In school we learn that copying is cheating, and it is probably true in many areas of our life, but when it comes to art the rules are different. Copying from masters always has been a normal practice in every artist’s workshop where young apprentices would learn their teacher’s technique while copying their drawings and paintings. Edgar Degas even said, “You have to copy and recopy the masters and it’s only after having proved oneself as a good copyist that you can reasonably try to do a still life of a radish.”
Inspired by this idea, I started drawing from great masters, and one of my copies looked like that:
I sent it to a friend of mine to get feedback and he said, “Cool, I immediately recognized the Duchess from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
“What are you talking about?” I was stupefied. “I copied the drawing of Leonardo da Vinci, and he lived looong before Lewis Carroll…”
He sent me this picture to prove his point. The Duches truly looked somewhat similar to da Vinci’s caricature.
I went googling and discovered that John Tenniel, the first illustrator of the Lewis Carroll’s famous story created the image of the Duchess using as reference the painting of Quentin Matsys called The Ugly Duchess (also known as A Grotesque Old Woman). It was created in 1513 when Leonardo da Vinci was still alive.
So, did Quentin Matsys copy from da Vinci? Nope, as it turned out, on the contrary. Leonardo da Vinci who was always interested in all kinds of anomalies and was obviously impressed with this quite disproportional face (which by the way belonged to a real woman) made a couple of drawings after Quentin Matsys’s work.
Quite a confusing story, isn’t it? I felt like Sherlock Holmes while searching the information. And now, only Pablo Picasso’s phrase comes to mind, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” No doubts anymore, it’s true.
A person who wants to learn to draw but has no opportunity to attend an art school (for lack of time or money etc.) today has another option called Internet. YouTube is the biggest source of free art tutorials that you can watch at any time, so it seems ideal, right? Not so much, as it turns out. YouTube is full of people who are ready to teach you while they are not well trained themselves. As a result, you pick up their mistakes instead of real knowledge. And when you are a beginner you can’t see the difference. The only way here is to choose those who know the craft for sure. As I have already past this period of looking for great teachers I can share what I have found. Of course, my list is incomplete and quite subjective, but anyway it can serve someone who is serious about learning to draw but doesn’t know where to start.
First place to visit is the web site Ctrl+Paint. The artist behind it is called Matt Kohr and he is able to explain quite complicated things in a short and clear way. The website offers a very big library of free tutorials about basics of drawing and digital painting, as well as various in-depth classes that cost $10 each. I really love this web site.
Proko is a name of a web site and also a YouTube channel founded by the artist Stan Prokopenko who creates free short video tutorials that allow to learn complex subjects in small portions. Proko teaches an academic approach to drawing and the major subject here is human figure and portraits. Lately the authors started a caricature course which follows the same scheme of short and entertaining tuts. Those who are ready to pay can buy detailed in-depth courses on anatomy, figure and portrait drawing and caricature. I am subscribed to Proko’s YouTube channel to stay in tune.
Thanks to Proko, I discovered Marshal Vandruff, a fantastic artist and teacher who explains perspective better than anybody I could find. On his web site you can download 1994 Perspective Drawing Series (it’s kind of old, but the perspective rules don’t change, you know) which consist of 12 lectures, each is about 30 minutes long. It costs only $12. Also, Vandruff conducts seminars on such subjects as human and animal anatomy, composition, visual storytelling etc. Check his web site to know more, I’m sure you’ll find something that will work for you.
Aaron Blaise is a wild-life artist and animator who worked for Disney for about twenty years. Today he dedicates his time to personal projects and educating artists. He creates hours-long tutorials on animal and human anatomy, character design and animation that you can buy on his web site. The average price is $60-75 for a course, but the courses are often on sale, so if you are patient you can buy them with a big discount. Plus you can buy a yearly subscription which includes everything that is already on the web site and will be issued during the year. You can find sneak peeks from the tutorials on Aaron Blaise’s YouTube channel, as well as regular online sessions where he demonstrates his working process when creating illustrations from a sketch to final touches. Aaron Blaise is very inspiring, and I love one of his paintings so much that I installed it as a wallpaper on my PC screen.
The founder of Schoolism Bobby Chiu claims that he created it to be able to learn from the best visual artists and that he often takes classes himself hiding behind a random name. The level of classes on Schoolism varies from beginner to advanced and the spectrum of subjects covers everything, from fundamentals to portfolio reviews. Whether you want to study realistic oil painting or caricature, storyboarding or environment design, concept art or sculpting you’ll find it here. Just to mention some names, the teachers are Thomas Fluharty, Nathan Fowks, Jason Selier, Stephen Silver, Terry Whitlatch and Bobby Chiu himslef. To get an access to classes you have to buy a yearly subscription that costs $299,40. Bobby Chiu also has his YouTube channel where he discusses a wide variety of issues and posts interviews with outstanding artists.
The Society of Visual Storytelling is an online art school founded by artists Will Terry and Jake Parker and oriented mostly at illustrators interested in children’s literature. The classes are of different length and level, from beginners to advanced, and the subjects are also very different: fundamentals, inspiration sources, drawing animals, character design, perspective, color, composition etc. The prices start at $10, but you can also buy a monthly or yearly subscription which gives you an access to the entire video library. The monthly pay is $14,99, but I heard the prices are planned to be doubled quite soon. Check this web site, I am sure you will find something that will suit your needs.
I also follow Will Terry’s YouTube channel where he shares his personal and professional experience connected to the world of kidlit and answers his followers’ questions.
This web site offers a quite unusual approach to drawing which I am sure you cannot find anywhere else. It is based on geometry and Golden Ratio – the principles that Myron Barnstone considers the most important in the classical school of drawing. The course I watched is called Introductions to Drawing Systems. It is pretty expensive ($349), very interesting, very informative and very complicated. I had to see every lecture for three times to truly get what Barnstone meant. But it was totally worth it because it is so much easier for me now to analyze form and composition, and I can even understand – finally! – how to inscribe a sphere in a cube. I have to add that Myron Barnstone passed away in 2016, but his legacy of teaching lives on.
Well, that’s it. This is the list of the web sites I find helpful for those who want to improve their drawing skills. Congratulations if you were able to read it all through! If you are aware of a great source of knowledge I haven’t mentioned, please leave your comment to share it with everybody else.
When I first saw this work by Pieter Bruegel the Elder I had an impression that I was looking at a scene from a very weird dream: a faceless person who performs a strange and meaningless activity near to another person huddled up on a tree. “He was the first surrealist in the world!” I felt exited. “And it’s only the 16th century!”
To my surprise, after reading a book about ‘the first surrealist ever’, I discovered that the artist didn’t have anything surrealistic in his mind. The picture was a fragment of his engraving where he simply depicted bee keepers at work. The strange things on the faces are the masks to prevent bee stinging, and the barrels in the hands are the hives.
Totally ashamed of my ignorance, I kept reading the book, and not in vain. The book informed me that Pieter Bruegel the Elder is notorious for avoiding painting human faces. He is an author of many works with dozens of people, but almost each person looks back or aside or their faces are covered with hats, or the faces are so small that you simply cannot distinguish any features.
Why? The book didn’t give the direct answer but hinted that the artist didn’t actually liked people as a kind. He preferred nature which is the major character in his best works.
Hum, I thought, so, maybe my first impression wasn’t so wrong. Even though those people are just bee keepers at work, the artist still didn’t see the point to give them a personality, to express their feelings or thoughts. People are faceless and meaningless, after all. A strange turn, isn’t it? One should trust their first impression, no matter what – that was my ultimate conclusion, and I closed the book.
To end up this musing, I would love to share a painting created by the Russian artist Vladimir Rumyantsev who, obviously, loves Bruegel the Elder almost as strongly as he loves cats – alas, there’s again no much place for people.
There is nothing better than sitting home on such a gloomy and rainy day like the one I’m having here and reading one of the books of Douglas Adams. The brightest and shiniest writer who makes you forget about the weather, the universe and everything.
The first his book I read was, of course, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I remember how it sucked me in right away, from the very first words, and after the Earth was destroyed I couldn’t stop laughing till the very last page. After the book, I believe that the meaning of life is 42 and the only words you should keep in mind are ‘Don’t panic’.
I couldn’t let go of the book and put The Hitchhiker’s Guide in my bag to read it in the bus on the way to work. I took a seat, opened the book and started giggling excitedly over one scene after another. Suddenly I felt an urge to look up. When I did so I realized that the whole bus, each and every passenger turned to my side and stared at me as if I were a runaway from asylum. Slowly coming back to reality, I fixed on their weary, drowsy and totally confused faces and felt sorry that they didn’t have this book in their hands. One of the men who seemingly envied me asked, “What is this you are reading?” I proudly showed him the cover and plunged back into the intergalactic journey.
There’s nothing better than reading one of Douglas Adams’s books, and not only on a gloomy day like this one. Any day will become sunnier. The only thing that makes me sad about Adams is the fact the he died and won’t write anything anymore. All the rest, thanks to his immortal magic, turns into mostly harmless.