Sargent Master Copy—“Two Tarpon”

Master copy of Sargent’s 1917 “Two Tarpon” watercolor, reduced 2.5 times to 6”x 8.25”, Don West, Artist.
6”x8-1/4”, watercolor and pencil in a LEDA sketchbook, with large and medium Pentel water brushes.

I took the time on this exercise to figure out how many times I would need to reduce the original painting size to fit it in the sketchbook and keep the same proportions. Sargent’s original was executed on a 21”x15-1/4” sheet of watercolor paper. Turns out 6”x8-1/4” worked for my sketchbook image size, as I needed to leave some space for notes, date, etc. That’s a 2-1/2 times reduction from the original size.

Why go to the trouble of figuring that out? Because reducing the size of my master copy means I have to reduce my brush sizes accordingly, in order to mimic/match the size of the strokes in the original. That’s the point of master copies after all; to figure out the techniques and tools used in the original and teach oneself by using the same tools and techniques. In the original, Sargent had to use fairly large brushes since the painting is so large. If one does that in a much smaller format, like a sketchbook, frustration will set in quickly since the brush is simply way too large to proportionally match the stroke sizes in the original. And the copy won’t look close to the original in terms of stroke techniques or wash consistency. It can be frustrating and confusing.

As an example, let’s say a passage in the original seawater appears to be made of 3/4” wide strokes from a round brush to emulate waves in the water. Reduce that 2-1/2 times in your sketchbook and you’ll need a round brush of about 1/4”-3/8” to reproduce the strokes comfortably so they give the same effect as in the original. I hope that makes sense 🙂. If you can comfortably emulate the original stroke sizes and washes at the smaller scale, then you will be teaching yourself how it was done in the original size painting.

Now the easiest thing to do of course, would be to paint your master copy the same size as the original. Duh! But, since many of us are doing this kind of thing in sketchbooks and not in a big fat luxurious studio with big easels, big paper and room to spare, I thought it might be useful to share the thinking behind making small scale master copies work for you just as well.😉

“Two Tarpon”, 1917, John Singer Sargent watercolor 21”x15.25”. Used as reference for a master copy.
John Singer Sargent’s original watercolor used as reference for the master copy.