Using the Old Masters for Composition

As an abstract painting teacher, I am often asked by my students "what should I paint?" I like to use the world around me as source material and in particular the Old Masters.


Old Master paintings by Rembrandt or Titan or Vermeer can provide a wealth of composition exercises to get your brain working. Here's an example of how I use these. First, take the beautiful painting "Saskia" by Rembrandt.


I cropped the image and flipped it. Additionally, I added a watercolor filter in Photoshop.

Then after manipulating it in Photoshop this is what it looks like.

Now granted this isn't the best abstract painting I've ever done, but it gives me something to work with. I could use this painting and build an entire series from it, doing several paintings as an homage, if you will, to Rembrandt. Try this for yourself and see. Pick any artist you admire and crop small pieces out of their painting. Then manipulate it and work on it to make your own vision from it. This is an old and honored tradition among artists, re-interpreting their ancestors.

Take the work below by Picasso "Portrait of a Young Girl" Now look at the inspiration for this piece by Cranach the Younger. The possibilities are really unlimited. Find your inspiration wherever you need to!

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Lucas Cranach the Younger “Portrait of a Woman” 1564

Lucas Cranach the Younger “Portrait of a Woman” 1564