lots of flops.   Probably.  I’ve gained even more respect for his genius of simplicity.


And now the same subject, after the style of Van Gogh.   This time I did a very simple pencil drawing to set the proportion of the figure and boat.  The short lines were fun and this was easier for me, perhaps because I think in terms of line already.   I’m intrigued by the way Van Gogh groups his lines together, creating rhythm and movement.


Who is your favorite artist?

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