Well, as a way of gradually getting out of the uninspired phase I seem to be going through at the time of writing, I decided to make some studies of old out-of copyright paintings. This is something that I do every now and then, and it’s certainly worth trying for a variety of reasons.
And, yes, I’ve probably said all or most of this stuff before. But, it’s worth repeating!
1) It still gives your imagination some exercise: Although the idea of copying an old painting might seem like an “unimaginative” way to make art when you’re uninspired, it still involves a fair amount of imagination and creativity.
But, thanks to the fact that you have something to copy, there’s no pressure to come up with entirely new ideas. So, you can give your imagination a bit of exercise without stressing out about the fact that you can’t think of any totally new ideas.
Even so, you actually have to find an interesting painting that is no longer in copyright. Although sites like Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons contain plenty of public domain paintings, you still actually have to look for them (and check their copyright status) yourself.
Still, looking at lots of art isn’t exactly a waste of time – since it will help to remind you how awesome art can be (which can help you feel more inspired). Not only that, you might even end up discovering a few interesting artists that you’ve never heard of before.
And, no, not all out-of-copyright paintings are boring. In fact, if you’re willing to search, you can find some really cool ones. For example, the painting I used in my study was this rather gothic-looking late 19th/early 20th century painting called “Lady With Cigarette” by Oskar Zwintscher (1870-1916):
“Lady With Cigarette” by Oskar Zwintscher (Via Wikipedia)
Not only does this painting contain some brilliantly gloomy lighting and an ominously ornate background, but it also has something of a timeless quality to it too. Needless to say, I was eager to make my own version of it.
But, like any cover version of something else, I realised that I’d have to put my own spin on it. Initially, I thought about going in a minimalist direction and just painting the lady’s face and hands (and using a solid black background for the rest of the picture). But, this seemed a little bit too lazy.
So, I eventually just decided to make the painting in the same way that I would if I was making an original painting. In other words, I used my usual cartoonish style, slightly limited palette, mixture of traditional and digital tools, high-contrast approach to lighting etc…
I also simplified a few things and changed the picture from a portrait painting to a square painting (with film-style letterboxing bars too). In addition to this, I also took inspiration from a mixture of other things that have inspired me in the past (eg: heavy metal album covers, old computer games etc..). So, my imagination still got a bit of exercise, but without the pressure of having to think of a totally new idea for a painting.
Here’s a small preview of my finished study of Zwintscher’s painting. The full-size version of it will be posted here next month:
This is a reduced-size preview, the full painting will appear here on the 4th May.
So, yes, making a study of an old painting doesn’t have to be a boring exercise in copying something verbatim. In fact, using your imagination a little bit (in a low-pressure situation like this) can help to remind you of how much fun it is to be creative. Best of all, since you’re already copying a pre-existing thing, inspiration is much less of an issue too.
2) It reminds you of what making good art feels like: Although there’s certainly something to be said for just pressing on and making crappy paintings until you feel inspired again, this approach doesn’t always work. Especially when you’re producing original art that looks a bit like this…
This is a reduced-size preview, the full painting will appear here on the 3rd May.
Whilst, during more inspired times, your original art looks more like this…
“Architecture” By C. A. Brown
If you’ve been experiencing severe uninspiration (and are producing very low-quality art very slowly as a result), then seeing yet another low-quality painting can end up sapping your self-confidence rather than making you think “Yes! I made some art! Even though I wasn’t inspired, I made some art!”
So, making a study of a good (out-of-copyright!) painting by someone else can be an easy way to experience the feeling of making good art. And, yes, it is a feeling. It’s a focused feeling of purpose, of pride in your work and of complete and utter immersion in the process of making art. It feels like the literal opposite of feeling uninspired.
Feeling that “making good art” feeling once again can remind you of why you became an artist in the first place. It can distract you from the emotions that being uninspired provokes in you. It can make you feel proud of producing a piece of art that you gladly want to show off to other people. It can remind you of how unique your own way of making art is (if you compare your study to the original) and how it’s worth continuing to develop your own art style.
In other words, it’s a way to feel like you’re more inspired. And, when you’re feeling inspired, then you are much more likely to get inspired again.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂