We all know the importance of practicing…but, what shall we practice? That’s always a question, and it’s often answered with a recommendation to copy the masters. There are many benefits to be gained from this sort of practice, but…that’s not what this post and this painting are all about.
Yes, this oil painting is based on a landscape done by Nicholas Poussin in the mid-17th century. This, however, was not an attempt to copy Poussin’s famous Un Temps Calme et Serein. What you’re seeing in my painting is a very, very simplified version of the original, completed as part of an art lesson from the Getty Center where Poussin’s painting is on display.
The lesson is designed to help young art students understand the concepts of background, middle ground, and foreground, and old art students — like me — sometimes need help with those concepts, too.
Using Poussin’s work as an example, the lesson plan includes three templates — one for background, one for middle ground, one for foreground. The student is instructed on how to cut these templates and assemble them as a completed work.
Using the templates as guides, I simplified the scene to include only the most basic elements. The actual painting has a horse and rider as well as sheep. Lots of sheep. There are goats, too.
I didn’t attempt to paint the horse, the goats, or any of the sheep, but I did add the shepherd. I even tried to paint his crook, but I couldn’t get the line fine enough. This painting, by the way, was done on a small (8 x 10) canvas panel. Even without his shepherd’s crook, I do have the fellow there, and this represents my first attempt at putting a human figure in an oil painting. I was pleased — and a bit proud — of this exercise just for that!
One habit I’m following now is to identify something I need to work on in each painting I complete — even those that are just little practice exercise pieces. I also pick out at least one thing I like about each painting.
First, the things I like:
- I like the overhanging leaves at the upper left
- I like the light bark on the trees to the right
- I like the shadow of the shepherd
Second, the thing I most need to work on:
- Getting the light and shadows right when I paint leaves and trees
It was a fun exercise to do, something completely out of the ordinary for me. I had fun. I painted a person. And look! I even drew and painted a building that’s not completely skewed. Most of all, I learned a lot from this simple exercise, so please don’t look at Poussin’s beautiful work of art and laugh at my little painting. Instead, just smile and know that I’m practicing, practicing, practicing.