Practice your art with references from another artists

Updated: Apr 18, 2018

Every artwork begins as a copy. That is one common way of learning to find your own voice. When I was small I learned to trace lines and shapes of children book characters with tracing paper. From there, I could learn to make my own characters later.


I never fully copied from another image. Even when I was learning to paint, copying from other artists, I always changed something in the way, a colour, a shape. [Maybe that is why in kindergarten I used to paint outside the line on purpose?].


In commissions where some clients would ask me to reproduce some old artwork, I wouldn't feel quite comfortable to sign those paintings or called them my own.


Personally, If I was commissioned to do a copy, I would do it as a challenge and for educational purposes, in which I could explore different means and techniques, painting textures...

As I re-produced, I learned more about what I didn't wanted to do and I started to think in how I would do it differently.

In the periods in which I was 'commission-less' for reproductions, I was doubting to invest time and energy into something that might not sell. That is when I began to make some paintings as a way of personal practice. I used to take elements from artists I liked and then modified them.


I started combining visual elements by taking bits here and bits there of what I liked from different artists.

Maybe some of the turquoise colours of van Gogh, or the grey shadows of Latour, the mysticism of Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington, etc. In fact, I keep some postcards with their images near my desk as my inspiration reminders. For instance, I love the sketch 'A woman's head', made by Leonardo Da Vinci. But instead of copying it, the image served me as inspiration for my crowned nun in watercolour [maybe you can appreciate the hint of ressemblance?].


Crowned nun, 2012. By Elena Pietrini
Head of a woman. 1508, by Leonardo Da Vinci.

By 'adopting' and / or 'adapting' some of their elements I began to realise which was my own voice in my work. The elements I liked from those artists always turned out to be different, and yet they are somehow still present in some paintings.

Some of the first paintings could look like another artists' styles, but others will turn out to be different as you go on.

This searching process of our own style takes a very looong time to develop. We only get there by experimenting with lines, shapes, colours, means, oil, watercolour, acrylics; in fact just doing, making and trying. It has arise or to build up in constant transformation.


Whenever we use references, let's always keep this in mind,


the artists we admire also had their own struggle to develop their art.

They all went down their own road to get where they are. So, let's keep it nice and easy and always respect copyrights and quoting references. It is a matter of respect for those artists and self respect for our own work as artists.


Thank you for reading. I would love to know who are the artists you take as references or inspiration for your own work, too.


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© 2020 by Elena San Pietrini • Utrecht • ilumina studio 70436525 • All rights reserved.