This master study after Jean-Leon Gerome’s “Diogenes” was filmed over 20 days, took roughly 45 hours and was compressed to 45 minutes. It’s narrated with my thoughts on the process and painting in general.
I recorded this video 10 months after deciding to teach myself to draw and paint. For all of you learning or doubting whether it can be done – it’s all about hard work, commitment and patience.
Many people ask me what the value is of doing a master study. It really depends on your intent. This goes for any study in my opinion. You can look at the same painting, photograph or object with ten thousand different things in mind and the majority of what you find will be what you look for. We are trained to see particular things so we look for them, but of course this means we overlook so many other possibilities. Ken Burns once said that “all meaning accrues in duration”, the longer you spend on a work, the more you’ll examine its intricacies, the richer the meaning that you’ll find in it. As a culture we’re compelled to constantly accelerate the pace at which we live, we don’t have the patience or desire to explore something deeply. There are billions of images at the click of a button, is your investment of 40 hours in a single image worth it? I believe that this is the underlying question really being asked when people ask me what the value is of painting a master study. If it’s your first study, then spend the time to train your character, to develop your patience, to see if you can sequence your work, to test whether you can deconstruct a complex subject and paint it with enough skill so that you have a good final result. This will test your accuracy, your rendering, brush work, ability to distinguish hues. It will expose you to color combinations that you might not have initially noticed.
When I started the study I was very rigid about the colors I picked, I would not add very much variations, sticking with the safer bet of keeping things mundane. After I finished the master study I was varying my colors without even knowing it, I had internalized a technique and a way of thinking that I wasn’t even consciously aware of. Every single thing you do, with care and attention, translates into an actual physical change of your brain. You will receive tacit knowledge, something you can’t verbalize, but can instead do and can’t necessarily explain. It’s instinctual knowledge. If you’ve already done a master study and have the basics under your belt, then you’ll most likely be looking for other things – composition, design, shape language, simplification of form, economy of means, solutions to problems, storytelling, the list is endless. Even the same painting affords different levels of study. You can paint the same thing over and over with different intent and learn different things from it. Of course then the extent to which you finish the work will differ, you don’t need to have exceptional polish if all you’re interested in is the composition or a juxtaposing of shapes or color. It all depends on the intent and what you’re looking for. If you’re unclear about either then just begin and as you work through problems and look for solutions, the work itself will show you how many things lie beneath the surface.