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.


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.


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!