I am so glad that the authors of the Tate Watercolor Manual * saw fit to include a section about copying other artists’ works. They call it (more diplomatically), ‘Studies from an original.’ First, they explain the difference between an ‘historically accurate reconstruction’ and copying to develop skill.  In their discussion, they presuppose that the artist is working from an original and can see the effects of washes, determine which layer was applied first, and so on, evidenced by the signs on the physical painting.

Today’s warmup exercise:

The exercise below is in four stages. Each window is an accumulation of previous steps toward a study that contains the essence of a J.M.W. Turner composition.

The initial window presents a yellow ochre wash.

In the second window, cadmium red light was added to the wet yellow ochre wash to create more warmth than the original wash. The underlying wash can’t be too wet or the red will bloom in circular blots. When this happened to me I used a dry brush to limit the blooming.

A cooler cobalt blue was added to the third pane, adjacent to the red.

Finally, in the fourth pane the directions called for: dry brushing the cooler cobalt blue and warmer yellow ochre in the sky area; wetting and blotting up pigment from a spot that will become the sun and its reflection below.  I was not able to keep my brush dry enough to get the dry brush effect, however.

Watercolor: Steps 1 to 4 in Capturing the Essence of a Turner Composition

Steps 1 to 4 in Capturing the Essence of a Turner Composition

As one can see, all the elements are present to represent the essence of a Turner composition, specifically, A Sunset Sky, but the effect is the same as if a 5 year old child made colorful scrawls with crayolas.

I’m sure that the authors of the Tate Manual studied the original in creating this exercise. Instead of copying, they were extracting the essentials of the original to create steps for an uninitiated watercolorist to attempt. They do give the practice of copying legitimacy, however, which is a comforting thought for watercolorists ready to work from originals.

Tate Watercolour Manual, Lessons from the Great Masters by Tony Smibert and Joyce Townsend

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