Sketching at the Louvre

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These are not just little tips and techniques, but a full course of learning how to see, think, and draw like an artist.

Sketching at the Louvre is not like drawing anywhere else in the world.

The first drawing ever done of the Venus de Milo, by Debay, prior to its being publicly displayed at the Royal Museum, later known as: the Louvre. 

An engraving here, the French translates as:  "Venus Victrix (Venus Victorious), discovered on the Island of Milo, in the month of February 1820, given to the King on 1st March 1821, by Monseignor the Marquis de Rivière, his Ambassador in Constantinople." 

Consider first that it contains one of the biggest art collections on the planet, with not only masterpiece European paintings and sculptures, but also Greek, Etruscan, Near East, Egyptian, Roman and Oriental antiquities.

For us, draughtsmen and women, it also has a simply fabulous Prints and Drawings Department - imagine, the Cabinet de Dessins (drawings collection) was founded in the 17th century!  The drawings, engravings and engraved plates are too fragile to be on permanent display, but temporary exhibitions are continually organized so we can see these masterpieces and learn from them.

But there is also the incredible sense of history.  All the great French artists of recent centuries spent a great deal of time at the Louvre, learning how to draw.  I myself feel proud and honored to be a part of this long tradition when I sit down myself in front of a famous masterpiece, and take up my drawing pad and charcoal.

As for sketching, let me just clarify, if you don't already know this, that it is not the same thing as drawing.  It’s about working in a manner that's looser, freer and frankly, plain fun.  If you don't have a line precisely where it should be, that's fine, and moreover it gives that nice scribbly charm to what you're doing.

This is also one of the best ways to give a jump start to your drawing skills.  Copying masterworks by the greatest sculptors in art history will increase your eye’s sensitivity to light and shadow while your brain archives forms and lines - I might add, forms and lines actually created by, say, Michelangelo.

The Louvre is also one of the world’s greatest tourist destinations, so we will avoid the crowds and curious onlookers by seeking out the quieter galleries by day and by haunting the other galleries by night.

“I’ve been fifty thousand times to the Louvre.  I have copied everything by drawing, trying to understand.”

Alberto Giacometti

We will leave the charcoal and graphite at home and use modern (and nice and tidy) gel ink pens on special heavyweight satin-finish ink paper, with watercolor pens for the shadowing wash. Alternatively, we will work on crosshatching technique (what's that? it's the criss-crossing of lines to create shadow that you can just barely make out in the images on this page).

We start sketching in the morning, and then break for lunch at the Louvre’s cafeteria.  This is the moment for sharing our drawings and what we have learned.  Then we continue in the afternoon  in a different gallery.   We’ll retire to the Louvre cafeteria again for tea and coffee and another moment sharing and discussing our work.

Alternatively, we work during the Louvre’s evening hours, on Wednesday night for the first session, and on Friday night for the second session of sketching.

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