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Copying a Axeli Gallen-Kallela painting.

I hope you are all doing well, and that you are not too bored with staying at home. I know from my walks around the neighbourhood here that the gardens have never been so tidy as now, and from talking to the neighbours that the same goes for the inside of their houses...

I decided to try something that I haven't done before. I decided to copy a master. Before art schools were established, you usually learned your artist trade by becoming an apprentice to another artist. The same way you would learn any other trade, for that matter. And to be an artist before the 19th century was indeed a trade you had to learn from someone. The easy part was to do the actual painting. The hard part was to learn how to make your paint and how to make and prepare your panels and canvases. In some big cities during 1700, you could start to buy paints that were premade from so-called colourmen, the first type of art material shop. But it wasn't before the watercolour cake was invented by William Reeves in 1780, and the paint tube was invented in 1841 by John Goffe Rand, that paint became available to purchase as we would today. Luckily we do not have to learn that part of the artist trade today, if we do not want to.

We can still learn a lot from the practice of copying a master. We can learn colour theory, composition and how to apply brushstrokes. I have been disappointed in my landscapes painting for a couple of years now, and that is why you do not see many landscapes paintings from me, even if I would love to paint more. So I decided to do something about it. If my normal way of painting doesn't give me the results I would like to achieve, I need to change my way of painting. And what better way to learn than to learn from those artists that I admire. So, lesson number one: learn how to apply paint like Axeli Gallen-Kallela. I have always loved the paintings from Axeli Gallen-Kallela. In my opinion, they look 'fresh'. I do not know any other word in how to describe it. From far away they look realistic, but when you study them close up it is nothing more than quite rough brushstrokes applied seemingly in an abstract way. And therein lies the secret I think. They are not random brushstrokes. Every brushstroke is laid where it needs to be without having to redo them many times. That is why the artwork stays 'fresh' and do not seem or become overworked. Definitely something I need to learn.

I chose to copy one of my favourite paintings, Lake Keitele. (Painted in 1905.) As you can see, he signed this painting with Axel Gallén. That is because he did not change his name to the more Finnish sounding Axeli Gallen-Kallela until 1907. He painted a couple of versions of this painting, and I chose to copy the version that I already had as a postcard at home, cropped to a square.

My copy. The colours in the postcard are not really optimal, so I think I will go over the painting again. But this time, I will use the version you can see above as reference.

Detail of my Copy. I learned a lot from copying this painting. The biggest difference I noticed from the start was that Axeli painted with very dry paint. And with dry, I mean that it seems like he did not dilute or mix his oil paints with any mediums.

Detail of my copy. When you look closely at his painting you can also see the canvas through his brushstrokes in many places. That tells me that he did not paint this painting with many layers but probably did the painting in one sitting. Also something I can learn from.

Detail of my copy. I did my latest video on Youtube on the same topic ( ) and there I also discussed how you can copy without breaking any laws. The copyright law is quite simple, really. Any artwork, music, text or photo (photos as artwork) made by someone who has been dead for 70 years or more, are in the public domain and also free to use/copy. If you do can not find who the creator is, the work is copyright protected 70 years from the date it was published. Personal photos (photos not meant as being works of art) are copyright protected 50 years after they are taken. So essentially you are not allowed to copy anything but old artists that have been dead for more than 70 years. ( and you need to sign with your own name, otherwise, you can still be in trouble for forgery if you are good... 😁) This is the copyright law in Finland. You can find your country's copyright law online.

So what if we would like to learn by copying from a living artist? Well, either ask for permission from the artist ( the same goes for photographs you would like to use as reference material or in digital art) or destroy what you copy after you learned what you wanted. Copying a work of art without permission and then sharing it as your own (with or without credit to the original artist) or selling it, would be the same as physically stealing the other artist's artwork. It is as simple as that. I wanted to talk about this topic because I see it happen so many times online. There are still so many people out there who seem to think that just because they find an image online, it is free to use.

Today there are quite a few great sites where you can find free images to use for your art.,,, (paint-my-photo), and free reference photo groups on Facebook, just to name a few. Then if you would like to have access to some more, there are always sites where you can buy photos for a small fee, like istockphoto, shutterstock and the likes.

I guess that this is the perfect opportunity to share with you the two places where I have started to share my photos as free reference material for artists. I created an Instagram account: and a Facebook group:

Well, that was that. I hope you found this interesting. I wish you all happy painting, and stay safe!


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