Portrait Drawing & Vincent Van Gogh
There are a few artists that I wouldn’t like to watch working. It is always addictive to see someone drawing in a sketchbook or painting in the studio. But after seeing what Van Gogh could do with simple line to create a portrait drawing, I would definitely put him at the top of my list.
I was, of course, aware of Van Gogh’s painting output and style, but his drawings were a shock to me, specifically his portrait drawings. They are filled with energy and pathos. This despite the fact that the poses are often static, the crops are quite tight, and the details are pared down. What gives them that charge is the line. The visual invigoration is something line drawings are built for. The line is like a live wire in Van Gogh’s hands. The frenetic energy inhabits the quietest, simplest drawing.
Van Gogh had very strong ideas about drawing. He believed the practice was the root of everything, and he had a robust appreciation for draftsmen across history including Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Daumier, and Howard Pyle.
What I found most intriguing during my study of his drawing oeuvre was that the artist went through a period of contour drawing and line drawing, and found appealing aspects to both. I often feel it is immature of me to enjoy drawings with strong outlines, but if Van Gogh found something in them worthwhile that’s enough for me.
I’m also enchanted by the way Van Gogh combined his materials, often mixing and matching graphite, gouache, colored chalk, pen and ink, oil paint, and watercolor. He would also often use multiple pens: reed, quill, and an ordinary fountain pen, to create a variety of lines. The results are hypnotic and strangely delicate–there’s an ornamentation to them that I’ve never ascribed to Van Gogh before. Looking at a portrait drawing of his was like “meeting” his work for the first time.
Studying Van Gogh’s drawings could be a lifelong drawing tutorial for me, with every new drawing teaching me a way of seeing and making marks. But I don’t live by Van Gogh, alone. Another mesmerist of portrait drawing is Mau-Kun Yim whose book, Lessons in Masterful Portrait Drawing, I find inspiring and incredibly informative when it comes to how to draw faces–from drawing the wrinkles of the face to where the nostrils really go when you draw a nose to understanding the power of the midtone. Yim’s own work is incredible but it is his 30 years of teaching drawing that are ready to help you along your own drawing path. I hope you get your copy of Lessons in Masterful Portrait Drawing so you can see what I mean! Enjoy!
P.S. What artist’s drawings do you really enjoy or are inspired by? Leave a comment and let me know.