In this excerpt from the fall 2006 issue of Drawing, David Mayernik discusses how copying the work of Old Masters trains his taste so he can draw and paint original work with the classical beauty he reveres.
by Bob Bahr
For David Mayernik, who has gone far beyond drawing basics, copying the work of Old Masters trains his taste so he can draw and paint original work with the classical beauty he reveres. He doesn’t usually choose to copy a drawing for a specific application in one of his pieces; he picks which Old Master drawing to copy based on whether the subject has elements that intrigue him, such as an interesting pose or an insightful dark-light pattern. But the lessons Mayernik learns show up later in original drawings, and sometimes again in more complex, painted works. In this 15"-x-11" example, we see Mayernik absorbing how the figure representing the Ganges River in Bernini’s The Fountain of the Four Rivers, in Rome, is leaning back and rotating, thus lying in a pose that suggests both rest and action. It is a subject he has drawn several times over the years. The artist reports that when he drew this figure on-site he was also interested in how the figure is seen obliquely, on the diagonal. Mayernik took note of how one leg is lifted over an oar, casting interesting shadows on the other leg.
Mayernik painted this 8"-x-12" plein air piece in the countryside north of Florence. The artist says that inventing a credible natural landscape for a background in a painting is a challenge for him if he doesn’t have a reference such as this small painting. The scene in a modified form appears in Mayernik’s Time Revealed by Truth to Painting.
Mayernik next drew a 63/4"-x-101/4" thumbnail of his idea—a figure representing Painting being presented to Father Time by Truth. Time is having his bath interrupted by this meeting and, as a result, his posture is a mix of rest and action. Although Time’s specific pose is not identical to Bernini’s Ganges figure, they are both reclining figures with twisting torsos and similarly complex postures. Mayernik started with the sanguine pencil, then added highlights with a white pencil. He went back in with a black pencil for the shadows and more pronounced outlines of elements. “The sanguine is good for reflected light,” comments the artist. “And because it is softer and more forgiving, I like to use it for the base drawing.”
He then drew his composition on an 63/4" -x-101/4" grid to finalize proportions and to aid in the transfer of the study onto his canvas.
This 11"-x-15" detail drawing (Time) of the main figure in the composition was done with a Faber-Castell Pitt sanguine oil-based pencil on handmade paper from Italy. Here, Mayernik further adapted lessons from Bernini’s reclining figure—note the one lifted leg, the energy of the arm bracing Time’s body on the side of the bath, and the twisting torso and oblique angle.
To read more features like this, check out the fall 2006 issue of Drawing magazine.