Drawing-Practice-Basic Bargue Plate Walkthrough

The following walk-through is adapted from the Da Vinci Initiative Lesson Plan, ”Bargue Plate”, written by Mandy Hallenius (www.mandyhallenius.com). This same walkthrough can also be found in the Visual Language III program available for free through the Waichulis Studio Store, (www.waichulisstudiostore.com):

Additionally, for those interested in pursing the Bargue Drawing Course, I would recommend the book
Charles Bargue: Drawing Course (3rd Edition) by Gerald Ackerman and Graydon Parrish. The book is a complete reprint of a famous, late nineteenth century drawing course. It contains a set of almost two hundred masterful lithographs of subjects for copying by drawing students before they attempt drawing from life or nature.

The Bargue Plates are part of a French 19th century drawing course created by Jean-Leon Gerome and Charles Bargue. The course was one of the first drawing curricula ever created for the equivalent of high school students to improve their draftsmanship and visual literacy. Bargue Plates teach students proportion, value, and other essential drawing skills, and are used by contemporary artists to increase their visual literacy. Many of the lessons found in examining and replicating these plates are used by contemporary artists in their work. In fact, even artists that practiced a less objective form of visual representation, such as Pablo Picasso, spent time studying from the Bargue Plates.

MATERIALS required for a Bargue Plate drawing exercise are:

• A quality Bargue Plate reproduction (as can be found online or via the book mentioned above.)
• Drawing Paper
• Pencil (Graphite or Charcoal)
• Kneaded Erasers
• Masking Tape
• Measuring Tool (Ruler, pencil, etc…)

Click pages to Enlarge:

Here are a few additional resources on the Charles Bargue Drawing Course:

Art Renewal Center
Online Image Museum

Classical Drawing Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice
Juliette Aristides – Watson-Guptill Publication – 2006

Lessons in Classical Drawing: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier
Juliette Aristides – Watson-Guptill Publication – 2011

Measuring Methods for Artists
by Larry Withers (format: DVD)


Does one have to copy the plates and enlarge them or can one use the plates as found in the book?

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People do both Sandra. We have our digitally enhanced versions larger then they appear in the book. However, there is nothing wrong with just keeping them the same size as the text. The fruits of the exercise will still hold either way. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the info, Anthony. I have just received my Bargue Drawing Course, today. I also found a web site where I was able to download copies a little larger than in the book. What do you think is the ideal size? I am really excited to get started, pencils and eraser at the ready! There is something so beautiful about pencil on paper…

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Hi Sandra, I was researching the original size and some claim the size range was around the 18x24" mark.

I just read an excerpt from Paul Foxton’s blog (http://www.learning-to-see.co.uk/bargue-drawing-update) where he mentions size and he seems to be in that ballpark:

"Enlarging the Plates …I think it’s important to copy the Bargue plates full size, the size they were meant to be copied. That’s somewhere in between A3 and A2. Even if you don’t want to copy the plates actual size, they’ll need to be set up on an easel if you’re going to copy them in the recommended manner. That still means copying and printing them.

So far I’ve had laser copies done, but when they are enlarged to full size, the quality suffers quite badly. Mostly in the areas of dark tone, the sensitivity isn’t there and you get a dark blob of one overall tone instead of the variegated tones on the original plate."

For reference:

A1 594 x 841 mm 23.4 x 33.1 in
A2 420 x 594 mm 16.5 x 23.4 in
A3 297 x 420 mm 11.7 x 16.5 in
A4 210 x 297 mm 8.3 x 11.7 in

Hope that helps!


Hi Anthony,
I thought that the drawings might be more beneficial if enlarged. I will definitely do that, but not as big as 18x24. I want to have them side by side, on the drawing board, using only one easel.
I have started one copy in a size just a little larger than in the book, but will get larger copies made.I am surprised how much of a challenge it is. The measuring is a bit onerous so progress is slow. I need to accept the process and not be in such a hurry.
Thank you for the information it is of great help.

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What you can do is take a high-resolution digital photo of the plates from the book and that way you can enlarge them. I personally like to make them the same size so that I’m drawing in the same proportions as the book. Ideally I like to put the printout next to my drawing paper or sketchbook.

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Bumping a very old post…!

What type of charcoal is recommended for Bargue copies?
I have some General’s charcoal pencils - would they be suitable?

Hey Sib!

They can be. I think that the material would depend on the size/resolution and surface you aim to work on. In terms of surface—lower binder materials would work well if you have a high-tooth surface. Higher binder materials like an H Compressed Charcoal Pencil or HB+ graphite would work better on a smoother, finer toothed paper. The level of resolution and size would be impacted by material in the sense that, for smaller works, certain bits of information (visual changes) may be hampered by very heavy toothed surfaces or low binder materials that grow their contact surface rapidly (e.g., cannot hold their point.) However, if you are working vert large—resolution would not be a problem—but efficient coverage may be (e.g., taking forever to add a homogenous layer in graphite.)

I believe that most just use graphite for the drawings–but in short—I think that harder charcoal pencils would perform similarly in the same context. :smiley:

Thanks for your reply!

Oh, that’s interesting to know. Pencils are much easier to source than charcoal, where I am!

I just wanted to confirm: is a high-tooth surface the same as a heavy toothed surface? And the opposite of a finer toothed surface?

I thought I’d give a quick update on my first Bargue copies. I’ve been copying some of the lower-half-of-the-face line drawings from Plate 1-2, and already the exercises have started to change the way I work and think.

First, I’m finding it physically and mentally taxing to concentrate for long periods of time on making the copies. This is both pleasing, as it shows I’m making progress, and displeasing, as it shows how little I must have been concentrating before!

Second, these copies are starting to muddy the waters over how I define what a “line” is. As described above, I had approached Plate 1-2 in a similar way to the shape replication exercises in the LoP; but the “lines” in the Bargue plates vary in width and in value.

Third, the copies are fun. If the shape replication exercises in the LoP can be likened to practising scales in music, then the Bargue copies (these earlier ones, at least) are perhaps more akin to études.

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These are looking great!