Modest Model
Watercolour Paintings by Ellen Catherwood, PSC, CSPWC, NOAA


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Copy of a Master Work- Paul Peel's "Modest Model"

This painting is being done for a few reasons.  Our art club is challenging it's members to copy one of the master works of art as a learning experience.  The traditional way that art students used to learn would be to copy old masters and learn by following in their brush strokes.  I decided to paint one of my favourite paintings.  This will be the largest I have ever worked (it is 23 x 34") and for those interested in details, it is done on Fabriano Artistico Extra White hot press 140 lb paper with Winsor & Newton, DaVinci, and Daniel Smith watercolour paints.  The original was done in oils so when I am finished, I will give it a coat of acrylic gloss medium to simulate the same look.

Step 1:

I started out by drawing it out.  This proved to be much harder than usual.  I don't have a high resolution copy of it so I am using a 4 x 6" photo of it downloaded from the internet (I can't enlarge it because of the low resolution).  Usually I just draw a few lines for positioning and then start painting.  This time I needed a lot more drawing, and on the artists face, I even needed to add shading to make sure I got his expression just right.  I will be erasing those lines as I go.

I am learning a lot about the way he composed the original painting already.  He broke the rules of composition by dividing the painting right down the center.  The figure on the right is light against a dark background and the figure on the left is dark against a light background.  I am hoping to learn a lot from painting this.

Step 2:

I have finally gotten the time to start the painting.  I have blocked in the background but will still have to check values before it is finished.  I have also added the first layer of dark over the right corner area where dark fabric is draped.  It will need many more washes to get dark enough.

Step 3:

I have continued correcting the values and colours in the background and started blocking in more of the darkest values in the artist's clothes and the black drape.

Step 4:

I have basically just continued darkening the darker values.  It is much harder to do in watercolour than acrylic or oil because it takes many washes to get it dark enough.  I still have to go more yellow in parts of this and more red over a lot of the blacks.  I am going to completely finish all the background before I start on the boy and the man's head and hand.  That way, I will know how dark to go with the values on the flesh tones.  A very long way to go yet.

Step 5:

More blocking in of colours, working out values on different sides of the easel, and starting to block in the shadows on the floor.

Step 6:

More darkening the values in the shadows and blocking in colours in the lower part of the painting.

Step 7:

Not a lot of time to paint today so just a few changes.  I darkened values behind the easel as well as a few other areas and I started adding darks around the floor on the bottom right corner.

Step 8:

I worked all over the painting adjusting colours and values so I have to take a break to let it dry thoroughly.  I darkened a lot of areas and started adding colour to the floor area.

Step 9:

I concentrated mostly on the bottom of the painting this time.  I have to build up layers of darker values to get it dark enough.

Step 10:

I did a lot of work correcting tiny differences in values in the top of the painting and started working on bigger corrections in the bottom half.  I started putting a little value in the beard and can't wait to start on the figures.  I want to get the rest of the painting finished before I start on those.  Once the people are finished, I know I'll be in a rush to finish and won't spend the needed time on the background, if I do them first.

Step 11:

I did a lot of work correcting values and colour in the wood of the painting, the quiver of arrows, and under the easel.  I also added a lot of colour to the floor shadows.  The paper is very wet there so I have to stop for now.

Step 12:

More work mostly on the bottom of the painting, but the good news is that the rest of the painting is basically finished and I can now start on the skin tones.  I did the first washes of colour in the hand and started a little on the beard.  Next session will be working on the artist and then the child last.

Step 13:

Today I worked on the artist's hand and started his beard and face.  Progress will be much slower now that I have to take my time.

Step 14:

I have pretty well finished the hand and have started on the face.

Step 15:

The face is slow going because every wash has to be completely dry before I apply more colour.  So, I have also started on the boy.  I put in the darks in the hair and have put a very light wash all over to wet the surface sizing as well as reduce the glare of the white paper.  These skin tones are going to be a real test to see if I can mimic the colours in the original oil painting.

Step 16:


Today was a combination of three short sessions because I am just working on the face.  It is a small area so when the paper gets saturated I have to take a break to let it dry before I go on.  It is starting to have the expression I want so it is a matter of building up layers of colour and adjusting details.

Step 17:

I worked a little on the boys hair but mostly on the artist's face.  Not much time for painting as I am working all weekend but will do more tomorrow.

Step 18:

I adjusted a lot of values and colours on the face and added a light wash on the boy.  I have to let it dry again before adding facial details but it is nearing the finish of the face.

Step 19:

I worked more on the boy starting to define highlights and darker values in order to work out the shapes of his body.  Still a long way to go.

Step 20:

More blocking in of the colours and values in the boy.

Step 21:

I'll be glad to see this one finished.  It seems to be taking forever.  Today I worked more on the values and colours in the boy.  Still more work to be done getting him to sit in the painting rather than looking pasted on.  So lots more work still to go with edges.

Step 22:

I corrected the colours and values on the skin tones as much as I could and adjusted a few fine details.  I am calling this one finished except to varnish it.  That will darken the darks and make all the colours more saturated, but it will make getting an accurate photo even harder.  It is hard to get it accurate now.