Mastering the Craft
In the ever-evolving realm of visual arts, animation, and design, the pursuit of excellence is a constant. Aspiring artists, animators, and designers are always on the lookout for methodologies that not only enhance their skills but also provide a solid foundation for their creative journey. One such time-tested and revered method is the Bargue Course, a comprehensive and meticulous approach to drawing that has been a cornerstone in the training of artists for over a century.
"[...] it is not frequently said nowadays that the best way to learn to draw is to have a good drawing teacher. [...] even if he is a bad teacher, this is better than having none at all, so true it is that four eyes see more than two."
- Salvador Dali, in 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship.
A short introduction
The Bargue Course finds its roots in the academic ateliers of 19th-century France, a period when classical art education was highly esteemed. Developed by French artist Charles Bargue and his collaborator Jean-Léon Gérôme, the course aimed to provide aspiring artists with a rigorous foundation in drawing skills. The objective was not merely to reproduce beautiful images but to instill a deep understanding of form, proportion, and precision – essential elements for any visual artist.
Charles Bargue, born in 1826, was a skilled academic painter whose dedication to the principles of classical art education led him to create a series of lithographs known as the "Cours de Dessin" (Drawing Course). These lithographs featured meticulously crafted drawings of classical sculptures, plaster casts, and live models, each designed to challenge and refine the skills of aspiring artists. Bargue's collaboration with Gérôme resulted in a comprehensive course that became a staple in French art academies during the 19th century. Here's one example of Bargue's skillful oil painting technique and great command of proportion:
Adaptation in Modern Times
While the academic ateliers of 19th-century France are long gone, the Bargue Course has endured and adapted to contemporary educational settings. In the 21st century, artists, animators, and designers around the world still recognize the value of the Bargue Course in honing their technical abilities and fostering a deep understanding of the fundamental principles of visual representation. I am continuously requested to teach these fundamentals of drawing to animation companies and fine art colleges around the world.
Central to the Bargue Course are the lithographs – a series of carefully crafted drawings that gradually increase in complexity. These lithographs encompass a range of subjects, from simple geometric shapes to intricate anatomical studies. The deliberate progression in difficulty challenges students to develop their observational skills and rendering techniques incrementally.
The primary method of engaging with the Bargue Course involves copying these lithographs with precision and accuracy - always under the guidance of a master. This process serves multiple purposes: it trains the artist's eye to discern subtle details, develops hand-eye coordination, and instills a deep understanding of the relationships between lines, shapes, and tones. Through meticulous copying, students absorb the nuances of classical art and build a strong foundation for their artistic endeavors.
The Bargue Course places a significant emphasis on academic drawing, a term referring to the disciplined and systematic approach to representing the visual world. Students are encouraged to approach their work methodically, visually measuring proportions, angles, and relationships between elements with precision. This discipline is invaluable not only for traditional visual artists but also for animators and designers who seek a solid grounding in the fundamentals of representation.
Significance for Contemporary Artists
For visual artists, the Bargue Course is a gateway to mastering the intricacies of form and proportion. The intense focus on accurate representation of subjects, whether inanimate objects or live models, hones an artist's ability to capture the essence of what they see. This mastery lays the groundwork for creating realistic and compelling artwork across various mediums, from traditional paintings to digital illustrations.
Observation is a cornerstone of visual art, and the Bargue Course is unparalleled in its ability to sharpen an artist's observational skills. By engaging with the lithographs and meticulously replicating their details, artists train their eyes to see subtle variations in light and shadow, understand complex anatomical structures, and appreciate the nuances of visual relationships. This heightened perceptual awareness is transferrable to all aspects of an artist's creative practice.
While the Bargue Course has deep roots in traditional art education, its principles are surprisingly adaptable to contemporary artistic practices. Visual artists find that the disciplined approach to drawing and the focus on fundamental principles seamlessly integrate with modern techniques and mediums. Whether working with traditional materials or exploring digital realms, artists who have undergone the Bargue Course often find themselves well-equipped to bridge the gap between tradition and innovation in the art world.
Significance for Animators
I teach Bargue methods to the artists of Walt Disney - Industrial Light & Magic. This training makes animators much faster and efficient, saving animation companies a lot of time and money.
Animation, as an art form, relies on a deep understanding of movement and anatomy. The Bargue Course, with its emphasis on accurate representation of the human form, provides animators with a solid foundation in depicting realistic movement. The studies of anatomy and musculature found in Bargue lithographs offer animators valuable insights into how the human body responds to different actions and expressions.
Character design is a critical aspect of animation, and the Bargue Course contributes significantly to this facet of the craft. The anatomical studies found in the course allow animators to create characters with an effective understanding of skeletal and muscular structures. This knowledge enhances the believability and expressiveness of animated characters, enriching the storytelling experience for audiences.
Animation demands precision and consistency in movement, and the Bargue Course instills these qualities in animators. Through the meticulous process of copying and replicating the lithographs, animators develop the discipline to maintain a consistent style and quality throughout their work. This attention to detail is crucial for creating animations that are not only visually stunning but also cohesive and polished.
Significance for Designers
Design, whether in the realms of graphic design, industrial design, or user experience design, relies heavily on composition. The Bargue Course, with its focus on arranging elements within a frame with precision, cultivates a keen sense of composition in designers. The principles learned in the course – balance, proportion, and visual hierarchy – directly contribute to the creation of aesthetically pleasing and effective designs.
Effective design hinges on the ability to communicate messages clearly and persuasively. The Bargue Course, with its emphasis on meticulous rendering and attention to detail, trains designers to communicate with visual precision. Whether working on branding materials, advertisements, or user interfaces, designers who have undergone the Bargue Course bring a level of detail-oriented craftsmanship to their work that sets them apart in a competitive field.
In an era where design exists in both traditional and digital spaces, the Bargue Course provides a unique bridge between these two worlds. Designers who have mastered the traditional techniques taught in the course often find it easier to transition into digital design. The fundamental principles of form, proportion, and composition remain consistent, allowing designers to seamlessly apply their skills across a variety of mediums.
In conclusion, the Bargue Course stands as a timeless and invaluable resource for visual artists, animators, and designers seeking to elevate their craft. Its origins in 19th-century France may seem distant, but its principles and methodologies remain remarkably relevant in today's dynamic and ever-evolving creative landscape. The course's emphasis on precision, discipline, and a deep understanding of fundamental principles provides a solid foundation for artists, animators, and designers, shaping them into skilled practitioners capable of navigating the complexities of their respective fields. As creative industries continue to evolve, the Bargue Course remains a beacon, guiding aspiring individuals toward excellence and mastery in the visual arts.
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I was invited to teach the Bargue Course to first year students of Animation, Fine Arts and Communication Design - Indonesian State University. The effectiveness of this method is now being studied in the upcoming PhD thesis by professor Dimas Novica.