Of course, you do not want to copy other artists’ work. Besides violating copyrights, it’s just unethical.
But why not learn from copying? Many artists paint old masters paintings just to learn how to do it. And you do learn a lot. As long as you aren’t selling it, or passing it off as a real old master, you’re good.
But another way of learning from copying is to paint photographs. You take the photo, so it’s your copyright, and no problem. There are a number of ways to do this. You can paint or draw by just looking at the photo and putting it into paint and paper or canvas. You’ll learn a lot from doing that. But most new artists who try that just give up and say they don’t like their own painting.
In order to teach one of my grandsons some art lessons I got him a “light table.” The one I got cost about $10 and it is a very thin piece of plastic which plugs into a computer port and lights up. Then you put your photo or whatever you want to copy on that and a blank piece of paper on top and the light shines through and you can draw outlines and shading of your subject.
The grandson has been very enthusiastic with it – he’s done about 30 drawings of things he would never draw just off the top of his head. And the result is that now he knows how to draw them.
I just recently tried it out myself, and it’s so much fun, I can’t get enough. I’ve been drawing faces and buildings and although I paint these subjects without the “light table” I have learned a lot about the details that go into making a good drawing by using it.
Think it’s cheating? Well, old masters had their little shortcuts, too. Look up camera obscura (“Camera obscura, also referred to as pinhole image, is the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen is projected through a small hole in that screen as a reversed and inverted image on a surface opposite to the opening.” –Wikipedia.) It was used to make drawings for paintings back before cameras. Tools of the trade.
I started studying art in 1963 with an extraordinary illustrator/fine artist named Morton Roberts at the National Academy of Design in NYC. I soon forgot about commercial art. Roberts fired up my desire to paint and succeed as a fine artist and I have never really left that path. But I did change my viewpoint on style and content. Roberts untimely death was a huge tragedy and a great disappointment for me because I believed he had so much to teach. Roberts was followed by abstract artist, Hugh Gumpel and under Hugh I won the Dr. Al Weil student prize at the National Academy. Eventually I began to look around for another teacher and found Daniel Greene, an outstanding portrait painter and studied with him for the next couple of years. Dan helped me to get a scholarship membership in the Salmagundi Club where I managed to gain an honorable mention in their scholarship members’ exhibition and competition.
During this time I became aware of and became an intense admirer of the work of still-life artist and portrait painter David Leffel. I sought to present my images in a similar light. I actually studied with Leffel for a couple of months in his New York City studio, but it wasn’t enough time to grasp where he was coming from and how he made his decisions and drew his conclusions, so I pretty much had to teach myself.
Technique had always been very important to me and I originally did dead-color preparations for my paintings, much as the Old Masters did (dead-color paintings are monochromatic paintings over which colors are glazed), but I became more interested in tonal results rather than the sculptural results achieved by 17th century painters. I was probably somewhat influenced by Impressionism and definitely by modern-day tonalist work. I have become fascinated with the effects of light, particularly as an object emerges from shadow into light. I seek to represent what I see, to the best of my ability, in terms of light and atmosphere.
I have managed to achieve some degree of artistic success. In 2010 I was accepted as a member of the Oil Painters of America and was a finalist in American Artist Magazine’s annual cover competition.
Find out more about Chuck Rosenthal at Chuck Rosenthal Fine Art