Would a question of the type "here's a portion of a painting1 I really admire, how do I reproduce it?" be on topic?

By "reproduce", I don't mean "how do I use a copy machine", obviously. :) I mean, what pigments were used? Is there likely to be an under-drawing, and if yes, would it be ink or something else? If ink, what type? etc. etc.

I guess it's sort of asking for a tutorial, but for a very specific thing. I don't have a good "feel" for whether that would be considered on-topic or too broad or what.

1 National Szechenyi Library, Hungary, Cod. Lat. 417 fol.2r; illuminated in Florence, Italy by Boccardino Vecchio around 1485.

  • I wonder if it would be more helpful as "what is this technique called"? There may be many methods and explaining them may be too broad ... but if you don't know what the technique is called, you can't look for guides... I'm not sure, though.
    – Catija
    May 24, 2016 at 3:24
  • @Catija: "You know, that 'carved from wood' look you sometimes get in the jeweled-border Italian stuff." "You mean the trompe l'oeil wood bookcases and such?" "No, the acanthus-leafy bits." "Oh, yeah, with the blue plants on a yellow background, which looks hard enough, but then you get to the yellow plants on a yellow background?" "Yep, that's the one."
    – Martha
    May 24, 2016 at 3:34
  • For example, I could easily write some step-by-step instructions for reproducing this page: draw the vines in oak gall ink, do the gold leaf, paint the arms, paint the other colors one at a time, add white dots, add yellow dots, add diluted-ink squigglies around the bezants. (With some information about the range of pigments available/likely to have been used.) Well within the scope of an SE answer. Would the carved-from-wood question be all that different?
    – Martha
    May 24, 2016 at 3:45
  • I suspect this will simply come down to judging each question individually as to whether it's "too broad". Asking "how do I learn to paint this?" [image of Mona Lisa] is clearly too broad, but asking "If you look closely at 'A Sunday Afternoon...' it looks like a bunch of dots rather than brush strokes, how did Seurat do that?" might be a great question.
    – Ixrec
    May 24, 2016 at 7:02
  • I don't see how step-by-step instructions are within the scope of SE. SE is here to solve problems, not to teach someone a technique whole cloth. There are, as you've linked guides that do that already. There's a reason that recipe requests are banned on cooking... there's millions of different recipes out there and everyone has a different one.
    – Catija
    May 24, 2016 at 15:59
  • Related, possible dupe: meta.crafts.stackexchange.com/questions/9/…
    – Catija
    May 24, 2016 at 16:09

2 Answers 2


I am going to answer the general question here first which will then lead into your specific one.

Yes but the scope must be limited and certain criteria should be met

There is not one right answer to blanket cover all of these questions. However most of what we are going to do at A&C will be seeing something neat and trying to do it ourselves. Full tutorials are not useful in this Q&A format. We need to fix more specific problems. Tutorials are better left to blogs and other dedicated tutorial sites. Having issues with specific steps and smaller parts of the whole is where we come in.

It does depend on the size of the project being reproduced. Some things can take several hours with varying tools and techniques. It is important to try and narrow things down and multiple questions might be in order. If you are not sure then a meta topic about your proposed question would not hurt at all.

For questions like this to succeed I think we need

  • Picture of what you are trying to accomplish: Arts & Crafts is naturally very visual. Seeing what you are trying to do is almost a must!
  • The name of the technique involved: To accompany the picture and narrow down what you are trying to achieve.
  • Experience relative to the genre: This can give an impression of things like skill level and what tools are available. "I see that you have done [X]... that will help doing [Y]"

The last one not being super important but it can go a long way in some cases. Too much related information is rarely a bad thing.

Coming back to The name of the technique involved this is important because we want other that are searching for the solution to easily find there way. If you are not sure what exactly you are trying to replicate then a 2 question approach could be in order.

  1. What is the name of this technique?

  2. How can I get an [X] effect?

    Where [X] is the answer to question 1

Different descriptive titles would be in order here but the point should be clear. In the case of writing the first question refer to our identity guidelines.

With your painting question I don't see any issue with it as long as you keep in mind what is written above. While painting that whole image could potentially be tedious I don't see an issue in trying to learn said technique. That being said, I am not a painter at all (I have only done 2 paintings). In comments you have added some very useful information.

"You know, that 'carved from wood' look you sometimes get in the jeweled-border Italian stuff." "You mean the trompe l'oeil wood bookcases and such?" "No, the acanthus-leafy bits." "Oh, yeah, with the blue plants on a yellow background, which looks hard enough, but then you get to the yellow plants on a yellow background?" "Yep, that's the one."

Taking that information would make a good skeleton for a question. If you can bring that level of detail to your questions I would think them to be well received and answerable.

The part that could be an issue is what paints were used. I am not sure what is required in order to determine that (Likely a Google search can answer that though).

  • The problem I see here is that it's very likely that the person asking won't know the name of the technique, which is why I made the comment I did on the question.
    – Catija
    May 24, 2016 at 13:23
  • @Catija Very true. Which is why I suggested a second question to identify the technique first would be necessary.
    – Matt
    May 24, 2016 at 13:46
  • Right, I just am not sure we are the best format to explain complex how-tos. It's one thing to define a technique or to help troubleshoot why you're failing at a technique... But entire books are written on some techniques... I really think that the specificity of the request must be considered. For example, asking how to do chiaroscuro is way too broad.
    – Catija
    May 24, 2016 at 14:50
  • @Catija This is hard to have one simple answer to. I tried to cover that possibility with It does depend on the size of the project being reproduced. Some things can take several hours with varying tools and techniques.. Can't cover all bases with this easily. Do you think I need to add something to this to make that point better?
    – Matt
    May 24, 2016 at 14:53

"How do I reproduce this" is really a series of questions of which some are perfectly fine and others are too broad.

Questions that are on topic:

  • What is this technique called?

    • Identifying a technique, particularly with an image, is a great fit for this site. See the linked topic for info.
  • What tools/equipment do I need to replicate this technique?

    • Also a great question. An example may be something like "I want to make a turned wood candle stick like this one but I don't have a lathe... is there a way to recreate this without a lathe?"
  • What medium was likely used to create this item?

  • What is the difference in outcome between techniques/tools/materials X and Y?

    • This is more tangentially related but still valid. You've done the research and know that there are more than one option, so you're asking what the difference in outcome is.

There are other similar, very specific questions that would likely still be perfectly on topic here.

Once we know what the technique is called (assuming we didn't) and what tools and materials are needed, and what result we want, it starts getting a bit muddier.

Remember that SE is here to answer specific questions that solve a problem. SE is not generally here to teach you how to do something. This is pretty universal across all sites. It's not appropriate to ask "How do I program X" on SO, or "How do I bake a cake" on Cooking or "How do I crochet" on A&C. These questions are too broad and there are thousands of books out there about them (yes, these examples are absurdly broad... for a reason).

If you know the answers to the questions above, you shouldn't need us to give you a step-by-step guide, you should be able to find resources with guides.

Now, the question is, how can I make these questions on topic... because many of them certainly can be...

Here's some suggestions:

  • Ask a question about "what am I doing wrong?"

    • "I'm using ___ guide for learning how to crochet and this is what it says to do in step five of making this stitch but I'm not getting the same result they are... what am I doing wrong?... here's a photo of what it's supposed to look like and the result I'm getting."
    • This shows that you're trying to solve an actual problem. You have a guide, you've tried it, but you're needing help with troubleshooting.
  • Ask for clarification of a step in the process.

  • Ask a question about an edge case. AKA, a "substitution question".

    • "I'm using this technique except I'm using a different material/don't have some equipment, what can I do instead?"
    • This happens all the time on Cooking... "I ran out of eggs, what can I use instead?"

All of these are great ways to get around a question being too broad... they also show that you're doing some work and need help understanding... This is what we're here for.

For questions that fit somewhere between "How do I crochet?"... or even "How do I make a double crochet?" and one of the examples above, we'll need to take that on a case-by-case basis. There's no way to allow for all possibilities in one Meta question.

  • I think this is a good guideline. A recent series of questions was asked that leads to making a painted candle cover out of wine bottles. Each individual question was well-received.
    – user24
    May 25, 2016 at 2:23

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