How to Draw a Bargue Plate Step-by-Step

If you are interested in atelier training, a Bargue Plate is often the first project you will do. This article will show you exactly how to draw a Bargue Plate step-by-step.

Bargue Plate of an Arm

What is a Bargue Plate?

Bargue Plates come from a 19th century drawing course created by Jean-Léon Gérôme and Charles Bargue.

Bargue Plates are a collection of drawings meant to be copied. By creating mastercopies of these images, students learn various drawing techniques.

Bargue Plates teach students how to create nuanced proportions, values, lines, as well as other essential drawing skills.

In fact, this Bargue Plate was completed by Picasso when he was learning how to draw from his academically trained father:

picasso bargue plate
Bargue Plate copy by Picasso

Contemporary artists use these plates even still today in order to improve their realistic drawing skills.

And you can too!

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How to Get the Most Out of Drawing Bargue Plates

In order to best learn from copying Bargue Plates, you want to recreate them as exactly as possible.

Different Bargue Plates teach different drawing skills. If you complete one Bargue Plate, you will see how much you can learn from them. If you complete many, you will steadily improve your realistic drawing skills.

Some of the plates are more difficult to copy well than others. Some of them offer multiple stages of a drawing to help you learn the process. It is strongly encouraged to copy every plate in a series, and not just the final one.

How to Draw a Bargue Plate

Start by setting up your drawing space. Print a Bargue Plate (or photocopy one from the Charles Bargue Drawing Course) and tape it side by side on a drawing board. They can be placed either vertically or horizontally.

Need art supply suggestions? Read this article with recommendations for Bargue Plate drawing supplies.

Make a Notional Space Box

Make a box that touches all sides of the Bargue Plate. Then, recreate this box on your drawing paper. This box is called the Notional Space Box and it determines the overall amount of space your drawing will take up.

If you make this box too long, your final drawing will be stretched out horizontally. If you make this box too tall, it will make your final drawing look like it was stretched out vertically.

It is important to measure and double check that your box is the exact same size on your drawing paper as it is on the Bargue Plate.

Notional Space Box Bargue Plate

Make an Envelope

Now, use a small number of straight lines to describe the biggest overall shape of the subject. It is ok to cut off insignificant areas. You want to capture the biggest idea of the shape.

In the example below, only 5 straight lines create the envelope shape.

Once you determine the shape of the Bargue Plate, translate this shape to your drawing paper.

envelope Bargue Plate drawing how to

Find Follow-Through Lines

Now, find some follow-through lines that connect different areas of the drawing together.

For example, in the drawing below notice how the blue line connects the corner of the arm with the wrist.

Next, transfer this follow-through line to your drawing.

Need more thorough instructions? Watch this detailed video tutorial that teaches Bargue Plates.

follow through line bargue plate drawing how to

Continue adding follow through lines to the original Bargue Plate, and then find their equivalent location in your drawing.

Keep adding follow-through lines until most of the Bargue Plate is defined.

If the above drawing looks a little crazy to you, don’t despair. Sometimes you have to be able to see through the maze of lines in order to remember what you are trying to do.

Look what happens when I simply shade in the part of the drawing I intend to keep:

follow through lines biggest shape bargue plate

Refine the Block-In

Now that you set your proportions and have the basic relationships of the parts to each other, you can use smaller straight lines to refine your drawing.

refined block in bargue plate how to

Need more thorough instructions? Watch this detailed video tutorial on how to copy a Bargue Plate.

Next Steps

Many people wrongly assume that the hard part of drawing is the shading. But that’s not true.

It doesn’t matter how good you are at shading if your block-in is inaccurate.

By following the process outlined in this article, you will ensure that your proportions and block-in are solid before moving onto shading.

When you ARE ready for shading, this detailed video instruction on rendering can help you:

Watch this Bargue Plate video series for detailed information about how to shade your Bargue Plate.

What do you think about Bargue Plates? Let me know in the comments below.

Need art supplies? Check out our Bargue Art Supply List

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3 Comments

  1. Interesting opinion on how to do one of these drawings. I have to add, though, this is 100% NOT the method nor procedure that Bargue had in mind. Not even close. The plates were intended to be copied using the “sight size” method, which has nothing to do with an “envelope” method. Obviously an envelope method is valid, super useful and legit; not trying to imply it’s not, or that it’s inferior in anyway. I’m just saying, it’s not what Bargue and Gerome had in mind when they created the course….

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