Drawing Basics: Densely Marked Drawings

Last week we talked about sparsely marked drawings and pencil sketches, so it only makes sense that today we consider drawings in which nearly every area is marked.

The effect is a busy surface that suggests energy, intensity, overabundance, perhaps even franticness or chaos. Piranesi densely marked his etching series Imaginary Prisons and the resulting feel is oppressive darkness and convoluted, suffocating constriction. Van Gogh often filled his reed-pen drawings with many marks, differentiating planes extending into the distance by varying the direction and thickness of the marks, hatchings, and cross hatchings. The very sky vibrates with strokes suggesting the emanating rays of the sun. Energy and life is the tone conveyed.

Wheat Field With Sun and Cloud by Vincent van Gogh, 1889, black chalk, reed pen, and brown ink drawing heightened with white chalk, 18 3/4 x 22. Collection Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The Smoking Fire by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1761 (reworked from 1745), etching drawing. From the series Imaginary Prisons (Le Carceri d’Invenzione).


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Bob Bahr

About Bob Bahr

Hi. I'm the managing editor of American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing, and Workshop magazines. Drawing magazine is primarily my responsibility so I spend a lot of time looking at drawings, talking with draftsmen, and drawing ... but I love to paint, too.

4 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: Densely Marked Drawings

  1. I enjoy these densely marked drawings…they create a mood and energy with every stroke. As a watercolor Artist, I draw often. I create small thumbnail stetches to help me work out issues of value, comoposition, and a way to get to get a feel of the images within the frame. The marks made give a interesting history of a drawing, they are a reminder for me when am back in my studio, of that ephemeral moment I was attempting to capture. I draw primarily in ink, (like the flow of watercolor) I enjoy the tactile feel of ink over the service of paper. A contour line can help unstand an object that maybe difficult to draw. By working these issue out in a drawing first. It can be a hugh jump when moving into a painting. So when we view drawings as those above we must remind ourself that there is a good chance that they where studies for a paintings and the artists maybe using drawing as a tool to rememeber detail.

  2. In my experience, densely marked drawings raise an interesting conceptual problem. Because of the dense markings, it is possible to represent value with them. However, marks are distinct and discrete, while value variation in nature is almost always continuous. It is possible to produce relatively continuous value variation in water color, oil, acrylic, and pencil, but not with pen. Pen offers several modes of value variation when a single ink is being used: line width, line weight, and density of marks. As the density rises, the discrete marks move closer to continuous variation, but so does the overall darkness. So the main problem is – how do you go from a light-toned area to a white area? There is a distinct end to the marks at some point within the densely marked drawing. This end-point tends by nature to be awkward and graceless. Again, in my experience, there is no principle that will help you to decide on a successful solution to the problem. It depends entirely on judgment and in-the-moment grappling with the situation at hand. For this reason, densely marked drawings in pen strike me as one of the techniques which most call upon the visual artist to act as a performer: to condense all of their learning into a single inspired moment of choice.