Textures and Topography

Maybe you can look at today’s drawing exercise and guess which famous artist inspired this… or maybe not.


You can tell that this illustration is a full page “doodle” — an 8-1/2 inch by 5-1/2 inch drawing exercise that was quite fun to do. I will say that it required more time and patience than I expected, not that I really knew what to expect when I started creating this little bit of some fantastical landscape. It was done with an 0.5 Winsor & Newton “Fineliner” pen.

When it comes to “doodling” I have to say that I’ve never met a pen I didn’t like. Well, dip pens being an exception perhaps. I have several sets of pens, along with a collection of Sharpies, and I do enjoy making black-and-white doodles.

As for the inspiration behind this illustration, it was none other than Vincent van Gogh. In Keys to Drawing, author Bert Dodson refers to van Gogh as “a man possessed”, an artist whose marks were filled with passion. He points out how van Gogh used different marks to simulate various textures. In a sense, van Gogh made a lot of “doodles” in his drawings. Look closely at View of Arles:

View at Arles – Vincent van Gogh

Among the textural lines used are swirling curves, tight, straight lines, wavy strokes, and stippled dots. He tended to work first in pencil and then add ink with a broad, flat pen, sometimes adding in strokes of diluted ink.

Reading about van Gogh’s marks gave me a chance to see his works in a different way. I’ve attended a museum exhibit of his art, but that was many years ago, long before I picked up a pencil and said “I need to learn to draw.” Where before I was mostly captivated by the brilliant colors of his paintings, I’m now looking more closely at other elements, especially line.

The drawing exercise, of course, was to emulate van Gogh’s marks using a thick-pointed pen. Well, you know me. I like to grab whatever is close at hand, and that happened to be the Winsor & Newton Fineliner. I’ll admit that it would have been much easier to “copy” the swirls and curves and frenzied marks with a wider-tipped pen, but I enjoyed working with my fine tip.  As you can see, my first marks were hesitant and unsure.

What most intrigued me was the way in which van Gogh used different types of marks as landscape elements.

He uses tight, thick swirls for the cypress trees, looser flowing swirls for clouds, short parallel strokes for wheat fields, and stipple dots for mown fields.  — Bert Dodson

How fun it would be, I thought, to create a landscape with simple lines, using different strokes for different areas. I quickly dashed off this little drawing:

I was having a bit of a bad morning — nothing seriously wrong, just lots of little problems to deal with — and it felt good to just make marks, feeling at least some of the passion and intensity van Gogh surely felt as he worked with his art. I won’t go so far as to say that I felt “possessed” but I did I enjoy feeling the rhythm and movement as I I made my haphazard marks.

At this point, the inspiration from van Gogh became mine. My marks reminded me of the lines of a topographical map. I knew I wanted to do another “landscape doodle” with no pretense of reality, simply an imaginary, stylized scene with lots of lines.  That’s how today’s “Fantasy Tree” came about.

As I compare my two landscapes today, I like them both, each for a very different reason. Here they are together:

I can feel the energy of the first, and I can see the imaginative qualities of the second. While I do like both of these landscapes, if I had to choose one over the other, I’d probably go with the first, “quick” emotional sketch. I like the movement, the energy, the way it more freely captures the idea I had and the emotion behind it.

Doing these two drawings, one right after the other, and taking different approaches gave me a chance to contrast “looseness” and “control” in mark-making. I’m learning that there are times and places for each, and I’m developing the ability to move from one style of mark-marking to the other.

It is interesting to study the drawings of various artists and to incorporate their techniques into my own repertoire of drawing skills. With each study, I’m coming closer to a style that is uniquely my own. That makes all my art study time and exercises worthwhile.

Your thoughts on my two studies today?



    1. I’m really enjoying the book. If you look back to previous posts (just do a search for Bert Dodson) you’ll find a link to a video review of Keys to Drawing. I bought it used through Amazon, and I’m glad I did.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a nice analogy, and that was a major point in the lesson. It’s a bit like developing a repertoire of different techniques. Sometimes loose, casual, “jazzy improvisations” are fun, and sometimes, yes, we want to play a musical composition we’ve studied and rehearsed. As a musician, I can really relate to analogies like this. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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