Back in the day (as in wayyyy back in the day) developing artists apprenticed to masters. This involved a lot of copying. I see some wisdom in this, except the part where I, being a woman, would never have even had the opportunity. Then there's the part where I have a hard time taking direction. And the arbitrariness/jealousy/exploitation of a lousy master. Oh what the hell, I would have hated it, but I'm sure there's some wisdom in it.
Most of the artists I know who make progress with their own vision are 'rugged individualists' (like myself, hehe) but we all need direction at times. Usually we are curious by nature and are therefore able to be self-directed. A couple of months ago I saw this image of a pastel drawing by Ed Maskevich, an artist whose work I admire, and have gone back to it regularly ever since. I like the use of colour grad- ations, etc., but there was something I wasn't undersatnding about why it appealed to me. Last night I decided to do the apprentice thing and copy it, using my own drawing style and medium (coloured pencils on black paper), and see what I found out.
I'm tickled that I decided to do this because learn I did. The first thing I learned was how tortured my trees look! These are like emo trees in candy floss colours on black velvet. Ed's use of colour is more successful because though he uses a similar palette (but warmer), he's more subtle in the application and didn't use a black 'underpainting', which intensifies the effect rather than deadening it (which was what I'd expected). But the Big Learnin' happened around the composition. The use of cleaner lines (though there are more of them), straighter tree limbs and the general leaning to the right (more bisecting of the vertical) creates a dynamic tension (different from the Charles Atlas variety -- but not that different!) that I completely missed when I wondered what it was that appealed to me. When acting as a juror for three exhibitions last week I kept coming back to compositional strength. The colours can work beautifully, the drawing be sensitive, the handling of paint fresh, but if the composition sucks it all falls down and the work is rejected.
This exercise has re-taught me the value of making compositional thumbnails before tackling a painting. If it works when it's a 2" x 2" drawing, it'll work when it's 36" x 36". Back to the sketchbook!