Category Archives: Copying the Masters

Carl Marr… Far from Home

At the young age of 16, Carl Marr left his home and family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to study art abroad in Munich, Germany.  The story goes that this homesick lad had shared his feelings of  sadness with his maid when he left go visit friends for a Christmas eve gathering.  Upon his return, Carl had been beautifully moved by the kind gesture of his maid friend who had set up this tree in hopes to lift the boy’s spirits.  In fact he was so inspired, he set up his easel and recorded the scene for generations to enjoy.  This work of Carl’s has always been one that I have been taken by and when visiting the museum, I make it a point to soak in its ambiance.

Apart from its general beauty, I have noticed several technical things that may be of interest…. Notice that every square inch of the canvas has an influence of red and green in it to balance the harmony.  As he did this from life, it makes seeing all of the color and attaining that  harmony much easier.  In terms of value, notice how much darker the tablecloth is compared to the candle flames.  This is necessary in order for the light effect to read.  In terms of edge, I have taken note of how Carl has softened the “architecture” of the furniture so as to keep the interest on the focal point.

Lastly, included below is a work that I  completed that features a stable or creche that my great-grandfather built for his family many, many years ago.  Enjoy… and Merry Christmas!

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Carl’s Mother and Father

The following post continues to share the amazing work of Carl Von Marr.

This portrait of the artist’s mother has always been a mesmerizing work to me. The draftsmanship impeccable, her glance loving , yet still the look of a parent keeping watch and the palette colorful, but still reserved.

One aspect of this work that I noticed early on is the dark, rich value of the shadow pattern that starts in her left eye socket and is connected down along the nose to the mouth and chin.  This value is nearly as dark as the darkest dark. So often in teaching, I find that a students reticence to go that dark in the shadow on the face often kills the work before it gets off the ground.  It is so important to get the initial values accurate right from the start.  Squint and ask yourself, what is this value, and most importantly, how does  it compare to the extreme darks.

Another exquisite, tender work of Carl’s father.   Notice how the darkest darks of any given value range always end warmer than the adjacent tone. The photos above are details of the full paintings which I hope to show on a subsequent post.  These two works, perhaps more than any others, have been enormously inspiring to me over the years… I hope they resonate with you as well.   Thank you Carl.  Enjoy!


Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #11

To Copy or Not to Copy…

During the days of my preliminary studies in art, I seemed to remember hearing the notion that copying art was definitely frowned upon. I believed this mindset was birthed from the flawed misconception in the visual arts popularized in the early twentieth century that originality is the one and only virtue in art and that copying another’s work would only hamstring your attempt to be completely unique.

As I have taught through the years, it has been interesting to me that so many have heard the same and almost apologize when they have admitted to copying another’s work.

To me this has always seemed ridiculous.   Can you imagine an aspiring concert pianist never playing Mozart, Chopin, or Beethoven for fear of not being unique?

Clearly, in the visual arts one does not want to plagiarize another’s work and sell your copies, but what a loss to not learn from them.

I have copied many works for study and have seen exponential growth in my work as a result of understanding harmony, edge, and value control to name a few aspects.

Early on I had several tendencies in my work that lessened the quality of the overall image. One of them was hard, inappropriate edges on the lips that made them look like the wax lips we used to get at Halloween, pasted on the face.  I overcame this repeated error by spending days at the Metropolitan Museum in New York drawing and copying in pencil the delicate transitions of the lips Sargent achieved in his portraits.

The image above shows a copy I did of a Carl Von Marr painting which helped me understand the prismatic effect light has as the sunlight hit the ground.  As I studied this, I did not just take his harmonies and copy them into my work, but they taught me what to look for in a similar light effect to produce a more spectral sense in my own work.

(Speaking of Carl Von Marr, I will share more of his amazing work in weeks to come.  His paintings have had a major influence on me as I poured over them as a youngster.)

The image below shows one such work featured in “Not Far from Home” where the lessons learned from Marr proved fruitful.

Lastly, what do I mean to copy another’s work?  Again, it is not to simply steal ones harmonies, designs, etc, etc…, but rather to learn from them by studying paintings in part or full.  This can be by painting sections of or by executing drawings of tonal ranges or edge transitions, whatever your area of weakness may be.

So with a clean conscience go ahead and copy works to increase your understanding and bring your work to the next level.  There is so much to be learned from the Masters!!!

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