'Aren't you just copying other people's work?'
I get asked this a lot, so I thought I'd spend a bit of time explaining why copying, or studying, master paintings can be a valuable exercise for all visual artists.
Firstly, I'm assuming, in most cases, that the artist you'll be working from is one you admire. And there may be several, nuanced reasons for this. But whatever your taste is, it'll be your enthusiasm for the work that will fuel your exploration of it and it's relevance to your own work.
Secondly, you'll likely gain a deeper understanding on how the work was made; the composition, materials and techniques involved. This can be invaluable and accelerate your abilities within your chosen craft or discipline.
My own fascination with master studies started years ago. I was a regular at the National Gallery in London. Every Sunday I'd be there with my sketchbook working from a selection of paintings. I even got on friendly terms with some of the security guards who'd recognise me as a regular. But I was really only there for one reason: I wanted to learn how the paintings were made. At art school, I wasn't really taught that. And by sitting with these works for as long as I did, I absorbed a lot of information about the processes, subtleties and dynamics employed by the artist that made the work great.
So, am I copying other people's work? Yes, but it's the work I've selected to study from that matters and it's relevance to my own, the lessons I learn from it and can then go on to apply to my own work. So don't be shy to study from the work of other artists. You might surprise yourself at how much you'll learn from their experience.