On the "Vincent Van Gogh Drawing Grid" page:
- a brief introduction to Van Gogh's use of the grid
- my translation of his letter to Theo on the subject
Van Gogh's drawing method was one that developed out of trial and error. Essentially self-taught, one of the major turning points in his development was when he discovered at about age 29 what some translators call a "perspective frame", or what could be more clearly called a "drawing grid".
The Vincent Van Gogh drawing grid consists of three wires stretched across a frame to intersect in the middle, as shown in the little sketch above that Van Gogh put in a letter to his brother Theo to show how he planned to use it on dunes.
On 5th or 6th August 1882, at Le Hague, he triumphantly wrote again with more details on the grid he was using so successively. In fact this manner of working went on to become an important step in his work as a painter, in that today the grid lines can be discerned on the works either with the naked eye or a microscope, or can be detected with infrared photography. The Vincent Van Gogh drawing method had served admirably to take him on to painting.
You will have seen in my last letter the drawing grid that I told you about. I’ve just got back from the blacksmith’s, who made iron tips to go on the stakes and corners for the grid itself.
It has two long stakes, and you can attach the grid either vertically or horizontally with solid wooden pegs.
The Vincent Van Gogh drawing grid as he drew it in his letter to Theo, 5th or 6th August 1882
So when you are at waterside or in a field or in the meadows you can look through it as through a window; the vertical lines and the perpendiculars of the grid as well as the diagonals and where they intersect, as well as the divisions into sections, all give fundamental reference points. With their help you can make a solid drawing, from getting the indication of the main lines and proportions – at least if you have some sense of perspective and comprehension of why and how perspective makes the lines appear to change direction and changes the apparent size of things in relation to the whole. Without this the device is of little or no help, and it befuddles you to look through it. I think you can imagine how little it is to set it for viewing the sea, or grassy fields, or snowy meadows in winter of the wonderful web of thin or thick tree branches and trunks in autumn, or stormy skies.
In fact, for painting is it just what you need. To capture earth, sea and sky you need a brush, or I mean to capture all that in a drawing you need to know and understand how a brush works. I really think that if I paint for a while it will have a great deal of influence on my drawing. I already tried painting in January, but then I had no choice but to stop. I decided to because, among other things, I was not confident enough about my drawing skills. Now I have spent six months very much on drawing, so I am turning to painting again with renewed courage. The drawing grid is really a fine piece of workmanship; it’s a shame you didn’t see it before you had to go. It was fairly expensive, but it’s been made solidly, to last quite a while. So next Monday I’m starting on big charcoal studies, and on painting small studies. If I can manage those two things, then I hope to have better paintings soon. I want my space to be a real painting studio by the time you’re here again. Things came to a halt in January, as you are aware, for a number of reasons, but in the end you can consider it like a little thing that needed fixing on a machine, like a weak screw or post that just needed replacing by one that could handle more.
I bought a nice warm, solid pair of trousers and a pair of stout shoes just before you came, so I am ready for rain and storm. I have made up my mind that painting landscapes will teach me one or two things about technique that I think I need for figure drawing, especially how to capture different textures, color and tone. In short, the mass, or the body of things. Your visit has made this possible, but before you were here I thought about this every day and I would have had to stick to just whites and blacks and outlining. But now my ship has set sail.
Goodbye, brother, with one more warm handclasp for you.
You will find much more on the Vincent Van Gogh drawing method on his page in the Famous Artists Gallery.