Sunday, 7 September 2008

The art of copying

Bargue drawings have been used by classically trained artists as a means for learning principles of line and tone, by copying so called Bargue-Gerome plates.

Created by Charles Bargue and Jean-Leon Gerome in the 19th century, the original lithographs were a part of their influential drawing course Cours de Dessin, which has been very popular among academic artists. A notable follower is Vincent van Gogh who copied the plates more than once and is rumored to have greatly benefitted from it.
The Bargue plates depict classical sculptures and reproductions of the lithographs are meticulously copied by the student. Many hours are spent on achieving a perfect replica of the original drawing. The process is supposed to sensitise the student to line, tone and shape through careful observation.

This learning method caught my interest as it reverberated somewhat with how I, and many others got started with drawing. Although I never copied any fancy 19th century reproductions of lithographic plates, I believe that copying my favourite artists served a similar purpose to that of Bargue drawings.

Various advice is given to people who are just getting into drawing through manga. Some say you shouldn't copy, because you don't learn anything about how to construct the human body independently. While this is true, there is another value in copying.
Something which I found highly attractive about the early manga I found (think CLAMP) was the clean and smooth line work. I found it fascinating how a single line could convey both energy and stiffness. By copying artwork in these mangas I was able to gain a feel for the quality of line and thus get rid of some of the wobbliness and fuzziness which beginners tend to suffer from.

This is probably my first attempt at manga-influenced drawing, it dates back to 2001. It's a modified copy of a CLAMP drawing. The original had long flowy hair which I could not hope to handle at the time so I made it easy for myself. The fuzzy line quality shows my struggle with keeping a steady hand and creating smooth and dynamic lines.

More info about Bargue Drawings: Learning to see
Image from the Dahesh Museum

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