P22 – Research 2 – Vincent van Gogh’s Pen and Ink Drawings

Initially, I was puzzled by the research about Eric Ravilious who appeared to be mainly a watercolour painter, who had little to add to the study of drawing marks. It was only after looking at the marks he did make in different media that I realised that he did indeed have things to offer.

There was no such problem about researching the pen and ink drawings of Vincent van Gogh. I fell in love with van Gogh’s reed pen drawings about two years ago. They inspired me to raid the reed beds of the local lodge and have a go myself. My first drawings were of a Swiss cheese plant and some lilies, both of which I went on to use in my print making. This was the first time I had used my drawings rather than my photographs for print making.

According to one source, van Gogh drew thousands of images as he saw drawing “as a necessary task to build a foundation as an artist and to study form and movement.” It went on: “Van Gogh’s drawings were mainly done in pencil, black chalk, red chalk, blue chalk, reed pen and charcoal, although he often mixed mediums when drawing.”

van Gogh drew “Wheat Field with Sheaves” on 17th July 1888 in Arles. When I was experimenting with mark making with a reed pen recently, I noticed that the marks became paler as the ink ran out. I regarded this as a problem. van Gogh seems to have used it positively, both with the stalks of the wheat and in the clouds.


Wheat Field with Sheaves, 1888 (from wikipaintings)

Enlarged detail showing the ink on the reed pen running out

van Gogh has also used stippling to good effect to represent the distant fields about one third down the drawing.

I’m not sure if he used just one pen in different ways for this drawing, or used more than one pen. The standing wheat in the middle of the drawing is done with quite fine lines, whilst the cut wheat to the right of the sheaves is drawn with thick lines. However when I was using a homemade goose quill to investigate mark making, I finished up getting fine lines one way and thick ones at ninety degrees. van Gogh’s lines are similarly at right angles.

My marks with a quill showing thick and thin lines

As the van Gogh Gallery source referred to earlier said, van Gogh often mixed his media. This drawing of “Cypresses” from 1889 on the Bridgeman Art Library site uses “reed pen, graphite, quill and brown and black ink”.

Van Gogh Cypresses

Cypresses, 1889

[NOT from Bridgeman Education!]

With his drawing of “Garden With Flowers” from 1888, it is difficult to start to describe the many different marks. Lines of different lengths and weight, circles, stippled dots all add to a delightful pen drawing.

The Flower Garden, 1888

Garden of Flowers, 1888

[NOT from Bridgeman Education!]


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
This entry was posted in Art, Drawing 1, OCA, Open College of the Arts, Research and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to P22 – Research 2 – Vincent van Gogh’s Pen and Ink Drawings

  1. Sally Adams says:

    Do you know of a source of reed pens for purchase?

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