Learning From A Master


A watercolor painting by Dennis Pendleton. I occasionally copy a painting from one of the masters to see how much I can learn and this is my copy of Winslow Homer's painting, "Adirondack's Guide." I actually saw the original several years ago in Washington D. C. and it has always been one of my favorite watercolors. The focal point is the head and hat of the bearded guide and although "the rules" say never put the focal point exactly in the center, this works perfectly. If an artist has a good understanding of "the rules" then he or she can decide when to break them. Studying how Homer used rich darks was a real education. The ink black water and the deep darks around the dead tree are wonderfully arranged to create contrast with with all the other lighter values in the composition. After the drawing, which seemed to take forever, I painted the head and hat first with the idea that if I couldn't get that right I would stop right there. Fortunately, I was able to capture the expression, colors and values that I wanted so I finished the figure, boat and reflections in the water before moving on to the dead tree and finally the rich darks in the water and background. I never realized how adapt Homer was at using color until I attempted to paint things like the guide's cotton shirt where I discovered he used at least 6 different colors to capture the light and shadow on that fabric. I am sure Homer knew this guide well because he appears in several of his watercolors. I can only imagine how Homer picked this spot with the dark water and the beautiful dead tree and then posed the guide in his rowboat at exactly the perfect location. And yet the whole thing looks so spontaneous. He must have done several preliminary drawings and color studies before painting this magnificent watercolor, we will never know for sure. A few of the things I learned from copying his painting are: be bold with your value contrasts, put your colors down and leave them alone as much as possible, understand "the rules" so you can decide when to break them, and use lots of rich colors throughout the painting. If you find that your paintings are not improving as fast as you would like, try copying another artists work and you might be surprised how much you learn.

Happy Painting! Dennis Pendleton

“When you paint, try to put down exactly what you see. Whatever else you have to offer will come out anyway". - Winslow Homer -

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