Looking at the History of Life Drawing

As one of the most grueling components of art school today, life drawing courses rank high in difficulty due to their demands for rigorous technique and exacting detail. Though challenging, life drawing is equally crucial to an artist’s development as it proves the crux for many artists’ future success. It is also one of the most longstanding aspects of an artist’s training, with roots that reach far back into the ancient world.

Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (Roman Copy of Greek Original from 2nd Century BCE) – National Archaeological Museum, Naples
Though figure drawings don’t survive from ancient Greece, one can discern from surviving sculpture that their trenchant study of the figure.
Such is the case with the Doryphoros, which is the physical embodiment of sculptor Polykleitos’ canon of human proportions.

Some of the world’s earliest writings on art reference the importance of study from the live figure. Take, for example, 1st-century writer Pliny the Elder’s recounting of the legacy of 5th century BCE Greek painter Zeuxis. In his retelling, he speaks of Zeuxis selecting several women to serve as models for a composition “for the purpose of reproducing in the picture the most admirable points in the form of each.” Zeuxis was most likely not the first artist to rely on study of the nude female form, and he was definitely not the last. Generation upon generation of artists turned to life drawing as a means of “building”
their compositions. Nowhere was this building more prevalent than in the days of the Renaissance, where masters such as Michelangelo would first construct their figures from nude models on paper and then “clothe” them in the final composition. This construction was an inherent element of the “creative” process, but it also stressed
the central necessity of figure drawing.

Michelangelo, Studies for the Libyan Sibyl, c. 1510-1511
Red chalk with charcoal/black chalk accents on paper – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

As European artists began to form artistic academies, the study of the figure became more codified. The late Renaissance and early Baroque eras witnessed the development of a new academy system for artistic training. From the establishment of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome in 1577 to the creation of the Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris in 1648, art academies rapidly developed from merely a network of artists to a relatively systematized sequence of training. This was particularly the case with the Académie in Paris, whose curriculum developed so quickly that by the late 1700s life drawing was an integral part to studio practice. Masters like Neoclassical painter
Jacques Louis David, for instance, advocated for his students to draw from
live models for the better part of each day.

Jacques Louis David, Study for the Oath of the Horatii, 1784
Black chalk on paper – Musée Bonnat, Bayonne, France

By the following century, such training had developed into its own course that served as the pinnacle of an art students’ training following months perfecting the figure’s individual aspects (for more on this aspect, check out our recent post on Charles Bargue). Such coursework continues to be a standard component of art schools today and for good reason: regardless of where one’s art takes them, the study of the figure from life will never be a disservice. So, the next time you’re struggling to compose a figure or sweating a session with a live model, take heart: it is a challenge that is time-tested as means of developing artistic skill.

What’s your favourite memory from a life drawing course? Share it with us!

“Charcoal of Choice” for Netflix series – Shadow Hunters

Posted On: February 26, 2016 — Written By:
Category Artwork, Featured Art, General, News, Nitram

Nitram Charcoal has made a short cameo in the new Netflix series, Shadow Hunters! The show is based on Cassandra Clare’s best-selling book series, The Mortal Instruments, and features Clary, an artist who is trying to find her way among vampires, werewolves, faeries and warlocks to discover more about her past and her future.

Here is a closer look:

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.43.18 AM
Does anyone know who the original artist is?
Please let us know!

Reviewing Rockwell Through Charcoal

Picture1“Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I’ve always called myself an illustrator. I’m not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life.” Whether one considers Norman Rockwell a fine artist, an illustrator, or sees no distinction between the two, one cannot deny that he is inextricably linked to the 20th-century American art experience. Art was his life, and this was reflected in the way we lived his art. For many, Rockwell captured a generation with his endearing imagery created for numerous publications, perhaps most prominently the “Saturday Evening Post.”
From an artistic perspective, though, Rockwell
deserves particular acclaim for both his subtle commentaries and his unyielding
attention to authenticity. This genuineness, which often took the form of meticulous
study after photographs and props, can be seen in his surviving charcoal works.

Rockwell was renowned for his intricately stocked compositions that were consistently the product of extensive study. No object or element within Rockwell’s works was left to chance, a testament to his desire to conjure carefully crafted images. For many works, this involved a number of preparatory photographs in which Rockwell would stage his scenes immaculately and then shoot the scene for extended use in the studio. This, of course, didn’t mean that Rockwell simply copied these photographs. On the contrary,
it was the photograph that became the basis for an even more novel means of development: the charcoal and pencil drawing.

study_norman_rockwellRockwell, Study for Willie Gillis, USO, circa 1942
Charcoal and pencil on paper – Private Collection (Image courtesy of Christies

Examples of Rockwell’s charcoal works reveal his high level of finesse in the medium.
The subtleties of shading combined with line work often rendered in pencil result in compositions that are equally as compelling as their oil on canvas colleagues.
In some instances, these preparatory drawings serve as the only surviving evidence
of a Rockwellian creation. Such is the case for United Nations, a charcoal drawing created in preparation for an oil work commemorating the inauguration of the organization. Created in 1953, a decade after his iconic Four Freedoms series,
Rockwell’s striking study over flows with figure symbolizing the potential of the United Nations’ mission. Though a final oil was never created – Rockwell reused parts of his drawing in Golden Rule (1961) – this charcoal drawing powerfully reminds the viewer of what Rockwell did best: capture the human experience at both its most individual and
its most universal.

Are you a fan of Rockwell’s charcoals? Have you visited the Norman Rockwell Museum? Tell us about your connection with Rockwell and his drawings!

Picture3Rockwell, United Nations, circa 1951
Charcoal and pencil on paper – Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

NEW Nitram World Video

Posted On: February 18, 2016 — Written By:
Category Art Materials, Artists, Artwork, Charcoal Inspiration, Featured Art, General, News, Nitram

CreativeWorld is an International Trade Show for international buyers as well as artists
to discover the latest in art materials.

Nitram Charcoal was at CreativeWorld in Frankfurt, Germany. from Jan 30 to Feb 2, 2016.


The artwork captured the eyes many artists, young and old!


We also premiered our brand NEW video entitled Nitram World, which showcases many great artists and their work.

Some of the art used in this video – Nitram World – was on display.

See the NEW video below:

Thank you to all those who submitted their work! Why not share your work with us?

The Burgeoning Body: Charles Bargue

Posted On: February 8, 2016 — Written By:
Category Art Materials, Artwork, Charcoal Inspiration, Charcoal Technique, General, The Basics

As artists we tend to learn to compose the human figure one part at a time, working that same component repeatedly until perfection (or, at least, satisfaction) is achieved. From an outsider’s perspective it might seem myopic, and yet it was this method that was the mainstay of Europe’s most prominent art academies. The technique was made popular by French artist Charles Bargue (1826-1883), who developed a course in collaboration with academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. Bargue’s cours de dessin, published as The Art of Drawing between the years of 1868 and 1871, still today is used as a revolutionary training tool for the artist’s understanding of the figure through tailored charcoal, pencil, or ink drawings.

4671982e32872ba1b6abbdc96ce62bd3 copyPablo Picasso, Study of a Torso, After Bargue Plaster Cast, 1893-1894
Musée Picasso, Paris

Though Charles Bargue’s training is relatively little understood, he is nevertheless recognized in his own right as a 19th-century artistic talent. His true contribution to art history, though, was his innovative course, which conveniently compiled the principle techniques of academic art training into a series of almost 200 lithographs. These lithographs, the majority of which were set to stone by Bargue after drawings by Gérôme and his colleagues, could then be studied and copied by students as they learned the intricacies of the human form. Bargue’s manual encouraged study broken in three main phases. The first, “Drawing after Casts,” included study from renditions of plaster casts, such as the famed Belvedere Torso or the dominant shoulder of Michelangelo’s Moses, housed in Rome’s San Pietro in Vincoli. The second phase, “Copying After Master Drawings,” reinforced the importance of study after such drawings. While the third phase, “Charcoal Exercise in Preparation for Academic Study After Nature,” emphasized study from live nude models, it was the first two phases that proved remarkably universal. Bargue’s early course components were suited to artists of all trades, from professional to commercial, and also artists from all artistic approaches.

Picture1 Thomas Anschutz, Untitled (Study of a Plaster Cast), c. 1900
Anschutz, a student of American painter Thomas Eakins, here studies from plaster casts in this
charcoal composition, a reflection of the fact that Bargue’s methods were of international
popularity already in the late 19th century.

As a testament to this universality, Bargue’s series were particularly influential during the early careers of both Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh and early 20th-century modernist Pablo Picasso. Though seemingly so distinct from the abstraction seen later in his career, in iconic works such as Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) or Guernica (1937), Picasso nevertheless put particular stock in his study of Bargue in his refinement of the human form. So too did van Gogh, who even wrote to his brother in 1877 to tell of his affection for his Bargue drawing after the tomb sculpture of Anne of Brittany from the Cathedral of Saint-Denis. So intense was his appreciation that he hung his drawing after this artifact in his bedroom (click here for the entirety of this letter).

Bargue’s legacy lives on today as it continues to inspire artists both young and old. For students, the drawings are a go-to guide to understanding some of the principles of the figure. For the trained artist, Bargue’s images serve as an ongoing reminder of the importance of fundamental artistic principles, which serve as the underpinning for all great artists.

Have you worked with Bargue drawings? Share your story or your work with us!

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