Category Archives: Pen & Ink

Eye Candy for Today: Léon Bonvin still life

Still Life on Kitchen Table with Celery, Parsley, Bowl, and Cruets; Leon Bonvin watercolor
Still Life on Kitchen Table with Celery, Parsley, Bowl, and Cruets; Léon Bonvin

Watercolor over pen and ink and graphite; roughly 7×9 inches (17 x 22 cm). In the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore which has both a downloadable and zoomable version of the image. There is also a zoomable version on Google Art Project, and a downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons.

As he often did, 19th century French painter Léon Bonvin started this piece with a pencil drawing, drew outlines of the intricate forms in pen and ink (dark brown iron gall ink) and filled in the outlines with delicately applied but definite washes of watercolor.


Eye Candy for Today: Arthur Rackham illustration for Götterdämmerung

Arthur Rackham illustration for Gotterdammerung
The ring upon thy hand — / … ah, be implored! / For Wotan fling it away! (from Götterdämmerung)

One of the many beautiful and sensitively realized illustrations the brilliant “Golden Age” British illustrator Aurhur Rackham did of the stories from Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” series of operas.

From this set on Wikimedia Commons. For more see the “Operas by Wagner” links at the bottom of this page on Wikimedia, and my previous posts, linked below.


Eye Candy for Today: John Hamilton Mortimer pen drawing

Reclining Female Figure in an Italian Landscape, John Hamilton Mortimer, pen and ink drawing
Reclining Female Figure in an Italian Landscape, John Hamilton Mortimer

Pen and black ink on cream paper; roughly 9 x 12 inches (22 x 32 cm).

Link is to original in the Yale Center For British Art, which has both zoomable and downloadable versions on the website. There is also a zoomable version on the Google Art Project and a downloadable file of that version on Wikimedia Commons. The latter two are somewhat larger, but my instinct is that the color of the ink and paper are truer on the Yale site.

This 18th century drawing classically posed figure has some of the feeling of Renaissance figures, particularly in the elegant pose of the hands. In areas where the ink is applied more fluidly and is semi-transparent, there is an additional feeling of delicacy and softness.

I find it interesting that Mortimer has augmented the hatching lines with small areas of stipple in the modeling of the face and hands.


Mars Huang (B6 Drawing Man)

Mars Huang (B6 Drawing Man), watercolor and ink sketches
Mars Huang is an artist based in Japan (I think — most of the pieces are labeled as scenes from Japan and Taiwan). Though he signs his work “Mars”, his Tumblr blog credits him only as “B6 Drawing man”; it wasn’t until I followed a link to one of his process videos on Vimeo, that I came across his actual name.

His blog is filled with delightfully loose and gestural ink and watercolor sketches of architecture, interior spaces, and, in particular, quirky vehicles like scooters and small cars — often loaded down with luggage.

He excels at reducing complex subjects down to their linear essentials, highlighting them with just enough touches of color to give you a sense of texture and presence.

Be sure to follow the link trough to the larger images on his blog, the small example images I’m posting here don’t give an adequate feeling for the work.


Eye Candy for Today: James Montgomery Flagg ink illustration

She Sailed Majestically Past the Wretch, Followed Meekly by Septimus, James Montgomery Flagg
She Sailed Majestically Past the Wretch, Followed Meekly by Septimus, James Montgomery Flagg

Pen and ink, roughly 22×29 inches (56×74 cm); original is in the Norman Rockwell Museum, larger here; also slightly larger zoomable version on Google Art Project, and downloadable version of that image on Wikimedia Commons.

It looks as though the Google Art Project version has been brightened to give an approximation of the original before the paper yellowed with time, and the NRM version reflects more accurately the current state of the original drawing.

Flagg was a master of pen and ink at a time when it was a primary medium for popular illustration. I particularly admire the astonishingly casual and free nature of the lines in the woman’s hat and dress, and the remarkably gestural modeling of the men’s faces.


Van Gogh’s drawings

Van Gogh's drawings
As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts showcasing some “Not the usual Van Gogh’s” (and here), we are often given the impression that an artist’s oeuvre is much smaller that is really is because art publishers and even museums tend to emphasize an artist’s “greatest hits” over and over, at the expense of exploring a wider range of work.

This is particularly evident in the case of Vincent van Gogh, whose famous works are so familiar as to be cultural icons, but whose more extended range of works lies largely unknown to the general public.

In particular, Van Gogh’s more than 1,100 drawings, which represent over half of his known works, don’t get nearly the exposure they deserve.

I remember being particularly struck by his drawings when I had a chance to see a number of them in person as part of an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art some years ago. They were larger and more accomplished than I expected from seeing them in reproductions, and I found them exceptionally captivating.

Van Gogh has been quoted as saying “Drawing is the root of everything, and the time spent on that is actually all profit.” and he devoted much time and effort to drawing.

He went through numerous periods of concentrating exclusively on drawing — sometimes out of financial necessity, sometimes out of a desire to return to core principles and concentrate on the fundamentals. He seemed to find drawing a kind of artistic anchor in times of uncertainty.

Van Gogh’s periods of devoting himself entirely to drawing include the beginning of his efforts to train himself as an artist. During that time, he wisely focused on learning to draw, understanding that it would be the necessary foundation on which painting would be based.

In his early drawings, which are often figures and faces as well as landscape and other subjects, you can see him struggling with the basics of proportion and perspective, relentlessly working to master the skills.

In his later period of more accomplished works, his drawings blossom into astonishing marvels of texture, created with energetic variations of line and stipple. These drawings, even monochromatic ones, have a feeling of color, in somewhat the same way as monochromatic Japanese and Chinese ink paintings.

I count Van Gogh’s landscapes of farms and fields to be among my favorite drawings. Though never as accomplished as masters of draftsmanship like Rembrandt or Raphael, Van Gogh’s personal vision and devotion to nature produced an approach to landscape drawing that is unique and visually entrancing.

Many of his drawings are of familiar compositions — copies after the fact of existing paintings sent home to his brother or other artists. He often added drawings to his letters, and you can see in the Van Gogh Letters site maintained by the Van Gogh Museum. You can also search through the museum’s extensive online catalog of his work, filtered for “drawings”.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an essay on his drawings, and offers a publication, Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings, that can be read online, downloaded as a PDF or ordered as a book.

Wikimedia Commons has a section of Drawings by Van Gogh; and the online Van Gogh Gallery can be sorted to show a list of drawings, though without thumbnails. The Web Gallery of Art has three sections for Van Gogh drawings (toward the bottom of the list), arranged by period.

You can also search through individual museum website collections for Van Gogh, and filter for “drawing”.

In researching this post, I came across a very nice five part series of posts on “Vincent van Gogh Drawings” on the Art and Artists blog, which gives a nice overview and goes into much more detail than I can here. (Look for links to the other posts in the series in the right hand column.)

Van Gogh’s drawings are a record of his life and career, perhaps even more than his paintings. They are personal, intimate and often show a clarity of observation and artistic focus that serve as a defining example of the core principles of artistic endeavor.