Van Gogh has become known as the prototype for the tormented artist and is best known for his work as a painter. However, Van Gogh created many more works on paper than he did on canvas, determined to first master the use of pencil, crayon, and pen on paper.
Van Gogh did not begin as an artist, and left school in 1869 to become an apprentice at the art dealership, Goupil & Co, in The Hague. His religious passion conflicted with the commercial interests of the dealership, and he was fired in 1876. He then went to England where he found a teaching job, but was dissatisfied and returned to the Netherlands to become a minister. He worked as a lay preacher until 1880, but failed at this also. As he was undergoing a career crisis, his brother suggested he become an artist. Van Gogh then went on a pilgrimage to Courriers, France, where he found his new calling to be a peasant painter.
Except for a few brief periods of formal instruction, Van Gogh was self-taught. He began drawing in 1880, when he was 27 years old. Since he did not have a teacher, he learned from textbooks and copied examples of drawings by well-known artists. From 1881, van Gogh’s artistic development can be followed through his drawings, which mainly show hard, graphic outlines and hatched shadowing.
In 1882, van Gogh discovered the lithographic crayon, which is an oily deep- black material. He used it in addition to pen, brush, and black in, to create subtle nuances in black. This allowed him to achieve an expressive effect, which is evident in his drawing Old man with a top hat. He called this method of working “painting in black.”
In March and April 1884, Van Gogh focused on landscaping and created a series of seven pen-and-ink drawings. These drawings offer a poetic and personal view of the southern Dutch landscape, and show his creativeness in composition and style. Pollard birches was done with pencil and black ink, which has now faded to brown, and a white opaque water color. Trees were an important source of inspiration for van Gogh, and this drawing is an example of the soulful character van Gogh was able to incorporate into his works. This drawing in particular has a sorrowful feeling, as if van Gogh sympathized with the pruned trees.
In the Provencal landscape around Arles, van Gogh was reminded of Japan, a country that he knew through art and literature. In June of 1888, he saw an opportunity for a new series of paintings and drawings. He considered the harvest to be the most powerful expression of country life. The first version of The Harvest was his first attempt at a new method inspired by the Japanese. In his second attempt he first drew the design in pencil, and then completed a pen and ink drawing which he colored in using gouache, which is similar to watercolor. This technique was inspired by the methods used for Japanese woodcuts.
I was drawn to van Gogh’s works because I am interested in his loose technique and how he manages to create images that feel very real through it. I have seen many of his famous paintings, but was curious to see how he developed this technique.
- Hillary Tupper
Evert van Uitert. "Gogh, Vincent van." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 6 Oct. 2011
"Van Gogh Museum - Knotberken." Van Gogh Museum - (Her)ontdek De Werken Van Vincent Van Gogh. Web. 06 Oct. 2011.
Van Heugten, Sjrarr. Van Gogh, The Master Draughtsman. London: Thames & Hudson, 2005. Print.