#O71: After Bischoff

In the last week I focused on broadening my color horizons; my strategy is build confidence by making some copies of master artists whose use of color I admire. I chose the beautiful Canna Lily still life by Franz Bischoff. You can see the real thing here (I just did not have the guts to put it next to mine!)

Because the WordPress ‘featured image’ is often distorted, I put a frame around it in the above version. Below it is larger size without a frame.


I am always weary of copying the works of others – even when it is a deceased master. The fear is always there that I will stifle my own creative voice. But I was encouraged to venture into this area by Juliette Aristides’s Lessons in Classical Painting, in which she advocates the copying of master paintings.

I have to say, I was surprised by how much I learnt in this exercise. Aristides’s book notes that warm colors like yellow, orange and red are at their brightest right out of the tube. Adding white will only dull them down. So I duly put down the yellow and red in my copy without any white.

On the under-painting the yellows and reds looked dull – not very bright like the original at all. I thought I had a disaster on my hands. But the moment I put down the dull green and dark next to it, it popped right out of the painting. That is the relative nature of color perception!

I went on and finished the painting over several sessions, and in the end I used almost no white at all in this painting – only a small amount in the final session to cool and push back the background in some areas.

I learnt so much in this exercise. I hope I have the energy to make a few more copies. Will my creative voice be adversely affected? Carlson says the following about your unique creative voice:

Style or method in painting is like your personal handwriting; you thought little about it when you were forming your first crude letters in school. We all use the same alphabet, and one man’s letters are legible to another; and yet how vastly different in general appearance! The style of your handwriting was dictated by some latent and unconscious quality within you, and even your present style will gradually change, with the years of practice in writing, or in painting, with the ripening of character.

Today and yesterday, rain and sun followed in short succession all the time. Light and shadow dancing the day away. What a mysterious, stupendous experience this life is. Walt Whitman sensed it:

To You
Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands,
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners,
troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true soul and body appear before me.
They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work,
farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking,
suffering, dying.
Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear.
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.

Thanks for visiting!

14 thoughts on “#O71: After Bischoff

  1. Your version is quite beautiful and worthy on its own, I understand copying the masters but often I think in the process there is a degradation of our own voice, our own path. I really appreciate that quote about finding your own style and voice in painting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Margaret! Not sure about that degradation of your own voice. If I do one master copy, then one of my own and repeat that for 10 rounds, I am 99% sure my technique, confidence and originality will all benefit. But that is just my experience. Of course if you just copy the works of the masters for 10 years without ever trying anything of your own…but we are not really talking about that extreme. Interesting the different ideas about art, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ah….I think the word or phrase I was trying to reach for was “not valuing one’s own work”….the word, degradation is perhaps a bit strong in this case. I think your feeding it back to me made me realize how extreme that word sounds. 😉 oops

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think copying the masters is a great way to learn different techniques and find out if you can use any in your own works. My hubby tells me when he was younger he copied everyone’s techniques that he admired, learned what he did and didn’t like, and his own unique style emerged from those excercise. I think the same thing happens in photography and music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks FR! Yes I have to say that is my experience also. When I was younger I made lots of copies of the early California Impressionists (Bischoff was one). Seeing that I could do a painting that I liked gave me confidence. I saw that technique can be learnt, and I just need to keep on developing my own voice. But the confidence and technique I learnt was invaluable.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I forgot to say your version has a quality all of it’s own, more subtle than the Bishcoff, with a contemplative feel rather than the punch you in the face kinda thing he’s got going on. I like both equally.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You found the solution on your own — which is super. So much better than a recipe is one’s own experiment — to learn by doing. To intensify a passage, dull the passage adjacent to it. Similarly, to lighten a passage, darken the adjacent and vice versa. Ditto regarding cool and warm. The balancing act, however, occurs in the nuances. Sometimes you just make small changes and refinements. Meanwhile, you dull colors by adding the optical opposite (green to red, red to green, yellow to purple, etc. Or you dull colors by the addition of black or brown which obviously also contain the optical opposites inside them …. since black is composed when all the light is absorbed.

    The most saturated color is what comes out of the tube. But you can make dull colors more intense by a principle of opposition. Yellow ochre is a naturally dull color — the clay that it’s made from has that dull appearance. But even yellow ochre can appear more yellow if surrounded by purple. And so on.

    You learn to see various places in the subject for doing these things and you learn to internalize the awareness, to actually observe it in things, and afterwards the process becomes more intuitive. You’re starting with big passages and later refining. It’s because of these color/tonal interrelationships that so many teachers advise people to paint “all over” — to put all the major color areas down quickly so that the more nuanced passages can be figured out in subsequent stages.

    [Note though that the very old masters did sometimes, evidently, paint one or a few colors at a time in the era when each color had to be ground by hand. So they had developed ways of anticipating changes that would occur, etc. Historically pictures are made in all different kinds of ways and there aren’t any “rules.” Another virtue in copying is that the farther away you go in time or geography, the farther you travel from the customs of your own place so you encounter ideas that are “different” from whatever is customary. Part of the newness of French Impressionism arose from the influence of Japanese art on its practitioners thanks to the vogue for Japanese prints among collectors.]

    Artists have from time immemorial learned by making copies. Sometime in the modern era the notion arose that copying would injure creativity. Don’t know where that idea got started. But copying other artists is like engaging in a visual dialog. I think it’s probably the best, fastest way to learn. I have copied tons of things. Whenever I can’t figure out a solution to some visual question, I look for an artist somewhere who’s done the thing I’m struggling to figure out.

    The only thing regarding Aristides book is that she emphasizes this process as part of a classical approach. However, it’s much broader. Van Gogh, who was one of the most inventive artists ever, copied other artists a lot — especially Millais and Delacroix whose art he adored. He openly imitated Monticelli. And he got his start by copying Charles Brague. It is one of art histories great ironies that the only two really famous artists associated with copying Brague are Van Gogh and Picasso.
    But copying is ubiquitous in art history. When you look at medieval art, for instance, where all the proportions are strange, clearly the patterns of representation were things that artists learned by copying each other. The same thing is true today in a mannerist style like Manga. The particular form of exaggeration is something that gets passed along as artists copy others and the evolution of the style arises as people consciously seek to enhance the type by means of some new addition.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow Aletha, thanks so much for your thoughtful and generous comment. Your dedication and love of art really shines through every sentence.
      I am 100% with you about the value of copying artists whose work we love. I have made two more copies – which I hope to post soon – of paintings from the Canadian “Group of Seven” whose art I feel can help me understand color better. I learn so much in each painting I am gobsmacked. I can see an effect in my very next painting. Naturally, this will wane after time and I trust my own uniqueness will form the mainstream of my output. But a bit of the things we love and looked at stays behind and creates a much richer patina of work.
      Then there is also – for me – the confidence aspect. Today I made a copy of a very colorful landscape. I just copied spot by spot of color, not really worrying how the image came out – I was only intent on copying the color spots used by the artist (Tom Thompson). The final image looks good – but if it was my own creation I may have given up halfway and said “this looks stupid”. But when you copy a master, you are – so to speak – in his/her hands.
      In this way I learn to trust the process of just looking at what is there and putting down the color spots without the continual voice that asks – does this look OK? Does it look OK NOW,…or NOW.
      It helps a lot to build up confidence by working without that nagging voice.
      Thanks again for your comment – you should use it for a complete post!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s good that you’re using the copying to find confidence about doing things that are new for you. Matisse expressed a similar thought when he said, “I knew that if Cezanne was right then I am right.” You can never really copy another artist’s work completely anyway (getting philosophical now) because the very process of copying is interpretive. You copy the finished painting, but you never know what order the thoughts occurred to the other artist — or what ideas were worked out in stages of the painting or in studies and drawings and what not. We copy the finished thing. And in the process we are copying “the stuff we notice.” So it’s still your thoughts that are active. You take from the other artist the things you want, the things you need. Copying can be very creative. Copying can be super creative.


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