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The other day I was look­ing through an issue of Amer­i­can Art Col­lec­tor and saw a brief arti­cle on an upcom­ing artist. It showed some styl­ized paint­ings of peo­ple, mostly women. So I quickly scanned through the text and imme­di­ately found the sen­tence I thought I would find. It said that the artist had really found his style after tak­ing a work­shop with Milt Kobayashi.

My imme­di­ate thought was, “Dude, you didn’t find your style. You found his style.” The paint­ings all had the same sort of pretty car­i­ca­tur­iza­tion that is the hall­mark of Kobayashi’s style. It’s attrac­tive, but rather cloying.

I’ve had this expe­ri­ence before. I’ll see a few paint­ings by an “emerg­ing” artist and think, “clone of David Lef­fel.” Then I’ll look and see that Lef­fel is cited as a teacher. Or once I was at an open stu­dio event and saw a bunch of expres­sion­ist paint­ings. “Oskar Kokoschka,” I thought. And darned if her bio didn’t state that she had stud­ied with Kokoschka.

I’m not sure how I feel about this phe­nom­e­non. Once upon a time, it was pretty nor­mal for a stu­dent to develop a style sim­i­lar to a master’s: c.f. Van Dyck and Rubens, for exam­ple. These days, how­ever, it seems a bit of a shame when a painter is pre­sented as some sort of great tal­ent when that tal­ent really amounts to repli­cat­ing another painter’s sig­na­ture style.

That doesn’t mean that you should have no influ­ences, but bla­tant copy­ing of a style seems rather much, I think. Beyond that, I tend to be a bit dis­ap­pointed when all of the stu­dents of a famous teacher such as Lef­fel seem to turn out paint­ings just like the teacher’s. It seems as if the job of a paint­ing teacher is to help each stu­dent paint their own paint­ings, not more of the teacher’s work.

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  1. Jen Seals says

    Hello. I am so excited to find your blog! I have searched the web for good blogs that I can find use­ful in my newest endeavor…oil paint­ing. Yours is one of the FEW. I know prac­ti­cally noth­ing about oil paint­ing except I have a strong desire to learn and have read forums and blogs and books about it. I do have a lot of con­fu­sion in my mind about types of oil paint. I have looked all around, and still can’t find the answer to my burn­ing ques­tion. I have a cou­ple of cheap sets of learn­ing oil paints. I am look­ing to buy some nicer paint. I really want to know what oil paint brands painters LOVE and why. I will decide on what I want to spend after I have some sug­ges­tions. I am con­sid­er­ing Gam­blin at the moment. I have read mixed reviews. It would be great if you could direct me to a dis­cus­sion on that (maybe you have dis­cussed it here?) or if not, what is your expe­ri­ence in talk­ing with painters?

  2. David says


    Every­one oil painter has dif­fer­ent pref­er­ences when it comes to brands of oil paint. I mostly use Doak, Williams­burg, and Old Hol­land. The cou­ple of tubes of Gam­blin I have seem fine to me.

    If you look around on the blog, you’ll see var­i­ous posts you might find use­ful. If you’re a begin­ner, you might want to start here:


  3. thokitts says



    And even Skip admit­ted to me once how he devel­oped his ‘thing’ from a num­ber of Ash Can Artists work­ing in the ’30s; the red nose, the drink­ing, the smoky cig­a­rettes, and back-room bar scenes. Mal­com use to study kinds sorts of paint­ings at the Met in NYC. And he made quite an illus­tra­tion career out of it before mov­ing on to LEPs and gallery sales.

    Not that I’m diss’ing any­one when I offer the cor­rec­tion. After all, a good paint­ing is a good paint­ing, right? — assum­ing it is a good paint­ing. [Ha!] I may not know Kobayashi, but I do know Lipke, and he is a great guy and strong painter when he wants to show it. Check out some of his paint­ings with­out the red-nosed people.

    IMHO, once a man­ner­ism like this becomes as strong as it has, it becomes some­thing easy for any­one with lesser skills to knock-off, and often takes on a life of its own and becomes ampli­fied to the point of absur­dity. Like decid­ing to paint fat mid­dle age cou­ples danc­ing on cob­ble stone streets in for­mal attire — yet fail­ing to attribute any­thing to Botero. Or worse, not even be aware that Botero painted all that before you did. (Not that there is any­thing wrong with Botero. [Ha!])

    Just my 2 cents worth. Prob­a­bly worth the same …

    Nice blog. Nice to run across an unwa­tered down opin­ion every now and then.


  4. J Perrault says

    Ahhhh, you’ve touched on a VERY inter­est­ing point nobody seems to want to point out. (Btw you for­got all the Schmidty artists abound­ing through the pages of paint­ing mags.) Im not sure if it’s because the teacher has such a strong per­son­al­ity or if the stu­dent is try­ing to please the teacher? “Imi­ta­tion is the sin­cer­est etc.” In any case its annoy­ing. Another good place to mine is the Oil Painters of America…mini-Macphersons, pseudo-Sargents, etc. All prize winners.

    As to Kobayashi lift­ing Lipke — I’ve thought that for a long time.

    A good paint­ing is a good paint­ing?” Not sure if this is true if the artist hasn’t been true to themselves.

  5. Erin says

    Amen, brother! I can barely take such a strong man­ner­ism, like Kobayashi’s, in the orig­i­nal artist’s work let alone in their clones’ work. It always feels like a trick or a stunt that ulti­mately detracts from an image, IMHO. I also agree with your com­ment about folks paint­ing Boteros with­out even being aware of Botero. This is, on its own, val­i­da­tion enough for the study of art his­tory and the­ory. One’s art has con­text and mean­ing regard­less of whether or not one real­izes it!

    Thanks for the post.


  6. Bob says

    I was stunned to see this on paper! I see clones every where.How about all the Feschin wannabes? The Plein Aire clones are everywhere.I am a Plein Aire Painter and I have a hard enough time try­ing to paint then try­ing and copy­ing some­one else’s style. If I would like to copy a plein are painter it would be Lev­i­tan. And I dont think I could do that even if I could. Funny how all the “suc­cess­full” painters all stress find­ing your own style…. I think a lot of painters are afraid that what they want to say in their work nobody will see so lets paint like Schmid? Oh and I have had it up to my whiskey soaked snout with all the red bul­bous mon­strosi­ties I see crop­ping up like dandylions after a rain. Thanks for the post!

  7. David says


    Looks like we have the same pet peeve.

  8. Michael says

    I do not see this as the teacher not tak­ing the proper approach to insure that a stu­dent is not just their clone. Most of Leffel’s, Schmid’s and Macpherson’s stu­dents are untrained. They fol­low one or two artist around and these artists are the world to them. They miss out on a Schmid’s influ­ences and his his­tor­i­cal rel­e­vance because they have not come up through a sys­tem of for­mal train­ing. The plein air painters are more often the hob­by­ist than the seri­ous artist with a voice even when they have gallery and exhi­bi­tion activ­ity going on. It is not that dif­fer­ent than the Paint­ing A Day painter. Every­one is doing Duane Keiser and they have never attended one of his classes. Keiser is all they know when they look up “artist” in their pri­vate dic­tio­nary. You can­not expect Lef­fel, Schmid or Macpher­son to take on what an entire school and full-time pro­gram is sup­posed to do. They are just con­duct­ing a few classes, demos or work­shops once in a while. I hear Schmid dis­cour­ages this clone con­cept but what more can any­one do aside from stop being avail­able to peo­ple com­pletely? Peo­ple will still copy Schmid’s work from Alla Prima. The thing about Schmid in par­tic­u­lar is that he is such a com­pelling amal­ga­ma­tion of Sorolla, Fechin, Zorn, Sar­gent, Repin and Bol­dini. Take the best of their styles as indi­vid­u­als and each lacks what the rest have yet Schmid has all of it. Why would any­one want less? (rhetorical).

  9. Michael says

    …cont. I real­ize some of Schmid’s stu­dents like Jeremy Lip­king, Scott Bur­dick and Tony Pro have for­mal train­ing. Of these three Bur­dick seems to have the strongest voice for his own pref­er­ences and ideas. He is the least Schmid-like which becomes evi­dent when you see him work with paint as though it is cake frost­ing, (with great success!).

    • David says


      I’m not nec­es­sar­ily crit­i­ciz­ing folks like Schmidt or Kobayashi for teach­ing work­shops and hav­ing stu­dents turn out clones of their style. I find it a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing, but the fact is that what they are paid to do isn’t really to teach art tech­nique, but to show stu­dents how to do what they do.

      I don’t have tons of respect for the stu­dents who do that, espe­cially when they go out and sell their work. It’s a way to achieve a mea­sure of suc­cess, of course, but the world would be a lit­tle bet­ter if those peo­ple made their own art.

      Just my $0.02.

  10. Michael says


    I know what you are saying.

    I think these “stu­dents” are mis­guided or unguided really. They do not com­pre­hend art and the artist from an artist’s point of view. They look at all of it from some­where outside.

    The pro­fes­sional clones are a dif­fer­ent story. I’m fairly cer­tain a few are con­vinced they are using their own voice. It is safe to expect there would be some con­tent mak­ing a liv­ing how­ever they could find suc­cess. Yet there are oth­ers that I won­der how they can sleep at night and face their own reflec­tion in the mir­ror each day……..those that get around in pro­fes­sional artist cir­cles, have the back­ground and aware­ness to know bet­ter. Which is worse, know­ingly rid­ing on the suc­cess of another or being con­tent not reach­ing for your own voice?

  11. Michael says

    …I should have said I think I know what you are say­ing because I can­not KNOW. :-)

    • David says


      I myself pre­fer artists who know­ingly and openly work in some­one else’s style to those who clue­lessly imi­tate with­out really know­ing what they are doing.

      That’s an issue in much of 20th cen­tury art, now that I think of it.

  12. JPerrault says

    I’m not sure for­mal train­ing is all you seem to think its cracked up to be. I know quite a few artists who have had “for­mal train­ing” and they think their time might have been bet­ter served… it seems to me for­mal train­ing can actu­ally lock an artist into a mindset…but methinks I’m just open­ing up another whole can of worms.

  13. Michael says


    Do you believe “for­mal train­ing” excludes Illustration?

    I do not if that some­how has been misunderstood.

    The artists men­tioned con­duct infor­mal work­shops. I was com­par­ing trained artists to hobbyists……….”formal train­ing” can mean many things but it does not mean read­ing a few books, watch­ing DVDs and tak­ing a few classes and workshops.

    There are vary­ing qual­i­ties of for­mal train­ing. Most how­ever fol­low some sort of struc­ture begin­ning with basic and work­ing up to more advanced con­cepts. The hob­by­ists, on the other hand, is inclined to pick and choose what to spend time on.

    The moti­va­tion is dif­fer­ent and they are more inclined to avoid that which is uncom­fort­able and tedious how­ever ben­e­fi­cial the activ­ity. They are also inclined to grav­i­tate to peo­ple who have already done the foot­work and ironed out their own wrin­kles. They will eas­ily accept a sin­gle point of view as gospel and not have the moti­va­tion to seek rounded knowl­edge that enables them to make inde­pen­dent choices.

  14. jennA says

    this is a lit­tle peeve of mine as well. In the past few years, it is amaz­ing the num­ber of female pas­tel land­scape artists whose work is iden­ti­cal to Eliz­a­beth Mowry’s. And I had to laugh at your Lef­fel ref­er­ence, because I have thought the same thing — so many artists who paint just like him. Seems to be one in every art mag­a­zine I look at. There is one Mowry clone on the a daily paint­ing web­site, she is putting them out at the rate of one a day. Easy to do when you don’t have to put any thought into it.

    What sur­prises me is how these clone artists get the recog­ni­tion they do. Even if they are good, they are still copy­ing some­one else’s style, and more than a few don’t even try to put a per­sonal stamp on it. I don’t begrudge any­one mak­ing a liv­ing, but I think I would rather not paint at all than copy some­one else. There is no pride in it, it defeats the whole pur­pose of want­ing to be an artist. Now, i WAS for­mally trained, start­ing at the age of 8, but I believe I would feel this way even if I were a bored house­wife, sun­day painter, retired hob­by­ist, whatever.

    Find­ing your own style does not come easy for every artist, per­haps that is why that even when one has tal­ent, it is no guar­an­tee that you will become suc­cess­ful. You need some­thing dif­fer­ent to set you apart from the rest.

    Glad to hear some­one else finally express this, because it really has bugged me for a while. Great blog!

  15. James says

    You are so right in regards your post. I’ve railed about the same too…specifically all the Liepke/Kobayashi clones on the mar­ket (and they all seem to have taken a class with Milt too..), you’re much nicer than I, I named the one’s that irked me…

    An inter­est­ing note is that Milt and Mal­colm are friends and for­mer room mates of a sort. Check around on Wet Can­vas for Bruin70’s posts. That is Milt’s forum name and he has addressed their sim­i­lar­i­ties in the past…is worth read­ing if one is even a pas­sive admirer of either.

  16. Michael Chesley Johnson says

    I remem­ber Wolf Kahn once said that he wouldn’t let any stu­dents take more than one work­shop with him, for fear of cre­at­ing Wolf Kahn clones. Not a bad policy!

  17. M Kathryn Massey, OPA, AA says


    You are cor­rect in say­ing that a fol­lower of a par­tic­u­lar teacher should not merely turn out car­bon copies of the instruc­tor. Hope­fully, an instruc­tor imparts prin­ci­ples, con­cepts, and in their own work, some tech­nique to assist the stu­dent on their path as a painter. If a teacher says some­thing isn’t ‘good’ or real unless it reflects the work of that teacher, or, that it must rein­force the teacher’s own ideas, that teacher does a dis­ser­vice to the stu­dent. Sec­ond rate ‘copy­ists’ remain just that. My own work has been asso­ci­ated with my one instruc­tor (Lef­fel.) That doesn’t dis­turb me as it was merely a begin­ning point in my jour­ney. Even­tu­ally, the teacher’s voice fades, and the jour­ney begins in earnest.

    I sus­pect that my work will deepen and evolve, just as I do as a per­son. I ‘ve also begun to work in other media which lets me find con­clu­sions and the solv­ing of prob­lems I might not find in work­ing with oil only. I didn’t begin to paint only to paint like some­one else. I take from Leffel’s work what I can and try to move to my own con­clu­sions. I am influ­enced by other painters, liv­ing and dead. To be open to other forces and expe­ri­ences is to live one’s own life.

    No one can take away Leffel’s right­ful place as a good painter. But, we only need one Lef­fel. Even­tu­ally, you have to take your first attempts and guid­ance from oth­ers, to become your own painter, just as you would want to live your own life, and not the life of another per­son. This is what it means to be orig­i­nal and authen­tic. If I were only in this world to recre­ate Leffel’s palette, still life arrange­ments, etc., I would be a poor imi­ta­tion of some­one else.


    M Kathryn Massey, OPA, AA

  18. Rob says

    The prob­lem: you’re read­ing Amer­i­can Art Collector.

    • David says


      You may be right. In my defense, I can note that I didn’t buy it—I only perused it in a book store.

  19. David says


    Your work is lovely. It does have that Lef­fel feel to it, so I’m glad that you are clear that the world only needs one of him. I’m sure that, over time, you’ll find your own inde­pen­dent voice.

    Best wishes,


  20. M Kathryn Massey, OPA, AA says

    Yes, David, It’s a jour­ney, a process. We all need to begin some­where. I encour­age stu­dents to study with painters who most cap­ture what they them­selves hope to cap­ture and not won­der from teacher to teacher try­ing to “catch” the essence of the many. I encour­age stu­dents to move beyond the teacher, and develop their own language.

    I came to paint­ing at age 41 with no train­ing. Lef­fel was a begin­ning point for me. I do not aspire to his absolutes, and in this sense, I am very sup­port­ive of artists he would not include in his cat­e­gory of “good”.

    The best a teacher can do is to assure a stu­dent the stuff they need comes from the inside, and, that they need to develop their own voice. Paint­ing for any exter­nal rea­son whether it’s for sales, noto­ri­ety, lucra­tive com­mis­sions, teacher affir­ma­tion, or to shock the world is to miss the mark of what paint­ing is for the Individual.

    M Kathryn Massey, OPA, AA http://​www​.masseyfin​eart​.com

    • David says


      Lef­fel has been an influ­ence on quite a few artists. Those with whom I have spo­ken tell me that he is a kind and gen­er­ous man. If any par­tic­u­lar painter wants to paint like him, then that’s OK. I myself tend to be attracted to artists whose work is less rec­og­niz­ably like that of some par­tic­u­lar progenitor.

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