Velazquez gathers the superlatives of art historians, museum directors and connoisseurs. His history is available widely and shall not be examined here. What I am after is his technique and style of painting. For many years I have painted in the manner of a particular artist in order to understand what his or her art is all about. Sometimes I do refined pastiches of paintings. Sometimes I take a work of art and change it in some way, either as an amusement or entertainment, while retaining the seriousness of an attempt to learn fundamental lessons about the process of painting in the manner of the artist studied. Many times, in understanding the methodology of the artist, I research the artist and attempt to create an original work using the idiosyncrasies of the painter.
I can not stress enough what a powerful exercise this activity is. Not only does one come to an intimate and keen understanding of the subject, but the revelations are beyond what can be gained from books or lectures.
Here, I have created a self-portrait after The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals. In this case, I have, to a significant degree, ignored the exact colors and brightened the picture while turning down the contrast. The idea was not to emulate Frans Hals, but to change the picture so I could learn by consciously doing things differently, making myself aware of the differences. Obviously, the original is warmer, the shadows are more acute and the flesh a bit more warm and less ashen. The tunic is also less elaborate, because I prefered to tone down the intricate design. I did not work the lace to the degree Frans Hals did, leaving it a bit heavier, nor did I fuss with the hair except to define it with quick brush strokes. As the result of the scheme I used, I painted the hat as basically a black mass that frames the head without the accent given by Frans Hals to give form to the hat. This brightens the face by the stark contrast. The expression is decidedly different. I parted my lips slightly as if about to speak and I arched the eyebrows in a cynical recognition of the person about to be spoken to, namely, myself.
What did I learn from this particular exercise? In this case, the exercise was to learn a few of the ways in which Hals manipulated painted while having a little fun with the harmony and figure. As part of the research involved, which included examining other images and reading various histories and critiques of the artist, I learned some important aspects of the artist’s work. Among these include the startling observation that no one has ever discovered a preliminary drawing for any of the paintings of Frans Hals. This is unusual, especially considering his group portraits included a dozen or more people. I would find it difficult, in an age without photography, to compose such a work without drawings.
After closely examining works of Hals, I came upon a notion that Judith Leyster may have had a hand in some of them. Nothing much is really known about the relationship between Leyster and Hals. Possibly Leyster was a student of Hals as her work resembles his to a large degree. When her work is examined in this context, the attention to detail of clothing and drapery resembles the same level shown in Hals portraits. Is it possible, as masters were want to do during the time, that Leyster was given the task of completing his pictures after he finished the major parts of them, such as faces and the basic structure. The quick way Hals executed his surfaces many times seems at odds with finely detailed ruffles or accessories.
At any rate, all this would not be possible without the attempt to paint something mimicking The Laughing Cavalier.
Now, what about a complete reproduction? I have done this on occasion, but ironically find it less instructive than changing basic parts of the picture. I suppose, the more one is aware of the originals by changing the way they look, the more acutely one understands what went into the pictures construction. However, working out a complete reproduction hones one’s skills in the mechanics of painting and is worth doing in this respect. Furthermore, to research an artist as part of the process of painting a reproduction, deepens the learning and sharpens the skills trained.
One should not restrict oneself to one particular genre in order to benefit from the learning process. Below are some reproductions in varying degrees of exactitude to the originals:
Another exercise includes producing a picture in the manner of an artist or from a particular period in art history. I did this after studying the self-portraits of Edward Degas:
So why “The Velazquez Prize”? I intend to work on a portrait in the manner of Velazquez. As I go through the steps, I will keep a written and visual diary of the progress so you may know, at least, how this works for me. Eventually, you, the reader may find this all rather pedantic. Nevertheless, by following what I am doing, you may discover a few things about your own work or your own perceptions by the contrast with mine. Let the learning begin!