When I was majoring in fine arts at the University of New Mexico we were frequently given the exercise of copying a work of art by a great master. It was never clear to me exactly what it was my teachers wanted me to learn. Not that I did not learn a great deal, but I always felt they had some higher purpose that I was missing. Something more than how to make white paint look like lace collars on a Hals or the reflections on glass of a Rembrandt still life.
I do still upon occasion study the work of another of my contemporary artists and try to mimic how they got a particular look. But lately I am copying my own work. Or rather revisiting it.
Like many artists I have gone through many phases. In those UNM days I was a traditional watercolorist and when I began to paint again I began where I had left off. It was right after my ski accident and I was not very mobile so I pulled out my old works and redid them. I was happy with my ability to recreate them and I thought improve upon them. It was a good stepping off place for me. And step off and out I did. My style and pallette has changed dramatically in the last year.
I was rearranging things in a portfolio and ran across a watercolor on paper I had done before I moved to watercolor canvas. It was a painting I thought I had blotched. Don't we all have a couple of those. At the time I had tried to rescue it and was never much satisfied with it. Not enough to frame it. But upon finding it in a portfolio of sketches I discovered there were aspects of it like the composition and actually my attempt to rescue it that pleased me. So I decided to revisit it.
Not copy it because it was my colored pen and ink stage, but translate it into my current style. The trouble is letting go of the old painting clipped to my shelf for reference. I have that trouble with plein aire too. I want my painting to look like the scene before me, to copy it, but if you paint surrealistically that is very inhibiting. I finish plein aire sketches in my studio. So I put my old painting in a drawer and let myself paint the new painting today.
I think I like where it is going entirely on its own though its relationship to the model is fleeting. Maybe when revisiting former works I need to keep my visits brief.