I have been a Copyist at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC since November 2000. This free program is a priceless opportunity to study works of art in person, and at length.
When I copy a painting, I am immersed in that particular work of art for many weeks or months. I study it minutely, and am able to scrutinize the artist's brush strokes. I can see which strokes were put on first, and which came later. This kind of insight is not apparent when you see a reproduction in a book.
I like to say that I am copying, not “making a copy”. I am not interested in producing an exact replica of the painting that I am copying. Rather, I approach copying exactly as I approach painting from life in doing a still life, landscape, or figure painting. I often start with a blank canvas, and do all my measuring and drawing in the museum as I copy. I am fully engaged in the experience of observation and painting from life, with the added challenge of having people watch me and interrupt me. It’s challenging and fun!