Copying a Master painting is a project we are doing with my beginning oil painting students, in order to better understand how the Masters developed composition, form in space, color and value. Start with a good quality reproduction, with the intention of enlarging it somewhat (no larger than @16 x 20″) or copying it the actual size.
Starting with the grid below, we analyze the composition of the painting, and make a tonal study in graphite. The grid is drawn on plexi glass with a sharpy marker, and can be laid over the reproduction and the drawing. We draw the same grid on the paper first when starting the tonal drawing study. Notice how intersecting lines and spaces in the grid coordinate with important areas of the Master painting (eyes, wineglass, bowl of fruit, other features).
The size of my study and copy after Caravaggio’s “Baachus” will be the same size: @11 x 14″. I’m using varnished baltic birch, with a golden middle tone value. This will help me see the lights and darks better as the painting progresses. In the process of beginning with a “grisaille” underpainting, I’ve sketched in the grid, and begin the basic shapes of values I see in the reproduction.