Project One – Research Point: Feeling and Emotions

(amended Nov 29th, 2014 after reflection on feedback from my tutor)

For this visual research I will look deeper into the work of Vincent van Gogh, Cy Twombly, and Willem de Kooning. I chose the three artists as I am very much attracted by their work.

1) Vincent van Gogh

– ‘Tree roots in a sandy ground’ (1882) ,
Media used: pencil, black chalk, brush in ink, brown and grey wash, opaque watercolor on paper, and
– ‘Sorrow’ (1882)
Media used: pencil, pen, ink on paper

Van Gogh is drawing with deep back outlines, strong pressure, and dark black areas. For me this express a feeling of deep emotional touch, a feeling of sorrow and grief. But it also creates a sensation of depth. Sharp angles are used throughout the drawings (both). This feels to me a bit restless and searching, It also creates interesting negative spaces.

Comparing the two drawings, the one with tree roots, pure objects, and the other a woman with her head bended down in her arms and on her knees, they both express the feeling of sorrow, grief. Van Gogh used his marks as described above in a similar way to get the emotion across (both drawings are from the same year). The marks of the woman’s hair are similar shaped as the tree and the roots. Through finer marks in the background with less dark black he creates depth as well as distances in a landscape.

I like the way he used the dark black marks (in the outline as well as for some areas: tree, hair). Through the back outlines, the objects become closer to the front plane, more distinctive and more focused.

2) Cy Twombly

– ‘Niki’s painting’ (1971)
in Brandon, T. (2004). p.62
Media used: Oil-based house paint, wax crayon, lead pencil on canvas, and
– ‘Untitled’ (1988)
in Godfrey, T (1990). p.15
Media used: Ink, pencil, and crayon on paper

Cy Twombly’s drawing are pure abstract drawings. There is a repetitive pattern of the marks applied that creates a meditative sensation (the size of the drawing is 2.6 x 3 m!). There is a certain rhythm as the marks mostly have the same thickness, same color, same shaping.
In ‘Niki’s painting’ (1971) (it looks like a drawing) it is the repetition of jabbing, disjointed marks, black with some blue in the background. On the one hand I can feel anger and grief, but also a kind of playful mood by the moving up and down and right of the marks. The usage of two color (black and blue) gives a certain sensation of slight depth, like a two layer picture plane. However, the overall drawing perception is quite flat. I can sense also a moving pressure for the markings, hard and light and so on throughout the drawing, that supports the rhythm scheme.
In ‘Untitled’ (1988) Cy Twombly used bright colours (red with some spots of blue and yellow at the left side). The marks are circles, in the middle two red round shaped splashes. Also here the overall perception of the drawing is rather flat. The marks have also the same thickness (so no depth illusion), but here he drew the circles to the upper boarder of the sheet smaller, so this gives a perception of distances. He applied a rectangular second sheet to paper on top of the regular circled drawing. Some marks are crossing the boarder, some text written there. The splashes are on the second sheet. This drawing, compared with the first one, expresses for me a more joyful and playful mood. It resembles a bit like children drawings. The artist is experimenting with the marks.

3) Willem de Kooning

– ‘Untitled XIV’ (1982)
Media used: Oil on canvas, and
– ‘Woman’ (1983)
in Elderfield, J. (2011), p.464
Media used: Charcoal on paper

The first work (a painting that looks rather like a drawing) went through a long process of several changes in the image and the direction of the picture. De Kooning did this several times till he achieved the final picture.
Especially the bold, strong brushstrokes in blue color are free flowing and moving, dancing across the space, covering the whole canvas. Through some fading strokes, with less pressure applied, I can get the sensation of depth. This is even enforced through three orange coloured spots (left, middle, top). The usage of color versus black expresses quite a different emotion. It is more joyful and playful. The edges of the strokes are rather soft, only a few are hard (orange spot to the left especially). Through the usage of the second color, the fading of the strokes and the hard edge at the left side, the picture gets a certain depth in space.
One year later de Kooning made a charcoal drawing ‘Woman’, a partly abstract and figurative drawing. The whole space is covered as well with marks. Here only usage of black, lines are mostly equally thick besides some darker spots across the drawing. This gives a certain depth sensation. Overall, ‘Woman’ seems more flat than ‘Untitled’. Both are expression joy and playfulness.


From the various drawings I can see the how different marking can express different ideas. This can be done by the a selection of the media and the marking as such:

  • Charcoal, pencil, brush, Ink washes, color
  • Marks: straight lines, fine or bold lines, jabbing marks, smooth curves, sharp angles, light a hard pressure applied to the surface, repeating marks

In expressive drawings it is also about: ‘Le visible passera, l’invisible restera. IL faut faire l’invisible dans le visible’ (‘The visible disappears, the invisible stays, you need to reflect the invisible in the visible’) (letter from Jan Verkade to Maurice Denis, Munich, 30 October 1907).

  • Space and depth through bolder marks or darker areas.
  • Sharp angles and hard pressure to express deep emotions (e.g. grief)
  • Rhythmic marks (repetition of same marks, shapes) to express a kind of meditative sensation
  • Usage of similar marks for objects and people to express similar emotions for both
  • Jabbing and moving marks to express a more joyful and playful sensation

In this context I think about the concept described by Rudolf Arnheim (1974) that the ‘expression is an inherent characteristic of perceptual objects’. That means that the artist needs to translate what he/she sees by specific markings to convey a certain perception and illusion to the viewer. It is not easy to sense exactly what an artist feels during the drawing process, as the viewer brings his/her own emotions and experiences along. I find it quite remarkable that one can still sense strong emotions by viewing deep at a picture/drawing.

To really learn more I will experiment further with different media and markings, as well as looking much closer at works form art practitioners. This will be a useful learning experience to shape my observation skills as well as to understand better what an artist tried to express.


  1. Brandon, Taylor (2004) ‘Art Today’, London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
  2. Godfrey, Tony (1990) ‘Drawing Today’, London: Phaidon Press
  3. Elderfield, J. (2011), ‘De Kooning – a retrospective’. New York: Thames & Hudson
  4. Arnheim, Rudolf (1974) ‘Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the creative eye.’ 6th Ed. Berkely and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Pr., USA. pp. 444-461

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