Learning from Bargue

For the past few months, I have continued work to retrain and improve my drawing skills. Specifically, I copied master drawings from various artists, including several from the Charles Bargue Drawing Course. Shortly after I bought the book, I saw an exhibition at The Denver Art Museum called Becoming Van Gogh. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Bargue Book on display as an integral part of Van Gogh’s training. Its appearance gave me a sense of connection with art history and provided encouragement at a time when I needed it. With newfound inspiration, I began studying hands and feet.

The two drawings pictured here demonstrate my first efforts:

The hand was done on a small scale with graphite pencil in my sketchbook. Though I was encouraged by some parts of the drawing, I realized to make the most out of this effort, I needed to work larger and in a charcoal medium.

In the second image, a foot, I worked on a larger format (on a roughly 12” x 18” surface) and used vine charcoal which I avoided working with until that point. Thoughts like -

It's too messy.
You haven't worked with charcoal enough to produce good results.

- kept me from even trying it for some time.

Immediately, I was surprised by the subtle tonal differences that charcoal offered. I continued to produce copies over several months and will post highlights with pics and comments on my process over the course of the next few weeks.


Occasionally, I’ve been asked if I use photographs for reference or work from a live setting for my compositions. There have been times, particularly for my Narrative Series, where I have used photographs. I have also referred to them or worked on-location for various paintings within my ‘Scapes Series. If I do refer to photos, my time with them is always brief, relative to the painting process. I use them to understand visual relationships; to get a better idea how something works in terms of mechanics; to learn its relative size and how it might impact or augment other elements within the composition; to understand its energy so that I may transpose and project its essential visual elements through the painting.

Once I gain this understanding, I quickly do away with my original references as I feel staying with them for too long hinders my approach. The composition, to me, is more important than the accuracy of subject matter. Once I feel like I have learned what I need to from my observations, I then look toward my instincts to guide me the rest of the way in the painting.