Why not aim high? Rembrant and Botticelli. Impossible to emulate, but you do see so much more when you are trying to copy them. The fall of light over Venus’s hair is just extraordinary, but you don’t really notice it when you just look at the picture. His grasp of female anatomy is very suspect. You can’t help wondering if he had ever actually seen a live, naked woman. Rembrant always looks just a dark mess at a glance, but it isn’t.
We weren’t copying Rembrandt as such. We were trying to use very contrasty portraits as sources for subtractive oil painting. Using a single dark colour, burnt umber plus blue in my case, smeared over an entire sheet of shiny, coated paper, and then wiping off highlights with rags and cotton wool to create a light and dark image. We had two of Rembrandt’s self portraits as examples of strongly litl paintings, and I decided to copy one of them.
I liked the outcome, but it looks more like Einstein than Rembrandt. There is a great richness to the varying darks. The white cap is just the paper shining through where I have scraped off the paint with a pallet knife. A very satisfying, physical form of painting, but very messy. I had to wear vinyl gloves, and even then had paint all over them.
After finishing this picture, I had ten minutes left, so tried the same thing in charcoal with another Rembrandt self portrait. I had meant to blacken the whole page, but actually just blacked in the figure and then took out light areas of the face and hand using a plastic eraser. Again, it doesn’t look much like Rembrandt, but I was pleased with the outcome of ten minutes. I do like charcoal.