Sunday, August 4, 2019

Learning by Copying

In the booklet called The Prang Elementary Course In Art Instruction, examples are shown on the left side of the page that the student is expected to copy. 



The publisher explains that the illustrations:
"are printed to give pupils good examples of form, line, and composition, to interest them in the work of others, to lead to a higher standard of excellence than exists in the individual, and to be a stimulus to help the pupils by their suggestiveness as to subject and as to manner of rendering. They assist in providing a regular sequence of study and save time of teacher and pupil. Good copies are as necessary and helpful to the child as art studies to the adult. In some cases the children may gain much by copying, although examples are of such a character and so arranged that there is abundant opportunity on every page for free, original, and individual work."
In the book, there are reproductions from Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Edwin Landseer, Abbott Thayer, and Winslow Homer, and others as well as decorative patterns.

I had a few opportunities to trace and copy as a child of 7 or 8 years old, and later when I was an art student, and it was a revelation. I remember that's how I learned that an ellipse is a tricky way of drawing a circle.

Such a practice of copying may have fallen out of favor in recent decades in some settings, but it seems to be coming back. It's not the only path to mastery, but it's a very important part of the journey. How old were you when you first tried copying or tracing, and what are your memories of the experience?
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The Prang Elementary Course In Art Instruction, Third Year

14 comments:

Fabio said...

Not sure when I first started, but I remember spending hours copying and tracing dinosaurs when I was about 8 or 9 :D My best friend back then had a huge (for the time) collection of dinosaur books, and we'd just spend afternoons copying from those. I still recall the T-rex I traced once, his eye full open gave him quite a dumb/surprised expression :D

Fhinn said...

I was so fortunate to have a mum, aunt, and grandma who were all talented artists and patient teachers. From as young as I can remember there was always drawing tools and books around, and this post sparked my memory of a book for children that had a sheet of tracing paper over each page. My grandma would also let us play with her carbon tracing paper, which seems absolutely magical when you're a kid!

Paul Sullivan said...

This is an excellent post and a wonderful question.
As far back as I can remember—before I could write—I was copying drawings and pictures of every kind. Eventually I was copying from comic books and later from ads. When I was about 11 or 12, I made my most ambitious attempt, a color copy of Rockwell’s portrait of Eisenhower from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. When I was 15 I started the Famous Artists Course.

Most of my early self-education was by copying.

Terry said...

I *think* it would have been the Jon Nagy (spelling?) TV show, possibly titled Learn to Draw? Early 50s, so I would have been maybe 4? I do remember I got really frustrated that I couldn't replicate his tiger. LOL a bit ambitious for a 4 year old I guess. I can vividly remember certain images from the TV show. I was lucky that my mom was very supportive, providing crayons, pencils, and literally *yards* of paper. I don't know where she got it but looking back I think it was the tail ends of newsprint from those giant rolls the printers used?

Robert Michael Walsh said...

But Prang is set up for right-handers, like power tools and much of the rest of the modern world.

Ruth Squitieri said...

My mom was a secretary and always brought home scrap paper from the office. So I could doodle and draw to my hearts content. I remember copying Disney characters so often, that I could do some of them by heart at around age 10. I also copied ads and greeting cards, religious cards and later on posters that you could order from those catalogs: you know, the overly sweet scene of a teenage girl leaning against a horse's head in pastel colors, probably done in airbrush, and stuff like that. I also had a great little booklet that taught you to draw animals and vegetables from the basic shapes! I still have the tattered copy and it's dear to me. Only decades later do I realize, yes, the basic shapes are elementary to all subjects!
Great post!

K. Moody said...

I think I started copying and tracing at the age of three or four. My favorite subject was the horse and every illustrated storybook of horses got traced and copied many times. It gave me a sense of interacting with the book and taught the muscles of my hands how to draw horses. I also felt a sense of power- that I too could draw horses which made me want to learn more and branch out on my own once I was sure I knew what horses looked like. This has resulted in a life-long commercial career of creating horses both in 2D and 3D. It was well worth it and I am not ashamed to saw it started by being a copy cat of other people's work.

Stephen and Nyree said...

Almost all art is copying in sense it another. No matter if you are copying the scene in front of you, a Disney character, or a key on the runway and getting lots of views while others try to copy jg.

Pearl Hodges said...

I have to admit, my first attempts at copying were from your work! I would have been about eight or so, and completely enamored of the first Dinotopia book. I desperately wanted to draw dinosaurs so realistically, so I copied out all of my favorites in my sketchbook in colored pencil. I even gave some of them their own names (written in the footprint alphabet, of course). None of these were tremendously accurate, but I started getting a sense of weight and volume to figures, as well as the characteristics that made them unique. For fun, I went back and did later copies next to my first ones when I was in college and had a much better understanding of the underlying forms and structures. These are more accurate, and show a strong progress of learning over the years. If I had the sketchbook with me I'd gladly give it a scan (it's stored away at the moment).

Thom Rozendaal said...

I don't think I've ever copied other artworks, but my first serious drawings were copies of photos, portraits mostly. It was an invaluable phase which taught me a lot about shading and other fundamental skills. I still do a drawing here and there from a photo, but I've developed more of my own style and I try to experiment as well, further bringing a piece of me into the drawing rather than it just being a black and white xerox copy of the image.

Karen Thumm said...

I was a horse crazy little girl for as far back as I can remember. I used to watch cowboy movies on TV during the fifties and would draw horses while watching those shows. I think I learned a lot about the horse form and horse character from those shows.

A lot of my drawings were from my imagination, though. When I was 8 or 9 I got the Walter Foster How To Draw Horses book and was in seventh Heaven. That's the first I'm aware of copying from anything. I copied some of the drawings in that book, and I still have them. CW Anderson was my favorite illustrator as a child, and I copied some of his drawings as well and a few other horse artists.: Wesley Dennis, Paul Brown in particular.

My drawings vastly improved once I got the Walter Foster book and started copying from books but I still did a lot of freehand drawing from my imagination. Later, as a pet portrait artist I depended on photographs to get a good likeness. I view copying and tracing as just another set of tools in the artist's tool box. The trick is to not become dependent on them.

Marion Boddy-Evans said...

Trying to paint a Rothko-inspired "liquorice allsort" abstract gave me a far greater appreciation for his depth of colour and freehand straight lines!

Penny Taylor said...

My first memories of drawing & copying where horrid. NOTHING looked right. I stopped all together. It wasn't until I was in my 30s & stumbled upon "Drawing With the Right Side of the Brain" that I realized it wasn't that I couldn't draw, I simply didn't know how to look at shapes. Now I have some problems with my eyes & I still struggle with proportions, but if I turn it upside down or cock my head or bob it around like a lizard trying to triangulate, I eventually get it.

Unknown said...

in gradeschool, i lived by the 'draw 50' book series by lee j ames. in particular, the 'draw 50 monsters', which i always started out copying, but ended up taking my own direction in the end. those books were great.