Bargue, The Drawing Course: #1

I took a few days off of art to build this for my kids. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, and I hope it will stand up to some abuse (from the weather and from children.) I built it so it could be a play house for them, and we can use it as a shed when they are older.

I also wanted to write a bit about drawing. Every seriously good watercolorist mentions how important it is to be good at drawing. I agree completely, and decided to put some of my time into drawing.

My mom bought me Bargue’s The Drawing Course for my birthday, and I’ve slowly worked through some of the plates. Basically, in the 1800’s it was considered crude for student to learn drawing by sketching live models. So, art classes typically had students learn by drawing statues instead. Bargue’s book is a series of drawings, the student is supposed to copy these, and learn about drawing in the process. It’s an interesting approach, there is little guidance, but it’s relatively easy to understand, even without any written instruction.

The biggest plus for me is that Van Gogh drew through Bargue’s course twice. He is my favorite artist – hands down. I fell in love with him again when I viewed The Poplars at St. Remy at the Cleveland Museum of Art a few weeks ago. No photo will ever capture this painting. The brilliant blues and frenetic brush strokes tell a story of an artist possessed by adoration of the beauty in the world tethered by a futile effort to reproduce that beauty. I had a visceral reaction to the painting. I could imagine him sitting in the hospital furiously painting in those limited brush strokes trying to scream at us, “Look! Open your eyes and see, dammit! See how beautiful our world is!”

This doesn’t do it justice at all, but at least it’s almost as saturated as the real thing. Most photos of this painting online are muted and nearly brown – which isn’t true to the original at all.

He chose deeply saturated brilliant blues and carefully swirling greens to represent the view. The piece is breathtaking to me, in part because it’s so beautiful and pleasing to look at, and in part because I can feel Van Gogh painting something as serene as this, and still feeling like it is inadequate. I can almost feel him disappointedly, thinking – “No. No! It’s not sublime enough. It’s not what I see. It’s not what I feel. Another stroke? No. Here! Bah! Dammit dammit dammit… look! I want them to look and see. This world is so perfect, just look!”

I think this is what really tortured Van Gogh. He wanted so desperately to convey how deeply he appreciated the grandeur of nature, and never felt like he succeeded. It’s so tragic that his work is appreciated as much as it is now, all the shortcomings he tried to paint through are covered over and forgotten today.

Anyway, I love Van Gogh’s story and his art, so anything that can put me in his story in a small way is rewarding to me. Which is why I enjoy this book so much.

With that said, here are my drawings, followed by a few things I have learned by drawing them. Quick note to Atelier students: I’m not doing it right – I know. I just want practice.

Focusing on simple profiles, and reducing the complexities of a face to a few lines helps to better appreciate the benefit of simplifying the subject. Proportion is everything, and it’s easier to get proportion right when you are dealing with lines and shapes.

With a profile, don’t only consider the proportions, also consider the importance of angles. Starting with a simple line can set the stage for a drawing. Vertical lines make a powerful profile. Curves and angles make for a more graceful profile.

Ok, I got a little cheeky there. Lost and found edges are just as important in a drawing as they are in a painting. Representing the world is more than just drawing a line, and then coloring or shading it in. Lines and boundaries can be more realistically defined by value contrast than with simple lines.

The more values in an image, the harder it is to draw, but the more accurately it represents the subject. Reducing the subject to three values makes it easier to block in the proportions and shapes, but the more subtle transitions in values give a sense of texture that isn’t there with fewer values.

Here’s my favorite so far, and a photo of the page from the book so you can see how the book tries to provide instruction on how to draw the subject.


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