Tag Archives: USA

Oil Painting Art Course

Oil Painting Art Course

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni’s father sent him for formal schooling, but Michelangelo preferred copying paintings in churches. He later befriended arts and studied with some of the great painter and sculptors of his time. But he thought that he could learn more by copying the masters.

In museums around the world, you can see artists creating copies paintings. In Louvre in Paris, you can see a stream of artists copying their great paintings. Copying masterpieces has been a cornerstone of traditional art education for a long time. In fact, one art course you can take at The New York Academy of Art in New York City, NY, USA consists of students walking a few blocks to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) and copying paintings. That is the course!

I have done copies of paintings at MMA New York City of oil paintings by Theodore Gericault (French Romantic Painter, 1791-1824) and Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez (Spanish Baroque Era Painter, 1599 – 1660).

Artists at MMA who want to make copies make a request to MMA’s Education Department. The Museum allows artists to get exclusive use for a month to one room or gallery in the museum to do a copy of a specific painting. The public still has access, but only one artist is allowed to copy in that gallery. I highly recommend your doing the same.

Museums vary in permitting artists to do copies. In New York City, USA, the MMA does, but the Frick Collection and the Museum of Modern Art do not. Check with your museum.

How it works varies from museum to museum, but generally, you apply, get permission and follow that museum’s rules. For example, in the Louvre, and other museums, painters are not supposed to use the same size canvas as the original. You can’t eat or drink in the museum, must use a canvas drop cloth on the floor where you paint on an easel and you must clean up thoroughly after every session. Some museums offer copyists locker space to leave their paintings and gear at the museum instead of bringing everything back and forth each day you want to copy during your month access to a painting gallery.

If you can’t afford to go to an art school because of time and/or money, learn from the masters. If you can’t get to a museum, copy the great paintings from reproductions. If you can’t get reproductions, you can find them in library books or on the web.

What you can learn from copying the masters? Everyone is different in their ability to extract information from art instruction textbooks, videos or art classes. By copying a masterwork, you can learn something about the artist’s technique, handling of paint, use of color, composition, form, drawing and so on.

Can you learn from copying great paintings? Michelangelo thought so.

Oil Painting Art Course

Oil Painting Art Course

Edgar Degas painted from photos: Degas became a painter just at the beginning of photography. He first had others shoot photos for him for his use in his paintings. Later, he became an expert photographer. Degas’ paintings show the influence of photography in the cutting off of figures. Before Degas, the whole person was inside the painting. In many of Degas’ work, the figures are cut off mid leg or their figures are cut off on the left, right and top by the edge of the painting. This cropping came from his reference photos.

Photos were a tool in his paintings, drawings and sculpture. Degas’ photographs had the look of his paintings. His paintings were based on his photographs.

Students ask me if it is proper to use photos: I have a classmate from the art school from which I graduated. He has had a very distinguished career painting all his life. He said that anything you do to help you develop a painting is a correct method.

Seven Ways to Project or Transfer Photos or Drawings onto Your Canvas: 

1. Tack them up on your easel as reference: There is a famous Norman Rockwell self-portrait (Google it). The painting shows Rockwell painting himself at an easel covered with photos of portraits by Rembrandt and Van Gogh and a drawing of himself. Rockwell is also looking in a mirror as he paints.

2. Opaque Projectors: The opaque projector is a machine that projects photos, book pages or drawings by shining a bright light onto the photo from above. A series of mirrors, prisms and lenses project the image onto a canvas. The artist then draws the outlines of the photo on the canvas using the projected image as a guide. Opaque projectors are available from Dick Blick, Jerry’s Artorama or Mister Art online or at some art stores.

3. Camera Lucida: A camera lucida is a lens on a metal arm that clamps onto the artist’s drawing board. The camera lucida superimposes an image on the artist’s drawing surface. One sees a scene or the reference photo on the drawing surface. You can then trace the outlines of objects.

4. Mirrors: David Hockney, a well-known contemporary artist, was interviewed on “60 Minutes” on CBS-TV. Hockney had Lesley Stahl stand outside his studio window, in full sunlight, facing a mirror set up inside the window. Her image was reflected in the mirror and it was projected inside Hockney’s dark studio onto Hockney’s canvas. That projected image can then be copied. Hockney had written a book called “Secret Knowledge” about which Stahl did the interview. In the book Hockney theorizes that artists in the 1400’s learned how to use lenses and mirrors to project images onto their canvases.

5. Print the photo or drawing on your canvas: You can print your photograph directly onto your canvas and then paint over them in oil paints. Ink jet printer paper suppliers offer ink jet printable canvas. You need to ask your ink jet/canvas supplier how long their inks last according to scientific testing.

There are printing services that offer Giclee fine art reproductions for painters, photographers, galleries and museums on fine art canvas. Some artists use these services to make reproductions of their paintings for sale in addition to selling the original oil painting. Giclee (French for “a spurt”) is an inkjet process for making super high quality and long lasting prints. A good supplier uses fade-resistant inks or dyes that some claim last as long as 100 years.

Other artists print photos on canvas at Giclee printers and then paint over them in oil paints. Giclee prints are not only long lasting but also have no visible dots as do most ink jet printers. Google “giclee printers” to find giclee printing suppliers on the web.

6. Camera Obscura: In his book “Vermeer’s Camera” Philip Steadman poses the theory that VerMeer used the early version of the photographic camera: the camera obscura. Camera obscura are the Latin words for dark room.

How the camera obscura works:

  • A box (or room) with a pinhole in the front end is placed in a well-lit room.
  • The room in front of the hole will then be projected onto the inside back end of the box.
  • Later, the camera obscura evolved into what we now call a camera. In a photographic camera, film is placed on the inside back end of the box where the image is projected from the lens in the front end of the box.
  • Using the camera obscura principle with additional lenses and mirror, one can project an accurate image onto a painting surface and trace over the projected lines. Some suggest one can paint onto the canvas directly guided by the projected image. People still make camera obscuras … Google “camera obscura” on the web.

7. Tracing: Some artists trace and transfer the outlines of photos onto their canvas or other drawing surface. They staple together a “sandwich” of the traced photo, a transfer sheet and the canvas. Drawing over the traced photo drawing on the top of the sandwich with a ballpoint pen causes the transfer sheet color to be transferred to the canvas. They then paint using the transferred line drawing as a guide on their canvas with the original photo(s) tacked alongside their canvas as reference.

Is Using Photographs OK? Like Edgar Degas and Norman Rockwell and countless other great painters and illustrators, I think so.

The author has painted and taught for 50 years and has had over 30 art exhibits of his paintings. My USA based online art school has students in 19 countries. I have taught art classes at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and Manhattan, USA, Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, Famous Artists Schools in Westport, Connecticut, USA. I have also lectured on various art subjects all over the USA and in Holland, Belgium, France, South Africa and Australia.