Art students take deep dive with master studies

Art students take deep dive with master studies

You can learn a lot about Johannes Vermeer’s “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” by reading a book on the famous painting. You could also watch a documentary on the work or perhaps travel to the Mauritshuis museum in the Hague to view it up close. 

But another way is to simply paint the masterpiece yourself. 

Honors Visual Arts students in the Upper School took the maxim “learn by doing” to heart recently when they conducted master studies of renowned artists of their choosing. The goal of the master studies, said Upper School Visual Arts Department Head Anni Zukauskas ‘94 P ‘28, ‘29, was for student-artists to fully engage in an extensive painting experience through their interpretation of their chosen master artist. By recreating that entire painting experience as closely as possible, the student-artists could inhabit a bygone world but also discover inevitable differences that would contribute to their own understanding of the artistic process. 

“We just learned so much about these artists,” said Zukauskas. 

Students began their exploration by literally stretching canvas the way the painters of old did it. The exercise not only taught them about the practice, said Zukauskas, but also gave the young artists a better appreciation of today’s pre-stretched canvases. 

The students then extensively researched multiple periods of art and genres, making comprehensive notes on each. The research offered greater understanding of a number of artists but also provided a strong dose of confidence to continue with the daunting project. From there, students selected one artist for their master study.  

The next step was a deep dive into color theory —  an understanding of colors and how they interact with one another — using colored pencil and, later, acrylic paint. 

“Color pencils offer the experience of layering colors on top of one another and creating depth and richness,” said Zukauskas. “They’re a wonderful tool for color studies. While they can be a stubborn and unforgiving medium, with practice they have the ability to produce smooth transitions and gradients.” 

The students were then tasked with blending acrylic paints — the medium of choice for these venerated master artists — to match the shades of the colored pencil work and, ultimately, the colors of the painting. This gave the students firsthand knowledge of the master artist’s palettes and painting process. As an added benefit, said Zukauskas, the student-artists soon became “paint snobs” able to quickly differentiate a quality brand of paint from its cheap knockoff competitor. 

When they were ready, the students began to recreate these masterpieces, but even at this point, there were experiments with different swatches of blended color to achieve just the right effect. 

Finally, the student-artists presented their works in the persona of their chosen artist and answered questions from the rest of the class. One student took it a step further and decided to dress up as the character in her painting. 

Zukauskas praised her students for accepting the master study challenge so passionately. She said one of the best parts of the project was the wonderful classroom conversations about student discoveries.

“It was a brave and beautiful undertaking of such exemplary and revered works of art,” she said. 

Below are the students in the Honors Visual Arts class as well as the subjects of their master studies and the works they were inspired to recreate: 

Elsa Landy ‘25: Edgar Degas (Inspired by “Danseurs”)

Jaden Smith ‘24: Claude Monet (Inspired by “Lady Monet”) 

Emily Guilfoyle ‘25: Jasper Johns (Inspired by “Numbers in Color”) 

Abigail Devine ‘25: Claude Monet (Inspired by “Poppy Field”) 

Katie Holmes ‘24: Edward Hopper (Inspired by “New York Movie Study”) 

Charles Gavin ‘24: Edvard Munch (Inspired by “The Kiss”) 

Simone Tempel ‘25: Johannes Vermeer (Inspired by “Girl with a Pearl Earring”) 

Kaia Rice ‘24: Richard Prince ‘67 (Inspired by “Man-Crazy Nurse #3”) 

Lauren Minichiello ‘25: Vincent van Gogh (Inspired by “Wheat Field with Cypresses”)

Emma Hu ‘24: Yayoi Kusama (Inspired by “Sunflowers”) 

Eliana Soares ‘26: Amy Sherald (Inspired by “The Make Believer”) 

Lilly O’Connell ‘25: Georgia O’Keeffe (Inspired by “Blue Flowers”) 

Perry Wilson ‘25: Vincent van Gogh (Inspired by “Gauguin’s Chair”) 


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