Making master copies is a very important aspect to learning to draw. It’s the fastest way to absorb technique. The more copies you make the better you will get and the faster you will get towards your goal. These copies teach you what we might call the language of drawing.

Other reasons are they allow you to analyze in extreme detail all fundamental concepts: drawing, values, colour and even composition and, unlike models, these don’t move. The old masters truly observed and have figured out over centuries the best way not only to draw but interpret the forms you’re looking at.  They also have an exceptional sense of design. Personally, studying the masters and studying from the model is the same, especially when you’re starting out, as it develops your visual vocabulary to draw better from the model. But it’s best to do them simultaneously.

If you examine the lives of some of the greatest artists like Michelangelo, Rodin, even they studied the masters that came before them and you can see the sheer magnitude of inspiration in their work.

I believe originality comes from studying all different forms of expression that exists, from nature to works created by others, with the goal of learning.

Start with Bargue Copies


At the Barcelona Academy of Art, we use this time-honored tradition of copying from the instructional plates developed by Charles Bargue (1826–1883) in collaboration with Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904) a curriculum extensively used by the Academies during the 19th century. Through the process of copying Bargue’s plates, students improve their observational skills and learn how to simplify visual information into light and shadow.

Some artists doubt and dismiss the importance of the precision and strictness of this approach. The reason for such accuracy is this: the Bargue method is not about artistic style but about teaching the fundamentals that in time will lead to a poetic expression, just as one writer has to know grammar or a musician has to learn the notes.

The method allows artists to work in conjunction with instructors as they learn to accurately observe and examine their mistakes and achievements in what they are viewing. Because in doing so there is no debate about what the final result should be and permits the student to concentrate entirely on the process and the techniques.

Here are some tips to keep in mind while working on your copies:

  1. Choose a simple image with only shadow and light and fairly limited detail. Being over- ambitious will only lead to frustration.
  2. Simplify! Start with the biggest lines and imagine if you were to carve into stone or wood how you would cut it. Always work from larger forms to smaller forms.
  3. Squint, Squint, Squint.
  4. Turn the drawing upside down or look in the mirror to get a fresh perspective and find abstract shapes.
  5. Constantly step back from the drawing. Observe, Analyze, Draw.


Remember that the whole idea is to learn through repetition. Mistakes are part of the learning process and shouldn’t be interpreted as failure.

For a more in-depth guide please look at BAA instructor Dorian Iten’s article on ‘How to draw what you see’: