Käthe Kollwitz study

Käthe Kollwitz is one of my favorite artists. She was born in East Prussia in 1867 and her work largely focused on social justice and concern for the poor. When I saw Kollwitz’s 1924 lithographic print Germany’s Children Are Starving! (Deustchlands Kinder hungern!) at the Dallas Museum of Art in January of 2020, it really moved me, so I decided to copy it in my sketchbook with gel pen and water.

One of the best ways to develop as an artist is to copy other artists. All art is a form of abstraction, meaning you take something really complicated that you experience in three dimensions and with all of your senses, and basically reduce it to two-dimensional lines and shapes on a page. When you first approach a subject, it can be really overwhelming as you try and decide which lines are necessary and have to be included, and which lines you can ignore or merely suggest.

When you copy the work of other artists, you basically get the Cliff’s notes of abstraction. They’ve already solved those problems for you, and copying what they did helps you figure out how they did it so you can apply it to your own work. Even if you are an experienced artist, someone else is going to solve problems in ways that you never would have thought of, especially if they have a very different style or mood, or if they work in a different medium.

The image of Kollwitz’s lithograph above from Plate 48 in Prints and Drawings of Käthe Kollwitz selected by Carl Zigrosser and published by Dover.

Of course, it should go without saying that while copying other artists’ work is an incredible learning exercise, you should never ever ever try to pass someone else’s idea off as your own.

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