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Imitate the Masters Review by Kathy Gelzer

Janet Fontecchio
Issachar Press

Imitate the Masters is a drawing curriculum where students "copy" an artist's portrait drawing using a grid. The purpose is to teach how to draw portraits accurately. I received the complete package, which includes the Portraits booklet, an Art-Grid Sketch Kit, and a Gridding Template.

The booklet is in "portrait" format, with spiral binding at the top, and contains 14 portraits (by da Vinci, Raphael, Le Brun, Rubens, Michelangelo, Titian, and Caravaggio) with 1-inch grids imposed on them. Each master portrait is printed on the backside of the page and faced with a blank grid drawing page (printed on acid-free sketch paper) so that when the book lies open, you see the target portrait at the top and your workspace on the bottom. As the book progresses, the grids are not drawn in for you, although there are base points in the margins so that lines can be easily drawn in if needed. The book claims that "by the last few portraits, many will be able to draw large sections, in proportion, without using the grid at all." 

The beginning of the book describes the grid system of drawing, the OPEA technique (Observation, Proportion, Erasing, and Overview), three steps to drawing portraits, a few general tips, and ten drawing terms. You may want to tear out the glossary sheet to have it readily available while sketching since the few sentences of drawing instructions at the bottom of each master portrait frequently use these words. 

The Art-Grid Sketch Kit includes an ebony colored pencil, a small piece of chamois, a blending tool, a white eraser, and a kneaded eraser. You will also need an extra sheet of paper to protect your work from hand smudges and a spray fixative to preserve your finished work. 

When my daughter started on the first portrait, she noted that the ebony pencil could not be erased with either of the erasers included in the sketch kit. Nor could she erase her lines with a standard pink eraser. We strongly suggest that you use a regular school pencil or another erasable drawing pencil for your work. I think it should be made clear to the purchaser that the included ebony pencil will not erase, and I think it would be kind to include a pencil that could be erased. 

The Gridding Template is a bit puzzling. It is a standard-size sheet of opaque plastic with seventeen 7 x 3/8-inch cutouts. It reminds me of something you would use to make writing lines on an unlined sheet of paper. No specific directions are given for this template. A clear straightedge with ruled markings would be more useful for making grid lines on a portrait or photo or sketch paper.

There is a photo of a little girl to draw at the end of the book, a page on choosing photos of your own for sketching purposes, and five extra grid drawing sheets. 

No specific lesson plans or teaching schedules are included, and the implication is that this is a self-taught curriculum. I also felt it lacked some specific instructions. Where should you start your sketch? How do you move from general to specific detail? Box by box or as a whole? I think this program designed with an experienced artist in mind. It would be helpful to know who the intended user is, including age and skill-level. 

My guess is that a high-schooler or adult could use this product unassisted, as could a talented, patient, and mature middle-schooler. My 11-year-old daughter thought the drawings jumped quite a bit in difficulty, even from the first to the second, although she was able to successfully execute accurate renderings of some of the master portraits. I believe her success speaks to the ingenuity of the grid system approach.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2010