The Reed Pen

The reed pen is a very simple instrument that van Gogh used to perfection during his time in Arles. Vincent made his own pens and after buying some I see why. The pens that you can buy at art supply stores are made of bamboo and the ones that I bought were marked small, medium and large – all the same price.  It took me a little while to figure out what the sizing meant. The sticks were similar in size and it was actually the points that were different sizes. After using the pens, I’ve decided to modify them to suit my needs because I find that the finer points aren’t very useful.

reed pens
reed pens

Drawing with a reed pen is fun and requires a mark making language. Mine needs more development. The paper I used was a heavy weight, 140 lb., hot pressed watercolor paper. van Gogh used laid paper and I did find some at Staples but haven’t tried it yet, other than to scribble and see how it feels. The reed pen flows better on the stationery than the watercolor paper. I’ll keep trying other papers until I find one that works best for me.

Here is my attempt at a reed pen ink drawing:

reed pen and ink drawing
reed pen and ink drawing

van Gogh’s Drawings

The drawings that are part of Vincent’s letters to Theo are interesting and all his talk of etchings and drawings by other artists, as well as his own, led me to the catalogue by the Metropolitan Museum “Vincent van Gogh – The Drawings”.  (The catalogue is from a 2005 exhibit.) It’s too bad I missed this exhibit but maybe some day I’ll see his drawings in person. Years ago I saw a number of his paintings in Boston and was completely awestruck. I think the drawings would have the same effect.

Here is a synopsis of the exhibit/catalogue by Eric Gelber on Art Critical:

However, I’d like to change his last line to “take up our reed pens”. The reed pen was the instrument used for the most vibrant of van Gogh’s drawings.

Many of Vincent’s drawings can be seen online here:

It is said that his best drawings, the drawings considered his most important, were the ones that were done  during July and August 1888 in Arles. (also, notice – done with the reed pen.)

van Gogh drawing - Sower-with-Setting-Sun
van Gogh drawing – Sower-with-Setting-Sun
Reed Pen, quill and ink over graphite  on wove paper – 9 5/8″ x 12 5/8″

from Vincent’s letter to Theo:

“Now the Harvest, the Garden, the Sower, and the two marines are sketches after painted studies. I think all these ideas are good, but the painted studies lack clearness of touch. That is another reason why I felt it necessary to draw them.”

Usually artists draw as a preliminary step to a painting – working out the kinks. But, many times Vincent would draw after a painting to study it further or to show his brother Theo what he was working on.

Next: Trying out the Reed Pen



van Gogh – the original blogger

You know how people always talk about going full circle? Well, this is one of those instances. How it happened is a mystery but I recently rediscovered Van Gogh’s letters online. Yes, I’d seen them online before, noted it, and moved on. This time, however, I’ve become obsessed with them – again. The first obsession was a very long time ago, hate to even admit how long ago, (so I won’t) when I read them straight through like a novel. It occurred to me this time that Vincent was the first blogger – writing about his thoughts, inspiration and moods while adding drawings to illustrate his point in his letters to Theo. Now that I’m much older and maybe a little wiser, I’m understanding more and relating better to what he had to say.

Here is the link to the van Gogh letters:

Although it’s fun to click on various topics, you can go to the Calendar of all letters and just start from the beginning.

van Gogh drawing
van Gogh drawing – Lane with Trees and One Figure

“Mauve takes it amiss that I said, `I am an artist,’ which I  won’t take back, because it’s self-evident that what that word implies is looking for something all the time without ever   finding it in full. It is the very opposite of saying, `I know all about it, I’ve already found it.’ As far as I am concerned, the word means, `I am looking, I am hunting for it, I am deeply    involved.'” Vincent van Gogh from a letter to his brother Theo

to be continued…