Tuesday, April 06, 2010

art apprenticeship

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!


Blogger Peter said...

Great post. For a woman.

6/4/10 11:50 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...


6/4/10 11:51 a.m.  
Blogger Ellen said...

I like your emo trees and signature Pratt grass. I figured that lesson out about composition unfortunately as little 3 months ago:/. Threw out so much work because of jumping in prematurally without planning it out. Composition is the bones of the work, like a house, without a good frame, it's all going to fall apart.

6/4/10 12:02 p.m.  
Blogger paula said...

doesn't feel quite right saying which i prefer, but i do prefer yours. i like his palette but i like the stronger lines in your work. the other work feels blurry to me. i do see a warmth in his that isn't in yours. this is an interesting idea you had, not sure i would have the gumption to try copying someone i admired. i see strengths in your work that isn't in his and visa verse.

6/4/10 12:21 p.m.  
Blogger paula said...

so i checked his blog out...and i'm liking his nudes and noticing his palette is in those as well. is this something that is a signature for painters? do you ever deviate from your own, CAN you? i know nothing about this.
some of his landscapes are amazing!

6/4/10 12:24 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Ellen: I'm looking at the original right now and think my emo trees and Pratt grass (sounds like a lower grade of weed) would work better in a horizontal format. Love the house frame analogy!

Paula: Ed's looks a bit blurry but it's probably partly the photo and partly because it's pastel. Kind of dream-like, no? But thank you. They both have their good features, I agree, but the best thing for me is what I learned. I loves me some learnin'. Painters (me included) often think we don't have a consistent style until others tell us. Like you! But then there are those whose style is so consistent that it's clearly either impossible for them to deviate much or a deliberate marketing decision.

6/4/10 12:48 p.m.  
Blogger dinahmow said...

ermmm... I lean towards the "signature Pratt" too, but can also see (and understand) what you mean about vertical bisection, etc.

I do mock-ups and cartoons, too. Sometimes confusing myself so much I have to set it all aside and come back, fresh, another day!

Perhaps this is why I don't paint?

6/4/10 1:04 p.m.  
Blogger Ponita in Real Life said...

I'm not an artist, but what I see is yours is dusk and his is dawn. And personally, I prefer your palette.

I actually quite like the starkness of your trees, Andrea. To me, they don't look tortured. They actually look a lot like the scrubby brush we get around Winnipeg, and since it is early spring and nothing has leaves yet, that could be here!

6/4/10 3:19 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

I appreciate that those of you who prefer Ed's are refraining from being unpolitic. :) Different story if it were on his blog I'd wager.

Di: There's a real similarity between what I do and relief printing.

Ponita: I love that you see it as a different time of day. Next to his the colours in mine look a lot cooler but in real life the actual drawing is slightly warmer toned. (Maybe it's just my monitor.) And there is nothing more attractive to me than stark, bare winter trees.

6/4/10 3:26 p.m.  
Blogger Toni said...

They both have excellant qualities. I like them both for the same reasons that they differ. It would make for an interesting project for agroup of artists to create the same piece but only in their own style and palette.

7/4/10 4:04 a.m.  
Blogger ValGalArt said...

Love your trees, love his colours ;) love your colours too :D
As a young artist I apprenticed under famous Canadian artist Michael Bedard, I apprenticed under Master Printer Jeff Wasserman and I was taught reason technique from artist Mark Beam. Even though i am my own gal it helped tremendously to learn different techniques and tricks from guys and gals because at Wasserman I worked with at least 50 artists that were top tier and it was a gift and only helped me see more clearly my own vision. Actually many artists still use
apprentices to this day and some artists never even touch there own art ;) Great post, really enjoyed this :D

7/4/10 8:02 a.m.  
Blogger ValGalArt said...

that should have read resin technique, forget about reason ;P

7/4/10 8:03 a.m.  
Blogger Hayden said...

Wow. Just listening to your description of what you learned was an education! And I'll confess that parts of the education were simply "since I don't have a clue what THAT's about, I've got even more larnin' to do than I thought!"

Now that I've declared myself pretty darn ignorant, we can put the following in perspective... years ago I took some art classes that did include copying, and it was a HUGE revelation. I wouldn't have known where to even start without it. It helped me begin to develop my eye, such as it is. Clearly I stopped the whole learning thing way too soon. Still, remembering it is a joy, and I keep threatening to go back and try again.

7/4/10 8:37 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Val: I have heard that there is a kind of apprenticeship program for printmakers especially, but have never known anyone who took part in one ... until now. Was it a swap work for knowledge type situation? A modern day apprenticeship program would've been great for me, too. The medieval type not so much. :)

Hayden: It's never too late! When I tend your orchard from my small house on your land you can apprentice for me. :) Seriously, though, there are a lot of stupid rules about art that we learn young and then learn to break when we're oder -- like never use black or work from photos or copy. Creativity can't be copied and tools need to be regarded as just that -- tools to aid creativity.

7/4/10 9:24 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Oh and Toni ~ you're right on there. It would be an excellent exercise at art school or in a class setting, too.

7/4/10 9:25 a.m.  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

The French artist Ingres once commented to a young student, "Learn perspective then forget it." The same idea applies to composition and yes, even color. You learn the theory, the mechanics of it and you practice it over and over again, ad nauseum, until you no longer have to think about it consciously, you're able to "forget it" (consciously). It just becomes part of you. Once you are so disciplined in form, composition, color, etc. that you no longer have to think about how to do them then you are finally free to create. The internal chatter dies away and you have an "AHA!" moment. And yes, Paula, an artist's palette is somewhat signature, just like we choose styles and colors of clothes because we like them and they fit.

7/4/10 2:32 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Very wise words: Learn the rules -- then break them. Yes!

7/4/10 3:54 p.m.  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Me again...what an interesting and informative comment thread. Permission, please to quote from this in a small printmakers' newsletter.
(I will add a link to this post.)

And, Andrea, how about we do a camel swap? I have yet to cut the lino camel and now I'm thinking screen print. Would anyone else like to throw the hat in the ring????

Sorry! This is your blog and your comments, but it might be an interesting extension of the above.

email me if you think people might be keen. Or they can leave a comment at

8/4/10 3:01 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

I will procedd to your blog forthwith (unless I get too distracted). Quote away!

8/4/10 12:08 p.m.  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Thanks. But not today...last night was the opening of the Libris Artists' Book Awards and I'm a little tired...
has a very brief mention!

9/4/10 8:14 p.m.  

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