"Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters" by Robert Beverly Hale, foreword by Jacob Collins.


The moment the UPS truck delivered my amazon.com package containing the gems that could hold the key to improving my drawing, I tore open the box and devoured this book. I spent countless hours reading the text and studying the masterful and beautiful drawings held between its bindings.

I found Hale’s musings on the effect of light on form enlightening. Not one of my professors at the art institute ever mentioned this. (Don’t get me wrong, they were each wonderful in their own right but this book is enlightening.) My professors were much more concerned with gesture and contour, which are important, but being able to capture the effect that light has on an object can tell you so much more than a simple contour.

The text is a wonderful read and the book is full of master drawing plates from the great artists of the past such as Raphael, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and many others. In it, Hale expresses the importance of figure drawing in developing one’s drawing skills. The figure is complicated to say the least and is a subject in which we are all intimately familiar. Anyone can spot flaws in a figure drawing, and to execute a figure drawing well, one must develop keen skills of observation and drawing technique. 

Copying the drawings of master artists is an invaluable approach in helping one learn to translate what an artist sees in nature into a drawing.

For the most part, there are no lines in nature that depict the form of the object but there is three dimensional volume, color, texture, and light and shadow.

Our brain processes these visual clues to discern the identity of these objects. But how do we convert all this information into a drawing or painting? As artists, we must learn to filter the plethora of visual information in front of us into the most important aspects that reveal form and identity. Copying the drawings of the masters assists an artist in developing these skills. Below is one of my studies.

 After Antoine Watteau's excerpt of "Nine Studies of Heads" by Beth Sistrunk July 2009

Copyist Programs 

Seeing a master’s drawing in person can be even more helpful. The original drawing or painting is far more detailed than any plate reproduction. Unfortunately, in America only a handful museums allow students to select a drawing or painting and sit in front of it to make a copy.  A lot of museums forbid copying in liquid mediums but some allow sketches. Check with your local museum to see what they allow. Below are four museums with student “copyist” programs. Most require permits to be submitted and approved.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Allows copying in oil or other liquid medium with a permit, and copying with dry media without a permit. www.nga.gov 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
The museum boasts a collection of more than four thousand master drawings.
Prints: 212-570-3920  Drawings: 212-570-3912 

The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
Again, a permit must be obtained.

National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC


If you know of any museums that offer this service that are not listed here please post a comment to share your information with other artists.


When traveling to a museum isn’t possible, check out the following online resources for high resolution images of masterworks:

The Google Art Project


Art Renewal Center