Question on doing Master Studies/Copying others work

  • Hi Folks! Long time lurker first time caller, finally getting around to jumping into the forums. One thing I have been hearing a few times while listening to Jake's videos and the guys talk on the 3 Point Perspective podcast is about doing master studies/copying art from artists you like. I have been really thinking about this a lot lately and would like to start doing it more.

    My question is this, how do you all do this and what are some good effective of ways of actually studying what the artist did when you try to reproduce their work? just curious what others on the forum are doing!

  • Pro

    @Paul-Ehrenreich I don't think there's a right or wrong way to do it, because the whole point of master studies is trying to figure out how the artist did it. Basically, trying different things in an attempt to reproduce the original work as closely as possible. When I did them in college, I often had to do tests on the side to figure out certain parts of the work. It forces you out of your comfort zone and to try new techniques to try to accomplish a certain effect.

    Whether you get close or not, it has a lot to teach you. If you successfully reproduce it, you've cracked the code on how to create this exact kind of effect. If you've failed and certain parts of your copy are lacking, that's an incredible way of being able to spot your weaknesses by comparing your work to something that's already been done (and by a master!). Often times I would realize my faces didn't look as good as the original or my colors were muddier. In my original works those weaknesses weren't as evident, but when compared to the original I was copying suddenly it was so clear.

    Most of the work of studying masters' work is simply observation. Trying to reproduce it is a way to force a closer look than casual observation and achieve a deeper understanding of what you're looking. For instance my colors used to be very muddy. When I started master copies I was doing a surface level observation of "that part's green, let's get the green". But after I noticed my colors were not as good as the original it forced me to look closer and notice all the subtle differences of hues in the work. It's not just green slapped over canvas, there are hints of blue and gold, and the shadows are a little reddish, etc.

    So yeah, get ready to observe and dissect, and make many attempts to figure out how it was made šŸ™‚

  • @Paul-Ehrenreich

    On this page scrolled down I worked on my second master copy. I am still trying to learn how it benefits me besides reminding me I can make that kind of quality. For this specific one I did have fun locating colours and certain pastel strokes in blending were pretty cool. That and continuing to work on steps: placement, sketch, draw, value, colour.

    But Iā€™m learning to space out these studies because I want to and need to keep making my own work.


  • Hi Paul! There are different ways I do master studies. At first I made 1:1 copies, but found myself zoning out and going on autopilot for them. I'm sure I soaked up some knowledge that way, but I learned stamina in image making more than anything I think. Now I generally use them in conjunction with a concept I'm studying or trying to get better at. Depending on the subject, I might make a fairly faithful copy in black and white or in full color, some times I'm just isolating certain elements with quick sketches. Sometimes I won't make a 1:1 study and will instead apply some of the principles of the masterwork onto my own piece. I think it's more effective when you can apply what you've learned to one of your own pieces soon after. I don't always do so, but that's what I aim for. Sometimes I'm looking at overall composition, sometimes it's how they pose figures or portray hands, sometimes it's for stylistic choices, sometimes it's for values, or lighting effects, or for color choices. It just all depends.

    Here's a selection of a few of my studies:

    This was for a comp course here at SVS. The goal was to break down a composition into a simple thumbnail sketch with limited values, and then to change it slightly into a similar but different comp of your own.


    Here's a couple of master studies to get a hang of the traditional medium I was using, as well as to see how master landscape painters handled values and simplified information.


    After doing 10 or so of those, I did several of my own from life, here's one:


    Here's one focusing specifically on edges and a little bit on skin tones:


    Here's one that's not technically a master study, but an example of another way I'd approach one, and that would be for lighting. I studied a movie still and applied it to my own piece:


    Anyway, hope these give you some ideas. Sometimes it's hard to tell if master-studies are paying off or not. I think if you approach them with specific questions and try not to zone out too much, you'll learn more. Good luck!

  • Moderator

    As others have alluded to above, a Master's Study can mean a lot of different things depending on what you want to get out of it. My own personal Master Studies are about trying to copy as closely as possible, and learning what I can through that process. But as @TessaW said above, exact replication can sometimes lull a person into not thinking about what they're doing, so try to make the experience an "active learning" endeavor instead of passive--sometimes that means looking for specific things which can help make the process of creating the study be less overwhelming.

    I suggest you frame your approach to Master Studies by narrowing the purpose for which your studying it: Direct copy? Values? Technique? Textures? Colors? Composition? Line weight? Edges? Etc.

    Conversely, it can be daunting to dive in head first and try to replicate everything all at once but sometimes that a good learning experience as well.

    For my own digital copies, I learned not so much how the illustrator did their work but how to use the tools at my disposal to replicate their pieces. That helped me learn more about what my tools could and couldn't do, and where my own skills were in relation to what they did. It enabled me to see how I could use my digital tools in a way I hadn't thought about before, as well as think about how the illustrators used the various elements of design (line, color, texture, shape/form, etc) to achieve what they got.

    It was a useful process for me, personally. But I also think that I will approach Master studies/copies in the future with a bit more internal focus.

    Stating exactly what it is that you are looking for and then being able to articulate exactly what you are discovering as you go along could be a good way of making the experience work for you over and above just a simply copying.



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