The Charles Bargue Drawing Course is the collected set of knowledge from centuries of academic art education and is beeing used in classical art academies throughout the world. It was developed and widely used in the mid 19th century as a foundational exercise for fine art training until modernism began to neglect skill and technique. Since the comeback of traditional values art schools and academies have been formed which follow this proven approach of the great masters as an essential process in understanding the principles of shape, proportion, value and form.
"Charles Bargue is mostly remembered for his Cours de dessin, one of the most influential classical drawing courses conceived in collaboration with Jean-Léon Gérôme. The course [...] was to guide students from plaster casts to the study of great master drawings and finally to drawing from the living model.In a classical atelier you start by copying two dimensional references – the Bargue plates – as perfect as possible. This teaches you to see distances, lengths and angles as well as shading. First you would make few general guidelines – the rest is built up through observation and correction.
Among the artists whose work is based on the study of Bargue’s platework is Vincent van Gogh, who copied the complete set in 1880/1881, and (at least a part of it) again in 1890."
Charles Bargue Course PDF
- Wood panel or something similar
(should be large enough to place two sheets of paper – the reference and the drawing paper – besides each other).
- Sheet of paper – regular printer paper should be sufficient for this exercise.
- the printed reference (available here as a digital download package)
- artists tape
- pencils in different grades (2H, HB & 2B are sufficient)
- kneaded eraser
- measuring device such as a knitting needle or a thread
- ruler (only for the initial preparatory steps)
- As a righty you need to stick the printed reference on the left hand side of your panel with artists tape. Your drawing paper should sit on the right hand side. As a lefty you do it vice versa.
- Now make a straight vertical line through the middle of your reference. If your reference is a symmetrical object the middle is easy to determine - if you have a non-symmetrical reference just estimate a middle. Also draw a straight vertical line through your drawing paper. DON´T PRESS TOO HARD WITH THE PENCIL SINCE YOU NEED TO ERASE THESE GUIDELINES LATER!
- Make two horizontal lines across the reference and your drawing paper - one on the topmost point of your reference and one on the bottommost point.
It should look like this now:
- Now hold your measurung device in front of your reference, squint one eye and measure from the middle line to the leftmost point (see the following picture; in this example a thread was used). Keep this distance and hold the measuring device on the middle line of your drawing paper. Slightly draw a line where you determined the width. Double check by doing this process again. If you did not transfer the distance correctly, just erase your first estimation and make a better one.
- Do these steps with the most prominent points of the reference. Always double check. This process seems to be tedious but it is worth it. It is easier to change things in the beginning stages of the drawing than towards the end so double checking is crucial.
- After you have determined a couple of points, connect them with straight lines to have a simplified image of your reference. You can now dispense your measuring device since it is the learning-to-see what you are after.
- Now the fun part starts: make your drawing match as perfect as possible to the reference just by using your eye! Lines that you are not sure about should be made lightly. Work as hard as you can. It is not unusual if you need a couple of hours on this drawing. The more you practise the faster you get.
See the steps of this process: