Visual Research: Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

Part three of the course is about outdoors and this is a good time to take a deeper into some of the drawings from Vincent van Gogh, especially his way of mark-making to create texture, depth and space. He is one of my favorite artists (he is coming from the same area as me in Noord Brabant in the Southern part of the Netherlands). Van Gogh is well known for his paintings, but he was also a very skilful draftsman. Actually the did sketches already early on in the 1870s before he eventually decided to become an artist in 1880.

1) ‘Harvest Landscape’, 1888:
Pencil, reed pen and brown ink on wove paper (24.0 X 32.0 cm) [Online image]. Berlin: Nationalgalerie derStaatlichen Museen. Available from:

Vincent van Gogh 'Harvest Landscape', 1888

Vincent van Gogh ‘Harvest Landscape’, 1888

2) ‘Haystacks near a Farm’, 1888:
Pencil, quill and reed pen and brown ink on wove paper (24.0 X 31.5 cm). [Online image]. Budapest: Szepmüveszeti Muzeum. Available from:

Vincent van Gogh 'Haystacks near a Farm', 1888

Vincent van Gogh ‘Haystacks near a Farm’, 1888

These two drawings are mainly drawn in brown ink on paper in rather small scale (24x32cm). A kind  of field diary sketches. The sky and the road are left blank with no marks as well as the front faces of the houses and the road. Most of the drawing is done in hatching technique. Bolder longer marks for items in the front plane and smaller marks for more receding items. Some items are drawn with a straight line. At the horizon the marks are rather indicative. However, there are some darker areas across the picture. The different areas get the same mark making focus. My eye rather wanders around the image without a clear rest point. Tow items slightly off centre gets a bit more attention as they are drawn rather dark in tight or with bold marks: the carriage and the top of the haystack.

Used marks: <pic>

Stefan513593 - Van Gogh mark making 1

Stefan513593 – Van Gogh mark making 1

I think the use of brown ink makes the drawings less dark, the use of quill and reed pen gives a tonal variation as the flow of the ink is rather hard to control (more or less ink on one spot). In the drawing ‘Haystacks’ is already visible a quite characteristic mark making of Van Gogh: bold curled or circular marks.

3) ‘Boom met klimop in de tuin van de inrichting (Tree with Ivy in the Asylum Garden)’, 1889
Pencil, reed pen and brown ink on cream wove paper (62.3 cm x 47.0 cm)
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum (Vincent van Gogh Stichting) [Online image]. Available from:

Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890) 'Tree with Ivy in the Asylum Garden' 1889

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) ‘Tree with Ivy in the Asylum Garden’ 1889

This is a later drawing that Van Gogh took during his stay for medical reasons in an asylum. On a larger scale (>A2 format) the marks (again in brown ink and reed pen) are quite bolder compared to the two smaller scales above. It seems the reed pen used had a broader tip. Straight parallel marks of the tree trunk and some shadow areas. The plants, the tree foilage and the ivy are done with rather curled, circular, and smaller marks. The marks are following the outer or inner contour of the objects. Overall, it is quite a busy drawing. As in the two drawings above all areas in the picture get the same mark making attention. Only the main tree trunk in the font plane catches more attention due to its size and multiple markings. There is no clear horizon line. But there is a little indication in the top third slightly off centre behind a rather white tree trunk. I thing the crossing of the two lines  (like a cross) are another small eye catcher.

I wanted now to look further and see how Van Gogh applies color in his drawing.

4) Old vineyard with peasant woman’, 1890
Pencil, brush, watercolor, and gouache on laid paper (43.5 cm x 54.0 cm) [Online image]. Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum, (Vincent van Gogh Stichting). Available from: [Accessed 19 MArch 2015]

Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890) OLD VINEYARD WITH PEASANT WOMAN', 1890

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) ‘Old Vineyard with peasant woman’, 1890

It seems as if the picture flips topside down compared to the ‘Haystacks’ drawing, as the white area is not the sky any longer but the bottom ground right in the front plane. This adds quite a different visual effect to the picture. The drawing is on rather large scale (approx A2) and the marks are quite bold and strong. The marks in color done with a brush. Compared to the previous three drawing Van Gogh applied less marks, more white space between them. The whole picture is set with a blue tone for atmosphere and a few selective color marks: orange for one roof as an eye cather, black marks across the picture for tree trunks, foliage and two chickens. The way of mark making is quite similar to the previous drawings, but more outlines marks are applied.

Used marks:

Stefan513593 - Van Gogh mark making 2

Stefan513593 – Van Gogh mark making 2


Van Gogh applied quite different marks to indicate form and textures. From straight lines, curled marks towards dots. He creates depth and space illusion through either addition on recognisable elements (houses, persons, carriage, ladder) to through reduction of the marks towards the horizon. White, non-marked areas were used in his earlier works mainly for the sky and some points of interests (houses, roads, front faces of houses). In his later works he is bypassing this methodology a bit as white area are now also in the front plane. He used color selectively and rather for more expressive and atmospheric appeal. His drawings are done with the same focus across the picture as the mark making are quite similar in the centre and the the edges (besides for depth illusion as mentioned above). I think a more selective application of mark making (especially in his drawing ‘Trees with ivy in asylum garden, 1890’) could make a more powerful visual effect. Some of his marks in ink and reed pen resembles me to felttip pen marks. I will do some studies in my sketchbook in Van Gogh’s way of mark making.


Van der Wolk, Johannes (1990) ‘Vincent van Gogh – Drawings’ (Exhibition March 30th – July 29th 1990 in Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller. Otterlo)’ Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Arte

Sketchbook studies in context:

Stefan513593 - visual studies - Vincent van Gogh mark making

Stefan513593 – visual studies – Vincent van Gogh mark making

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