Monday, January 16, 2012

Master Illustrator Copy

My version of a J.C. Leyendecker

Making copies of  master paintings is a tradition that goes back centuries. Many museums even today allow students and artists to set up in the gallery and study the techniques of master painters by copying their works. This process allows an artist to break down color, stroke and layers to understand why a painting is successful without all the decision making that went into the creation of the original, thus speeding up the learning process (hopefully). For my Illustration 1 classes this semester, I decided to do a couple of master illustrator copies as demonstrations. Most of my students do not yet have extensive painting experience and this demo served to help them understand basic principles of painting as well as to talk about some basics of design. It was interesting to dissect another artist's technique and understand why a particular painting really works.

Detail of the Leyendecker original that I copied

I chose a nice painting by one of my all time favorite illustrators J.C. Leyendecker. I have long been a fan of his stylized depictions of the human figure as well as of his economy of stroke. I spent about a half an hour each on the two faces (one in each class) and then another hour and a half to two hours in the studio finishing things up. The main differences between mine and the great J.C.'s pieces are that he painted in oil and much larger. My version is in acrylic gouache (Holbein's Acryla brand) and only about 7" x 10". My under painting was also a bit more ochre giving the colors a slightly warmer cast overall. I began the exercise thinking I had a pretty good idea of what makes Leyendecker's work so effective and appealing but after careful study, I came away with a whole new appreciation for his brilliant picture construction. This is an interesting and useful exercise I would recommend every artist do once in a while. I totally enjoyed the process.


Amy said...

Nicely rendered. I enjoy Leyendecker's style.

Will Terry said...

Wow - thats nice - I think students should be doing more of this - great way to learn!

John said...

I just stumbled on your blog.

That's a very interesting copy. The man could pass for a Leyendecker easily. You caught his glance, alive but ambiguous.

But there's one mysterious thing in Leyendecker's woman, which is how he conveys that her eyes are heavy or drooping, rather than just closed. As if she is pensive and looking inward.

Greg Newbold said...

John, It was a challenge to capture every nuance of a Leyendecker but I think I hit almost every note. I think the small scale of my version contributed to the difficulty of replicating everything perfectly. Thanks for looking!

gesso said...

Really interesting to compare the two... and it reminds us why he was "The Master". The one thing that jumps out at me is that most of the strokes in Leyendecker's illustration are suggestive but not fully defined. Your painting is a copy of the artist's work and follows the elements in his work but does not enter into the process as the artist did. And I agree, this is a great way to explore how the artist worked.

Greg Newbold said...

The purpose of this master copy was twofold. First, to learn about the artist's decision making in color, shape, value and stroke. and to show the students in my class how to work with the specified medium we were using. The students were working in Gouache rather than the oil paint that Leyendecker used. There are differences in the paintings that are a result of the disparate mediums, but I think the value of the exercise is still valid. if I had wanted to do a true "copy" I would have worked in oil as well and some of the softness you mention would likely have resulted.

Prophet Zarquon said...


I think the difference you mention in her eyes is actually effected somewhat through the shading of her cheekbones!

The Leyendecker conveys a subtle tension around the corners of the eyes and upper cheeks (Somewhat explaining the thrust upper lip as well? As if considering?) whereas the copy looks more slack and smooth.

I think one more grade of shading and sharpening the contrast around the leading edge of the cheekbone would bring this very close to the Leyendecker female's expression!

Greg Newbold said...

Zarquon- I guess I will take it as a compliment that people are nit picking the subtleties of why my copy does not look EXACTLY like the Leyendecker original. As I said before, it is probably a product of the different scale and medium as well as the fact that I am not Leyendecker and that this was meant merely as a demonstrative exercise for my students, done in just a couple of hours. I admit that there is a bit of something that I did not fully capture. It goes to show once again, that any artists' uniqueness is what sets him apart and trying to mimic exactly another's style is ultimately an exercise in futility.As close as we might come, it's still merely a copy.