The Bargue Project

It’s a new year and I’m starting a new project, copying Bargue plates. So what are Bargue plates? It all starts with the 19th century Drawing Course by Charles Barque and Jean-Leon Gerome. The Drawing Course was used in ateliers in the late 1860s to provide students with the opportunity to study and practice idealistic and realistic rendering. Pablo Picasso worked through the course and so did Vincent Van Gogh. Twice.

Here’s the book.

You can get it on Amazon for around sixty dollars. It’s a high quality hardcover and is well worth the money. If you don't want to spend money, the Bargue course is in the public domain and is available for download on

The drawing course is comprise of three parts. The first part is contains precise drawings of plaster casts. These are the “Barque plates.” There are 197 plates which are meant to be precisely copied by line sighting, and that’s what this document is all about. Along with line sighting, I’ve also used a grid to enlarge some of the drawings on newsprint. 

Line sighting is a method of transferring dimensions and angles from one document to another. There are many ways to do it, and I’m working on refining mine. I’m experimenting with a bunch of different ways to see what works for me.

1/9/20 Thursday

So why am I doing this? I’ve always been pulled toward the old masters and photorealistic drawings and paintings. I love and appreciate modern art, but I’m equally in awe of idealism and photorealism. Is it fashionable and contemporary? No. Is it widely practiced? No. That doesn’t matter to me. I’m just doing what I like. 

The Plan

The plan is to draw each plate in order on plain copy paper using lead and  charcoal pencils, enlarge them on newsprint, then repeat the process using higher quality drawing paper and charcoal (pencils and vine sticks). So first things first. I need to print out and organize the plates in order. If I don’t have any prints then I’ll photograph them and print them out in black and white.

Just got done organizing and printing 32 plates in order. I should finish but I need to start drawing, starting with Plate 1,1.

Here are the tools I’m initially using for now.

I’m using a ruler for the axis lines, a KOH-I-NOR Progresso HB woodless graphite pencil (one of a set of different lead types) and General’s charcoal pencils (hard, soft and ex-soft). I’m also using a proportional divider to mark and measure distances. I have a couple of paper stumps that I’ll experiment with when the drawings require shading. Using stumps is a recommended technique for blending according to the book, but I shy away from them when using pencils. I’d rather use different pencils with different grade leads.

This is the setup.

I’ve set up up in the classical sight-sizing style. 

Here’s a few of the plate copies. 

he eyes are simple but take a while to draw, at least for me. Here’s what I do. I first draw the axes relatively close to the original plate. I then study the image I’m about to copy. What’s really important to observe is the plumb line, which is the vertical line cutting through the image, just like the text of the course says to do. If you look at the more forward facing eyes, the corner of the eyeballs line up on the horizontal axis. I mark these points and that gives me the width of the eyeball. I use a proportional divider to mark the distance and then transfer it to the copy drawing.  

For the first couple of eyes I do some careful measurements with the divider before I make any marks. After a little practice I rely more on eyeballing the drawing, making the marks then checking the marks with the divider for accuracy. Here's the completed plate 1-1.

I first drew the eyes with the HB woodless pencil very lightly, then drew over the lines with the General charcoal pencils. When the lines were laid in I took a kneaded eraser and pulled off the surface charcoal. This left marks that were similar to the marks on the original plates.

1/16/20 Thursday

In the Barge text there are notes on each of the plates setting forth the value of the exercise. Plate I, 1 is entitled Eyes. For this plate the text states,

"Eyes exist in a complex anatomical setting that appears to change with any slightly turning of the head; they are difficult to reduce to two-dimensional form. These models will teach you to simplify the organization of the eye and its surrounding structures."

There's also advice on how to copy the plate.

"First draw the plumb line and the horizontal on your drawing paper. Notice the organization of the angles of the other lines around these two as you copy them. Begin with simple lines- no shadows, no details; put down nothing that will detract from the essential. This will help you approach the eye in a more complex setting."


A side project I'm working on which is related to the Bargue plates is rendering a lot of the classical sculptures from the Detroit Institute of Arts. I'm photographing the sculptures, making prints and in the next step rendering enlargements.

This is the setup and outline for the Torso of Aphrodite from 1BC:

Here's the first study using pencil on newsprint.

The plan is after doing the pencil/newsprint studies for many of the sculptures.  I'll select the ones that work out well and render them in charcoal on quality paper.

1/25/20 Saturday

Here's the setup for Plate I-7.

Here's plates I-5, I-6 and I-7 among other drawings taped to the studio wall. The pastel drawing is from a shot I took of the Torso of Aphrodite from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

1/26/20 Sunday

Rendered Plate I,7 using Rembrandt pastels and Canson pastel paper.

The Rembrandt pastels are smooth and buttery and the Canon paper can really take a beating.

1/27/20 Monday

Drew Plate I,8 on Strathmore charcoal paper using General layout and Prismcolor Ebony pencils. Can't get the coal-black darks without using charcoal, but I wanted to push the limits of these pencils. Both are good pencils to work with.