Bargue Drawing Plate 1

For some reason I have avoided this for a long while, I remember making my first Bargue copy in 2006, but I quickly gave it up. Now, after much study and frustration I’m seeing that this is the beginning to the best drawing foundation.

I have had the Bargue Drawing book for going on 7 years now and this is the first time I have really used it, and I believe that I am in a mental space now to continue with the Bargue course for a long while. I’m tired of my frustration and the almost debilitating  feeling of failure when another painting or drawing goes horribly wrong due to lack of draftsmanship.

After last nights failure, I started today fresh and new with Plate number 1, its going to be a long journey but I’m confident that at the end of it I will be a much better draftsman. Plate one has a total of nine linear drawings of eyes, tonight I did the first three.


These first Bargue drawing plates look so simple until you try to copy them faithfully and exactly. Then you start to figure out all kinds of issues with this medium of charcoal. For all its greatness, charcoal is difficult to work with. Its fragile, and comes off the page easily, yet looks bad when its modeled too much. The vine charcoal stick wear down fast so sharpening  happens often. All the sticks are bent and hardly ever straight. And the most frustrating is that it is not consistent. Sometime you hit a point in the stick where its so hard it won’t make a mark at all, most of the time you will find these points when your making a crucial line.

Once mastered though, charcoal is a beautiful thing, there is no limit to its tonal ability. And sometimes when things go just perfect when you get lucky on a few well placed strokes, when the pressure you used on the paper was spot on, and when this part of the charcoal is at its perfect consistency, at that point you feel as if your on the brink of mastery and you get a glimpse of the freedom.

Bargue Drawing Plate 1, Drawing 1

Bargue Drawing Plate 1
1.5 hours

Wow this is not easy. I just looked through the Bargue drawing book after making these three drawings and it was like waking up. I’m now amazed at how masterfully these plates were rendered, where as before they were simple, almost easy. I know now they are far from easy.

I struggled mostly with getting the charcoal to work the way I wanted it to. I have many different brands and grades of charcoal, from most expensive Nitram fine art charcoal to Winsor Newton charcoal and even some no name brand cheap stuff. And I think currently I prefer the Winsor Newton soft and medium vine charcoal. I thought that I would live the Nitram charcoal but it has been way to inconstant and much too hard for my taste, even the B grade is too hard for me. I will keep it though, as I feel that when I learn more I will most likely appreciate its intricacies later.

I kept fighting the urge to measure directly, I only gave in when I couldn’t see the issue even when measuring from a distance several times. I’m happy to say though that almost all the times that I measured directly with my instrument against the page itself I found that my drawing was so close that I couldn’t tell due to second guessing myself.

The most difficult line, is the first

The hardest line to draw is the first, and I have leaned that the first line should be the most easy one to grasp correctly. This will was almost always the top most horizontal line. Next I would draw the bottom most horizontal line. Then I would draw the left most vertical line which was almost always changed or overridden when progressing through the drawing. And I realize as I’m writing this that I should probably do the plumb line as my first vertical line then match up the furthest left and right distance from that.

You can’t compare a line that isn’t drawn

This may seem very obvious, but really its not. Or, closer to the point is that its not fully realized unless experienced. A lot of the time on the first drawing I was trying hard to visualize the line I was going to draw before I laid charcoal to paper. I wanted to make every line once, and perfect the first time. Unfortunately those perfect 1 liners only come along rarely.  By the third drawing, I learned that it was best to make a really good guess and put it down, don’t rush it, but put it down, don’t second guess, and don’t worry, most of the time it will be wrong and you will have to correct it.

And this is when it happens, when your really training your eye. Its all about the ability to spot exactly what is wrong, and where you need to fix it. Some are glaring, as soon as you put the line down and walk away it smacks you in the face and you don’t hesitate in erasing it and trying again with new information. Other times, you are not sure, it kinda looks right, but not really, at that point I start to measure, from a distance.

But the point is, none of this can happen unless you have something to compare, so put it down to the best of your ability, that will get better, but put it down then fix it.

Bargue Drawing Plate 1: second drawing

At the end of this Bargue drawing I asked my wife if she could see the differences in the drawing when she was across the entire room. Surprisingly she pointed out one of the things I should have been doing all along which is paying attention to the value of each line and sticking with their tonal qualities. She also pointed out one of the lines that was actually drawn in the wrong place. I’m always happy when I ask here these technical questions about my art she always responds with a point of view that really opens my eyes.

Bargue Drawing Plate 1: third drawing

By the last drawing tonight I was already able to complete a few lines with one single stroke. Although some lines had to be drawn several times over. I was reading a great blog by an artist that was doing the same Bargue drawing course and he has a ton of great information about it. The one thing that I wasn’t totally keen on with how he was completing the drawings was his extreme exactness of coping the drawings. Now I may regret this in the future, but currently I think my following idea is the correct course I should be on.

Coping in absolute perfection goes beyond the point at which you have leaned as much as you can from these drawings. The ultimate goal is to get the stroke in the correct place, with the correct value, and the correct edges on the first try. But what do I mean by “correct”. Well this all depends on how exact you feel like you need to be. Lets go to the extreme. If I felt that “correct” meant that each piece of charcoal dust would match up under a microscope then most would agree that at this point I have gone well beyond the point where maximum training can happen. On the other hand if an abstraction of the lines were “correct” to me, then most would agree that I wasn’t really learning to draw at all. So at what point have I learned as much as I can from each drawing. I think that is for me to determine, but I really don’t feel like I need to be extremely exact. In fact I’m mostly happy with correct placement, if I can also get the value very close at the same time then I’m super happy.

Drawing comparisons

Bargue Drawing Plate : first drawing comparison

Biggest issues with this one is the lines at the top of the brow, and the bridge of the nose. I’m happy with the rest.

Bargue Drawing Plate : comparison of the second drawing of eyes

Biggest issue here is the lines closest to the bottom, the tear duct, the line right under the eye and the curve of the top of the eyelid.

Bargue Drawing Plate : Comparison of the third drawing of eyes

Biggest issues here, top right eyebrow line, lines below the eyes and the curve of the line denoting the top of the eyelid. Although there are a couple line on here that are perfect, and I only drew them once. That is to me a small but worth championship.

That is it for tonight, my plan though is to continue with the Bargue drawing course every day, except for Wednesday life drawing class and painting on the weekends.

Session Details