Portrait Drawing & Vincent van Gogh
There are very few artists I wouldn’t like to watch working. It is always addictive to see someone drawing in a sketchbook or painting in the studio, no matter what they are depicting or their style of drawing. But after seeing what Vincent van Gogh can do with simple line to create portrait drawings, landscapes, and still lifes, I would definitely let him jump the line and get to the top of my list.
The Post-Impressionist Draftsman
I am, of course, aware of van Gogh’s painting output and style, but his drawings were a shock to me. They are filled with energy and design and pathos. In his portrait sketches, there is emotion even though the figures are in static, simple poses, the crops are quite tight, and the details are pared down and yet they deliver quite a charge. Because of line!
Lines hatched as a background. Lines define a person’s every feature and strand of hair. It visual describes clothes, roads, shrubs and trees and haystacks too. 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.
The Art Source
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 is most intriguing about van Gogh’s drawing oeuvre is 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.
It’s also enchanting to see how 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 drawing of his was like “meeting” his work for the first time.
Learn more about the structure and bearing of the human body, particularly the head, in this demo that can put you on the path of master draftsmen like van Gogh.
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 can’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 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.