Lust for Line

21 Sep 2014

There are a few artists that I would like to watch step-by-step, drawing in their sketchbooks or painting in their studios. Okay, more than a few, but after seeing Van Gogh's drawings, he would definitely be at the top of my list.

Cottage Garden by Vincent Van Gogh, reed pen, quill, and ink drawing over graphite, 1888.
Cottage Garden by Vincent Van Gogh, reed pen,
quill, and ink drawing over graphite, 1888.

I was, of course, aware of Van Gogh's painting output and style, but his drawings were a shock to me. I had no idea he created such incredible line drawings. But I shouldn't have been surprised. The frenetic energy that inhabits his paintbrush would certainly translate to even his simple drawings.

In fact, Van Gogh had very strong drawing ideas. 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 that worthwhile that's enough for me.


Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin by Vincent Van Gogh, pen and ink drawing, 1888.

Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin
by Vincent Van Gogh,
pen and ink drawing, 1888.

I'm also enchanted by the way Van Gogh mixed 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 his drawings 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 new way of seeing and making marks. But I don't live by Van Gogh, alone. There are so many great drawing resources that I'm glad to have at my side as I progress, including Sarah Parks Kit of the Month on drawing basics, figure drawing, and more. These resources could be right for you, too. Enjoy!

P.S. What artist's drawings do you really enjoy or are inspired by? Leave a comment and let me know.

And if you are really "lustful" for line, consider our very first Zen Doodle Tangle online course, starting tomorrow. It's going to be great!


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knitinfool wrote
on 22 Feb 2012 6:29 AM

I, too, am a fan of Van Gogh's drawings.  I fell in love with them in my college years (I am now 71), especially the drawings of the workman's boots and their rough hands.  They have inspired me to continue to draw for many, many years.

Philip Koch wrote
on 22 Feb 2012 6:36 AM

So funny you just wrote a piece about Van Gogh. My wife and I just drove up to Philadelphia to see the big Van Gogh show at the Phila. Museum of Art. What strikes me is how much his best oil paintings mimic the line work he used in his ink drawings. Of course he was great with color, but underneath that was a super-charged energy from his drawing skills. Sad that he was only with us for about 10 years as a painter.

Also can't leave without a mention of your praise for Hale's Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters book. When I was a beginning art student at the Art Students League of New York I came across that book and fell in love with it. For a few years it was my bible. Must have read it through ten times and studied its reproductions 100 times each. A total classic!

You have left me smiling this morning.

Philip

Bill5 wrote
on 22 Feb 2012 9:21 AM

I am a retired physician who loves to draw. Have no formal art education but have attended several workshops. I am totally impressed by Anthony Ryder! Love his drawings and find him to be an exceptional teacher. Thanks for your columns, always well done and enjoyable.

WEH

navada wrote
on 23 Feb 2012 4:50 AM

I am not a artist, but Art Lover. Really, I also shocked when saw the paintings of Vango..His colours are so fascinated to me that, Now i am try to making my son as a painter. Good piece about Vango, thanks

Aravinda Navada

on 25 Feb 2012 4:10 PM

I am also a life long fan of Van Gogh.  I had the oppurtunity to view several of his works in person while working in London several years back.  Seeing the work of a master such as him is something that you never forget.  Personally, I am drawn to creating pencil works of art and seeing ones such as you posted inspires me to push my work even further and try new techniques.  Thank you for this inspiring and enlightening post!

www.artsagamble.blogspot.com

pencilmama wrote
on 22 Sep 2014 12:02 PM

I had the good fortune to see some of Van Gogh's drawings on exhibit in Philadelphia; they were extraordinary.  Many were not "studies", but were meant to stand alone and they certainly did.  

I've also seen Edward Hopper's wonderful drawings, which also aren't as appreciated as they might be. The Metropolitan Museum of Art saw fit to exhibit some, along with the paintings he ultimately created that had similar content.  It was great to see them together and notice how influential the drawings were on the final images.

lrampey wrote
on 22 Sep 2014 12:50 PM

As I read another great Courtney Article, I found myself agreeing with every word -  I might have written it myself! From the feeling of immaturity if I admired a drawing with outlines, to thinking that I'm sure I will learn from his drawings for the rest of my career.  Not being a huge fan of his frenetic style, I am a fan of his workings, if that makes sense.  These drawings are wonderful - and strangely delicate.  I never thought I'd be inspired this much by Van Gogh, so thank you, thank you, thank you for presenting them here.  Linda

sherrycamhy wrote
on 22 Sep 2014 4:42 PM

Sherry Camhy

Van Gogh actually cut reeds that grew abundantly in the country side of France into to different size points to use to do  his ink drawings.  You can read more about his way of working in my article in Drawing Magazine entitled, INK INITIATION.

sherrycamhy wrote
on 22 Sep 2014 4:42 PM

Sherry Camhy

Van Gogh actually cut reeds that grew abundantly in the country side of France into to different size points to use to do  his ink drawings.  You can read more about his way of working in my article in Drawing Magazine entitled, INK INITIATION.

Bongobongo wrote
on 22 Sep 2014 5:19 PM

I like "Study of Lion Heads" by Delacroix. It's a pencil drawing in the collection of Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. I saw a Gauguin show at the Chicago Art Institute that included his sketchbooks. In it was a street made contour drawing of a whole dog done with one line. And don't forget those reed pen drawings of Rembrandt's.

techne wrote
on 22 Sep 2014 7:04 PM

I've always loved Egon Schiele's drawings - that great exploratory line.

Mauricio Lasansky's series of drawings about the holocaust are harrowing and unforgettable.

Betty Goodwin's mylar drawings are astounding - atmospheric and textured.

techne wrote
on 22 Sep 2014 7:05 PM

I've always loved Egon Schiele's drawings - that great exploratory line.

Mauricio Lasansky's series of drawings about the holocaust are harrowing and unforgettable.

Betty Goodwin's mylar drawings are astounding - atmospheric and textured.

LayneRoach wrote
on 23 Sep 2014 6:58 AM

Wow! Never seen drawings of Van Gogh!  I wish there was a book of all his drawings. Thanks so much for sharing this!!