From Brush to Stylus, Part 1: The Case for Copying

Digital painting of John Singer Sargent's "Mrs. Hugh Smith"

Surely the best indication of a good artist is the creation of compelling original works executed with strong technique. But to reach that point, there's lotsa gruntwork involved. That means experimenting with materials, practising painting from life, preparatory sketches, and as I discuss here, copying artists you aspire to be like. Your copied works aren't masterpieces; heck, they're not worth showing your Mom half the time (no offense Mom, xo). But you learn so much.

John Singer Sargent, a 19th century painter, is probably most cited as influential among figurative artists - when I'm reading their bios, I'm almost anticipating the nod to him. He was just so good (the type of good that fills you with envy). Great compositions - check, amazing brushwork - check, smart use of colour - check. And he was prolific to boot, so there's plenty of stuff for the less adept (moi) to study.

Choosing a Sargent piece to copy is particularly useful when practising your digital skills because his work is so 'painterly' (i.e., he wasn't afraid to use gobs of paint and leave strong visible brushstrokes). When painting digital, it's very easy to get pulled into smooth, blended work that looks like airbrushing. You may not mind, if you're going for hyper-realism or murals on the sides of tour buses, but I think it's more interesting if your paintless painting resembles real brushwork on canvas.

Above are a couple pics of my Sargent copy in progress. As you can see, the process is similar to my technique with oil painting. I'm focusing on capturing shape and colour in the beginning, and then refining until I get a good likeness. Because blending comes so easily in the digital medium, I frequently have to go back and add some choppy strokes and hard edges to simulate the look of a brush (I'll get into the nitty gritty of how to do this in later posts). Overall, I'm happy with the result!

This one's for you, Mom.


Unknown said...

Excellent start to digital. Really. Im thrilled you are staying away from airbrushing. Its just the worst. These pieces are just so loose and full of life. I know with digital, you are always fighting the "digital look" its one more thing to worry about, and you fought it back very quite nicely. Beyond the airbrushing that really chews away at any effort to make your painting feel right, there is also the perfect photoshop brush strokes. There are a few in your nieces hair and some big ones in the the shoulder fur texture of the Sargent study. I think those should be avoided also. Oh and when you overlap a low opacity brush stroke with another low opacity brushstroke (where the overlap happens) there is double the intensity of either stroke- also very harsh and not appealing. Try playing with your "flow" settings or make the opacity very small and make a variety of strokes to try and avoid it. Other than that, your choice of brush seems appropriate and your color choices go along way to help fight the digital look. Really, its the eyes of the artist that matter and you have nothing to worry about, its just practice.

blah said...

Hi Cayle. Thanks for the feedback. I think I know what you are talking about with the overlapping brush strokes. I've been wondering about that. I've yet to experiment with flow settings, so I'll give that a try. Hope to see you at figure painting again!

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