- Lesson details
In this lesson, Leo helps you get into the basics of academic drawing study; specifically, the Charles Bargue course. You’ll practice copying a beginner Barge plate, along with using the Sight-Size drawing tools – a mirror and a plumb line.
Academies and ateliers around the world are increasingly teaching an American realist approach to drawing and painting known as sight-size or classical realism.
Hosted by Florence Academy of Art founder Daniel Graves, this massive course is the most comprehensive breakdown of the sight-size approach ever produced online.
By the end of this course, you’ll be an expert in the approach and be ready to take on Sight-Size Painting Course, scheduled for a 2020 release.
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called at the Florence Academy. Charles Bargue was a lithographer and painter who worked with Jean-
Leon Gerome to design a course of study for not just art students,
but people that were aspiring in the arts, people who wanted to gain admittance to an
academy, a way to specifically study accuracy, line, and form.
The course is designed with ascending levels of difficulty from very early simple ears, profiles, to
feet and what’s really nice about these early Bargues is as you look at them you can
see that he broke down not just the drawing itself,
but the process that one goes through and think about how to simplify a complicated form.
So on many of the initial Bargues you’ll see not just the finished Bargue to copy but
you'll also see some sense of how he was thinking about that initial block in. As
you turn your way through the Bargue plates - and we've made all of these available to
you on the New Master's Academy website,
you can download and print any of them for your own use - you can see very
clearly the simplification techniques that we will be referencing throughout this time that we study together.
You'll notice that as you work your way through the plates one by one they do
become more and more complicated from basically silhouettes,
very simple light and shade patterns, to things that have a great deal more subtlety, half tone,
and a lot of soft turning form.
This is intentional as it's a way of not just learning to draw but slowly adding
more and more tools to your tool belt.
This is sort of a mid-level, mid to higher-level Bargue.
Either of these have so much more subtlety than the initial hands
that are silhouetted. You'll find that as you work your way forward
you'll see simple masks, profiles, ways of trying to develop a likeness, and what's important to
mention is that the vast majority of these plates were drawn after classical sculpture, things that
were already solutions that sculptors had made about how to simplify form and then further simplified
by Bargue. Some of these are rather complex. As you see towards the end
we get into torsos, the Belvedere Torso is of course a very famous
sculpture in the Vatican Museum The unknown woman of the Seine certainly one of the most
interesting stories of all the casts that people worked from in the 19th century.
After running through a few of the Bargues and pencil and remember when I talk about
running through that I don't mean to do them quickly, go through the exercises step by
step and any amount of time that they take you. I remember the first Bargues that
I did at the school I tried to do in just one or two days and
instead doing the process too fast taught me on the second time that I attempt to
them pacing, how to slow down and work a little bit more methodically through the early
stages to gain confidence and finish stronger.
What I would like for you to do now is start thinking not just about what
you might copy in a simple sense but have your eyes on something a little bit
more complex as well. These are the typical last Bargues that people would do before moving
on to working from three-dimensional form.
And as you can see this has a great deal more subtlety than the initial few
that we went through. I want you to sort of have your eyes on the prize
here looking at the more complex things,
but yet pick Bargues that are a little bit more simple than what you think
you might draw. Remember that these are exercises much more so than pieces of art.
I'm going to now pick a very simple one for you guys and I want to
run through the process sort of start to finish of how I would approach the block in
technique, the first few marks I would make, and how I go about trying to tighten
everything up so I get something that really resembles my subject.
we will be talking specifically about a drawing process and of course of study,
which I guess everybody referred to as Bargue plates. Charles Bargue is the name of the
artist that made them and it is a drawing course a little different then the drawing
courses that most people think of today.
These courses were a nineteenth-century convention that were essentially mail-order. You would send away and receive
a portfolio of prints, large-scale prints -
actually that large size that's back there,
right about that size. And you receive a portfolio of prints.
They were hand done lithographs and an artist would copy them either on their own or
with the help of an instructor and often these drawing courses were used to gain
admittance to an academy or to raise the skill of an artist privately.
There were many different versions of drawing courses throughout the 19th century and the Bargue course
I believe is sort of the top of the mall, it’s the cherry on top. After
the other courses he figured out a way to make even more crystalline and more clear
all of the lessons. That one was to get from these courses.
So many artists would use them and notable people. So French Impressionists like Vincent van Gogh
was said to have done the entire course twice and he wrote to his brother Theo
and said the immense value that he received out of doing them. Pablo Picasso did them
with his father when he was young. They are not
art projects, they are skilled projects.
They are projects in accuracy and a way to develop your hand, your tactile sense of
how you move the pen or pencil, and also a way of
developing taste, sort of seeing what is important through another artist’s eyes.
Now unlike when I was a student, today
there's a really nice book which is from Jerry Ackerman who was an
art historian who did a lot of work with representational art and specifically late 19th century
art. He worked with my teacher Daniel Graves to find out everything they could about this
course and put it in a book.
So this this exists now,
I remember when I got printed every student at the school wanted a copy and there
was stuff in here that none of us knew. But it's been of immense value to
me not only in my own work,
but in my teaching when I'm trying to explain to people how to get a drawing
done responsibly, how to build something that really looks like something else. The visual vocabulary in
this book is something that we're going to reference again and again not just in this
part of the course, but we will also talk about it through cast drawing and figure
drawing. It's a different way of seeing the world and that's why I brought up taste
right away because we can choose to see anything we want but it's through the simplification
that is found in this course that is allowed me to work
often in a very impressionistic fashion to do something that is loose and easy and seems
effortless when in fact it is often the tightest, smallest changes of millimeters that go into
the project itself. So the value in some of the lessons here is immense.
So what is interesting about the Bargue book it is like I said the latest iteration
in a series of courses that were designed for aspiring artists.
So as you can see this is the same cast. On this side right here
this is the Charles Bargue version of the Homer bust here is the Académie Julian.
Same cast, same position, as you can see one has a really clear unified sense of
light and shade and the other one's a million little forms. And I think just looking
at it you can probably get a sense of which would be easier and more pleasurable
to copy. So that's a really good example of the difference in the value and what
Bargue offered. I'd also like to mention that the course existing in this format
you get to see it the way that it was designed. When I was a student
these were just plates that we would check out from the secretary and I had no
concept of the large arc of the course.
It is actually designed for an art student to go from point A to point B
to point C with variety of different levels of difficulty throughout. So book starts out
very simple. Just legs and feet, hands, and slowly goes to things that are a little
bit more complicated. This is one of the ones that I chose to draw for you
guys. That's Ariadne from the Capitoline Museum in Rome.
It's a Praxiteles copy I believe.
So each of these sort of goes in ascending levels of difficulty and eventually gets to a point where
we're dealing with full faces, a lot of shading and modeling,
but also the very plate that I reference before, which you can see,
there's another copy there. So for our use we're going to start off with just
a couple simple ones like you said behind me here.
I don't want to start with the most difficult things because part of this is learning
the visual vocabulary and the way of working and eventually in ascending levels of difficulty
you would graduate yourself from one thing to another based on your comfort and skill level.
The last Bargue at the school that I went that students would do would be
one of these that you see also here on the wall back here.
The Belvedere torso or one of these large torsos would be something the student would work
on for weeks and weeks and weeks with instruction. And after working your way through the
course there were really beautiful
copies, right, line drawings and copies of paintings from from the same time of the artist.
So these are our modern and antique things mixed together.
So the point I'm trying to make is a sort of a language of seeing the
same way that it is
a language of drawing. And I'd like to say like overall that's one of the things
that we will return to. This is not - but we will do together and what I
will search out to do for you guys here at New Masters Academy is I'd like
to show you a way of seeing and not just a way of drawing.
This is not the way that I would sketch.
This is the way that I can visually analyze what I see in the most precise
way possible. So if we’re drawing a figure it's how to simplify it as much as possible, draw it
in just a few simple marks, not worried about hands and faces, at least not until
the structures are sound. And Bargue worked with Gerome on this course and he was I
think of very accomplished figure painter,
But this may be the greatest thing that he left behind so it's widespread now and
I'm going to show you on one of the simple beginning plates.
This is plate two or three if I remember right, plate three.
Yep. I want to go through how we copy from here to hear in sight-size and
we’ll be using this method of working for all of our projects together.
this will give me an opportunity to run through the few different techniques that we will
use for essentially everything we will do together. I’m going to be copying this profile here.
And if you reference the Bargue book you will see that many of them have little examples
that he's drawn alongside with the finished copies and I would as you not to copy his examples of
those first few lines, but to look at them for inspiration of how he might have
gone about doing his versions of this. So the first thing that I would notice is
that if I drop a plumb line -
and we talked about our plumb line in the materials section - right at the corner of his eye
that lines up perfectly right there with the corner of his mouth.
It comes close to his nose,
but not entirely overlapping. So let's draw first just a quick
vertical for us to reference. Because sight-size works works on a horizontal axis,
I always want my subject and my drawing as close together as possible. Under no circumstance
do I want this here and my paper down over here or up here or somewhere
off to the side. What I want is always to be able to see in a
one-to-one ratio. If I was to carry my plumb line across horizontally
it would exist on that access right there.
So here is where the top would be and here is where the bottom would be.
Now the next thing I would always recommend to you to do in sight-size is find a
single middle point. And I'm going to use the bottom of his nose right there.
And often I’ll make a mark, but
I'll go back and check it.
Yep, and I thought I started that a little low.
So although these few lines here
don't exactly represent what we're seeing,
it's a way of registering the initial big shape, the initial
overall gesture of what's there.
Let me explain more clearly.
What we will do is find a way of working
that encompasses the outside of each of these shapes but not to just start drawing the
eye or start drawing the nose,
but instead simple long angles that amalgamate what's happening on the Bargue.
This line serves for me to just find
where something would be in relation to its neighbor.
And this line here show me where the eye would start.
Please notice I'm using the side of my pencil as much as possible.
I'm trying not to draw with a point and really etch it in,
but simply to make a quick mark.
Notice, I'm not starting to draw curves. What you'll see throughout my time here at New
Masters Academy is I will try to represent something that is complex,
like say the nose, with just a simple angle
that gives us it's a sense of the motion of something
but does not trace every lump and bump.
At this point we are dealing only
with contour, the outside of each object,
but after I've gone this far I want to start to design also.
the shape of the shadow. This overall shape. And if you really look carefully at this,
although this is part of the eye socket,
you can sort of see this like a bat in flight.
See a little head right here.
Here's the body. And this is its wing going back.
And we will throughout the Bargues and casts try to anthropomorphize, to find a animal or
creature which feels similar to the shape that we see so that we can draw it
with more precision. Because I'm clearly
thinking about flying a lot,
so I flew here just the other day, here
I see another airplane shape. Here’s its body, here’s its tail and as you can see,
I have mine too fat from there to there compared to there. So I’m gonna bring that
down. These first few Bargues are intended to be a little simpler to give you an
opportunity to acclimate yourself to the level of precision that you should expect from yourself in a
project. It is only after going this far that I would want to soften it. And something
you'll see me do from time to time is all I'll roll up my kneaded eraser
like a little sausage. I’ll just very lightly
roll it over so I have all the information still that I just spent all this
time drawing. I haven't lost anything but I've made it look a lot more flexible.
After doing that I'll grab an
HB pencil and lightly hatch in a bit of tone into each of my shadows. I'm still drawing only with straight
lines. So let's call this my second pass over the drawing.
And what I want to do now that I just have something
on the page is I wanna step back
at a distance and start to compare what I've drawn.
When I flick my eye back and forth quickly between the two I start to
notice that my nose feels a little large compared to the nose
that’s there. I noticed that my philtrum and the beard, the spot in the lip right
here, eels a little bit short and that makes sense
if this is long. So let me take my plumb line and check.
Yes, it looks like I can raise just a little bit but it also looks like
I can bring the bottom down.
And this bring up just a line width.
That's feeling a bit better.
And this is what we're trying to
develop is asort of feeling
if we start to become sensitive to whether something
feels like it's locking in
or if we are suspicious that something is wrong somewhere.
What I tell my students in Boston
is that it's your duty to try to create habits
of working where you can find yourself
correcting your own work as often as possible
by asking yourself the right questions
and start to find errors.
There's that bat shape. Okay, at this point again,
I've given this a passover from start to finish.
I'm looking back and forth and I'm noticing
that the angle from here to here that I have is just a bit too pronounced.
Now I'm going to ask myself in the next pass whether
this corner of the mouth needs to move to the left or the corner of the
eye needs to move in to the right.
The nice thing about sight-size is it gives me a multiple choice option.
We're going to keep each of these
horizontal alignments exactly the same. Those little errors that I made initially the closer that they
got they just never move again,
but what will change is the relationship between things. So how wide something is, how thin
something is and that angle between things is one of the most important things. So you will
see me throughout this course whether working on a figure or drawing a plaster bust or cast,
I will be looking at angles and move through the form just like that, angles and
move through the form just like that or like that and that's something that this class
is really for. The Bargue course the advantage is that everything is already in two dimensions,
it's all a translated two-dimensional drawing already.
It is not a 3D moving object that will take you all of your strength to
copy. You can actually get it as accurate as humanly possible just by working slowly and
learning to correct it with the help of a teacher or yourself.
One of the things that I want you to keep in mind, and we're going to
continue to talk about this throughout, is that each of us has a sort of cone
of vision. We can't always see everything all at once. In order for me to look
to this side, I have to sort of turn my head or turn my eyes the
other way what we can best observe is in sort of a 45 degree radius around
us. So if you can think about it
like almost a traffic cone in front of your face,
it's a helpful way to remember that the larger something is the further back you will
need to step in order to see it clearly.
It’s said that John Singer Sargent, James Abbott McNeill Whistler,
these artists would literally wear through their carpets.
They would be walking back and forth so much.
And what I would like to do is even in this small project step back enough
that I can really see it clearly, so I can see everything all at once and
I don't have anything obstructing my vision.
So when I step back.
I do think it's going better.
I am indeed bothered by this angle that I was referring to.
I'm going to rub over one more time.
I want to do another pass with a slightly softer pencil.
And yeah, as I'm looking at this angle
I just think I had that coming out too far.
Notice how flexible I've kept the drawing up until now, it's only now that I'm starting
to darken and thicken up some of these lines.
And I'll use my kneaded eraser just tighten up.
If anything gets too wide or scratcy of a line just going to carve away at it.
I hope that you can see already
that these incremental changes and even the line width is making it resemble much more the
Bargue next to it. If you’re drawing one of these for the first time and you're
struggling with the line width and the weight that you draw with, I would suggest you
to use a harder pencil rather than a softer pencil. I’ve been using a HB and B
so far. But when I was a student my first Bargues I remember I can turn
over the back of the page and I could still see the image etched in there.
I had a very heavy hand. And I actually think that that's fairly common for art
students that they come in and they want to get something right and the more they're
concentrating, the more they're bearing down on their pencil.
I would recommend instead using a harder pencil and doing more passes. Graphite is also a
very waxy medium and the harder the pencil is, the less waxy
it appears. Something that even for filming this or photographing a drawing if the pencil builds
up too much it starts to get a sheen and is difficult even to take a photograph of.
I like using harder pencils to make darks and more passes rather than trying to knock
it out all in one go.
As you can see, I'm kind of creeping up
on the tone of the Bargue next to me. Now although this is starting to look better,
there's a few things that are immediately sticking out to me and I want to fix
them as soon as possible before I go any further. One my eye feels a little
bit more open than his eye. If I was to hold out of plumb line across
it’s as if my eye is coming too far down south.
I would wager that comes up and the eye is slightly more squinty like that.
It looks like my eyes are more open.
He's squinting a little bit more.
I would also say that this shape is I shrunk down the nose while it
got two small actually from there to there.
There's something wrong with the angle here,
too. He’s slightly too thin - I’m sorry
he's too too large from here to here. In mind here
he is thinner. So here we are going to do a last pass.
We're ready to do these changes start finishing
but before I do so
I want to talk to you about something.
Especially for auto criticism is incredibly important.
If you do not walk away from your work from time to time, your mind will
start to tell you that you're doing a great job and everything is okay or it
will tell you that everything is wrong
and why are you doing this?
It's as if our gas tank and how we feel about our work only goes from
full to empty and nothing really in between. I try to be as unattached and noncommittal
to my work as possible right up until the point that I started darkening and committing
and really asking the image that I want into the paper.
This is true whether I'm working on a figure drawing or a portrait or a project
like this or a still life.
I try to keep it loose until I've used my fresh, I have walked away from
it and I've seen it with as fresh eyes as possible.
And when I come back I want to show you the tool that I use most
I’ve stood at really at arm's length away as far away as I could
and still see everything clearly. And I flick my eye back and forth and it's looking
pretty good to me. The tool that I will always use at this point
is the hand mirror and I will use this mirror many many many times throughout the course
of a project to invert my subject so that I see it and my drawing backwards.
This gives me a fresh
eye impression as if I hadn't seen it all day long and I'll be able to
compare the two. So what I'm going to do is stand back at arm's length and
hold the mirror like that and I'm going to look right in here at both
my drawing and the Bargue and see what pops out of me.
Any of these ways that is comfortable for you to hold the mirror is
appropriate. The important thing is you're standing in the same spot
and your eye is in the same spot so that you're not seeing it with any distortion.
And I think I know what it is.
In my drawing there is slightly too much angle from here to here.
If I look what's here,
this comes out just slightly more to the right.
So let's fix that up. My pencil’s getting slightly dull.
As you can see right here at didn't quite go into the paper. Step back.
Again and again you'll see me grab my sharpening block and make sure that my tool
is very very sharp. We are getting closer now.
It’s important to remember that these aren't art projects.
This is an exercise in training your eye
to learn to see information that is
almost imperceivable. Things like quality of edge that you wouldn't have noticed,
the gradation as something moves away. Notice,
it's only now that I'm starting to use the tip of my pencil.
I'm going to grab a harder pencil.
That was a B and 2B I was using.
You start to notice more and more
particular and incremental changes. Like that
this line is sharper than this line. There is a very small gradation softening this edge.
When I need to really erase something I'll grab my white
gum eraser. I want to keep watching these softer,
sharper edges where things are delineated and clear like here and where they start to gradate.
Just lost the tip of my pencil.
But it’s still sharp. This actually connects to here, I hadn't connected it.
So this is a great starting point.
These Bargues are a little bit the first few plates of eyes, mouths, profiles, and
ears aren't quite as complicated as some of the later ones.
And I think if you were to do this on your own without the help of
an instructor or somebody like me watching over to help you catch the errors along the
way, I think that something like this would be a great way to start.
Definitely familiarize yourself with the process
before moving into something more complex. I'm going to take one last break
quickly. I’m gonna use my mirror again
one more time to see if there's any last changes we’re going to make,
and then we'll move on to a different Bargue after calling this one complete.
remember to sharpen your tools periodically.
It's easy if you are
working on a drawing or thinking about your work
to forgot to sharpen your instruments
and start making sort of blunt
haphazard marks. After sharpening my tools I go back to my observation point and I'm just
flicking my eyes back and forth between the two.
There's a couple discrepancies that I notice.
One is that this angle here in the forehead seems too long.
And if I look at this angle right here and I look up I actually think
this could be slightly further over.
Another is that the bat shape
that we’ve been talking feels just a little bit too tall here want to cut that
off slightly and I want to cut off this wispy grey part here.
Just making these lines slightly thinner.
I'm trying to leave just a hair of
value on that shadow on the nose.
It’s a little too thick right there in the mustache also.
I've really started to commit.
I've kept it flexible for as long as I can muster.
I was tempted many times
to start pushing everything into the page like I'm doing now.
There we go that’s a little better.
Nice soft edge. I'm flipping my eyes from positive to
negative shape. I'm looking at the nose and I'm looking at the space next to the
nose. I'm imagining, just like the optical illusion of the vases in a row which then
is two people kissing if you look at the negative shape,
I think that's probably the most famous one. The nose was looking better to me until
I started looking into this negative shape here.
And realized oh I can bring that in ever so slightly to make that negative ship larger.
So keep in mind even though this started very simply with just a few
long straight lines, a plumb line marks across for the top, very bottom of the drawing
where the nose would be be, and then just a few,
clear angles to chip away not exactly what you think it's doing but a general sense.
So imagine what we call - and we will reference this again
and again - the big shape, the overall impression that we see of the outside.
We imagine a cookie-cutter that we could take off and just place right on top.
That way we start drawing around
the issues rather than finishing as you go. So this is that block in sort of
stage again. I want you to remember how important that was because we've ended up at
this point with something that is quite similar and frankly.
I'm pleased enough with this to move on and if a student brought that to me,
I would say, okay, that's fine.
Move on and do your next one.
You have to remember this is an assignment that you also should be doing at home.
If you can get an instructor to help you with it,
that's great. But if you can’t, you can follow along with these sort of steps that
I'm showing you how to take some time away from it and use a fresh eye,
how to use the mirror and plumb lines find your own errors.
But yeah to me this is about the level of finish that you should expect from
any of the Bargue projects.
And the reason why I wanted to start with something so simple is because I think
this is something that you can try to attempt at home.
It is my recommendation for you to look through this book or to look through the
plates online and do not start with what might be
particularly of interest to you but instead start simple, certainly simpler
than you might imagine. Start with a foot, a hand, a profile, the mouth.
Go through these straight long lines and you're sort of entering it's the same process of
drawing of analyzing what's there that many of your artistic heroes use.
What do you realize that these are courses
like these are common way that people have trained for a very long time and through
doing cast drawing you can even further compliment yourself with the academic approach that essentially every
great artist learn to draw with before us.
Although cast drawing is helpful,
it is three-dimensional. You need to light it yourself,
you need to come up with a way that you can perceive the form and you
can see it clearly and the real advantage of this book is that all the solutions
are already there. Fixed solutions in two dimensions so you can just flick your
eye back and forth between them, do them in sight-size the way that
I’ve shown you here. And you can learn to go through them to step by step
figuring out okay, after that I will do this.
When we work from something three-dimensional, sure your position can change, the lighting can change, its
a little bit more complex.
There is enormous value in starting from 2D before moving to 3D.
And it's worth mentioning that Bargue himself was a fantastic painter.
I mean, he did really wonderful orientalist work with a painting in Boston at Museum of Fine
Arts. The painting itself that you can see on this page right here is frankly
it's about that size and we can pull up an image of that
also. If you see it,
it looks like a tiny huge painting.
Although it's about that small the thing when you look at it it's about this
big but you'll see individual clear brush strokes and clear understanding of the paint and how
it moves across and the modeling of form is beautiful. And it's because he was such
a good draftsman that all that was possible.
Draftsmanship is at the very heart of painting. Throughout this course,
we will be talking over and over about drawing but not just to draw. This is
meant as a preparation for you to be able to paint what you see.
So we are trying to learn to see differently, to analyze the visual world around us,
and slowly start to prioritize and put through a hierarchy what you're looking at so that
you can make something look more like it than I hope you ever have before.
So thank you. The next Bargue drawing
I'll do will be the Ariadne from the museum in Rome.
I think it's a really nice one,
I picked that one because I think it's sort of an intermediate-level.
It's not necessarily one I would start with. This is a nice example
maybe of that but it's a challenging one
it’s one I've always liked and I never did as a student.
So I thought it would be fun to run through that for for you guys
because I've always thought it's particularly good-looking one and will relate also to the cast projects
we will do together, some of the characterization of form, the nose, eyes, and mouth are
extremely classical. I mean, this is a Roman copy of a Praxiteles so we
have kind of the pinnacle of the classical world that we're looking at. And for me
thinking about those tracks through history just like the Bargue course is really a lot
of fun because it helps us place ourself in a larger artistic framework.
one of the simpler Bargues just like I did and try the same approach running step
by step through the first initial lines
you might put at the top and bottom in sight-size, find something in the middle
that will help you break up the space in between and slowly start working your way around
the big shape, slowly tightening each form so it gets more and more like nature and trying
to find your personal sweet spot of how you can keep things flexible and slowly chip
away at it. After you’ve selected a Bargue that you would like to draw from the images
on the website, I want you to print some at around this size.
This is a good size for the pencil Bargues, anything much bigger than that
it's just too much space to fill in and anything smaller than that the spaces get a
little fiddly and getso more difficult to draw.
So this would be around the recommended size, you know, about a hand length or a Leo hand
length in order to draw it accurately and at a reasonable pace at home.
Free to try
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9m 16s2. Charles Bargue Course Introduction
17m 23s3. Copying of a Simple Bargue Plate
9m 57s4. Refining the Drawing
11m 3s5. Comparing the Drawing and the Bargue Plate with the Mirror, Getting the Drawing More Precise
13m 49s6. Finishing Up the Drawing
1m 19s7. Beginner Bargue Plate Project Assignment Instructions