Thursday, January 6, 2011

Copying a Church

I recieved the e-mail below and I will take a break from the Constable series (although I do have several more posts I want to write about him) and quickly answer this writer.

Dear Stape,
I recently found your website and was excited to read all the great info you have on Fredric Church and the other Hudson River Painters. Per your webpage, I would like to ask for some assistance as I am a beginner artist and may have bitten off more than I can chew. I have been commissioned by my parents to paint a replica of Church's Scene on Catskill Creek to save them some cash and add a personal family touch to the painting they will be hanging in their new room. Problem is, I really can't find anything on his technique! I learned to paint watching Bob Ross on Saturday mornings and have since deviated very little. Now I have this huge commission to do and don't really know where to start. What colors did he use, what technique, are their videos or resources to teach the Hudson River Style? Please help me make at least a decent attempt at this work as I will never stop trying and would rather not spend a lifetime and fortune figuring out
what NOT to do.

Thanks for you time and love the site!..........................Thomas Bowdler

This is going to be nothing like Bob Ross, throw your television away. This is not an impossible project for you perhaps the equivalent of building a piece of fine furniture in your basement with hand tools. Ambitious but not extraordinary providing you go at it in a measured, patient and reasonably worksman like manner.
You should reasonably expect to spend a lifetime and a fortune learning to work in Churches technique. I know of no video or single book that could teach you. There is a group of painters meeting in the summer every year under Jacob Collins studying this kind of painting. They are a select and elite group. They all had extensive training and experience before they showed up. I think it better to try to get you through this project which is a copy, rather than your imagining to be able to work in actual Church technique. Here is what I think you should do (bullets please)
  • You ABSOLUTELY MUST have a print the same size you are going to work!!! There are many online poster sellers who can provide you with that. If you try to do this from a little picture in a book you will crash and burn. Disregard this and you are doomed to failure.
  • Church had some colors that are no longer used and you don't need them. I suggest,
  1. titanium white
  2. yellow ocher
  3. ultramarine blue
  4. ivory black
  5. viridian, Not a hue, not Pthalocyanine
  6. burnt sienna
  7. burnt umber
  8. cadmium red light
  9. alizirin permanent
  • Put a sheet of plywood in your easel large enough to hold the print and the painting you intend to make side by side so that you can stand back and see the two together. They need to be on the same level and the same size.
  • Grid the print lightly with a pencil into 4 inch squares, grid the canvas the same way. With a pencil draw out the contents of each square onto your canvas. Get this right! Every hour spent on this will save three later.
  • Spray varnish or krylon gently. Don't let it get too wet with varnish. Put on a dozen misty coats allowing it to dry between each one. If you hurry this at all you will destroy your pencil drawing. Get a good seal on that.
  • Work the entire image up in a monotone using the burnt umber and Liquin. Do this carefully and make the entire image, finished, in this monotone. Use no white. Use transparency to get the lightest passages.
  • Color the image with the other colors working transparently when you can and opaquely when you must. It might be good to put a sheet of plastic over the print so you can actually "check" your colors on it to see if they are correct.
  • Frequently check your work with a mirror, that will help you spot any errors.
  • Resolve to copy the print as exactly as you can in all of its particulars. Don't give up until it is right. This is a fine training project for you and should be within your ability to do, provided you don't rush it or shortcut any steps along the way. Good luck with that.


DennyHollandStudio said...

I often visit Church's Rainy Day in the Tropics at the deYoung Museum and cannot fathom how he painted that luminous rainbow. My favorite painter of all time.

Healthy and happy New Year to you and your family, Stape.


Kessie said...

I hope the writer sends you a photo of his finished work, because I'm very curious to see how it turns out!

Also, Stape, those are really clear, excellent instructions. I applaud you on being able to put such specific technique into such clear words.

Deb said...

Good luck, Thomas.. you couldn't have chosen a better teacher than Stape. Those are well written instructions, with alot of knowledge and experience behind them. said...

And don't sign Church's name to it!

Woodward Simons said...

Wow Stape... great instructions. I'm now motivated to copy a Church - one of my favorite painters of the past.

Although I do really like Albert Thompson Bricher and William Trost Richards... decisions, decisions...

billspaintingmn said...

Stape! I'm impressed that you "stopped the train" to pick up another passenger. All ABOARD!

Cole Burton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jean Spitzer said...

What a good teaching, self-teaching, exercise you've laid out.

Beautifully explained.

Gregory Becker said...

There is a good resource available for a Hudson River School demo. His name is David Dunlap. He does a show called Landscapes Through Time. (google him)
He has available dvds for each show with previews of each. He is a solid landscape painter and connecting with him would advantageous to your goal.
The dvds are inexpensive and thorough. Colors are explained and each episode is 30 minutes in length. He covers tonalism, impressionism, the Hudson River School etc...
My personal advice would be to think of the light in most Hudson River School paintings as Source, intensity and effect. The religous views of these artist was of particular importance. The thought being...As above, so below or On earth as it is in heaven.
This means that their paintings were to carry the idea of the day after creation was finished. Also, Think of this...Father Son Holy Spirit...Source Intensity Effect...Mystery Revelation Illumination.
God, Father, the source, is a mystery.
Jesus, Son, the Intensity is the Revelation.
The Holy Spirit, the Effect, Is the Illumination. (of man)
Look again at your painting again and see how the source is held in mystery. See how the intensity is the brightness of the glory of the source. See how the effect causes the whole painting to be illuminated.
Ask yourself how you can produce the same result and I believe that you can.
It may also be a good idea to have a black and white image to work from to see how the colors fool you into thinking there is more going on with the tonality than what is actually there.

I think this is your best shot and good luck.

Stapleton Kearns said...

What a great museum that is!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I would like that too. Maybe they will.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. How are you doing out there, is it raining toads yet?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Oh yeah! I should have mentioned that!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Lady W:
I would like to copy an Inness.

Stapleton Kearns said...

This train scoops em up on the fly. No stops!

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I think I did a post on th spiritualism and luminism. Many of them were transcendentalists, influenced by Emerson. Interesting stuff.

john pototschnik said...

Brilliant, perfect explanation.

Karen Thumm said...

Is this the technique you would recommend for copying any old master? What if you know a bit about their techniques, such as working in glazes?

It has been suggested that I copy old master paintings that I admire but I have no idea how to go about it.

ryanlorourke said...

Hi Stape, didn´t know one could put a layer of varnish over the initial pencil drawing. This would be great, since I have always heard that the graphite strokes of the pencil may migrate up through oil paint layers over time and appear at the end near the surface of the picture, where they should not be. Which varnish is acceptable do you think? The name you mention is not available where I live I think.
I have had trouble in the past painting over some varnishes, I have a suspicion, which at the same time seems itself doubtful, that one of them was Damar, though I am not sure of that. The other culprit I know for certain was a universal anti-UV varnish for acrylics and oils in a can, that one gave me some trouble.