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Painting Project Instructions: In the Style of Van Gogh

A celebration of Vincent van Gogh's contribution to art.


The aim of this painting project is to paint in the style of Van Gogh, whether from his early 'earth colors period' or his later, 'bright colors period'. Even better, challenge yourself by painting the same subject in both sets of color!
Van Gogh Painting Project

"Van Gogh's Sun Shines over Cape Town", Acrylic on Canvas Board. © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

More than 120 years after his death, Vincent van Gogh remains one of the most influential and celebrated modern artists. His determination to learn and persistence are also inspirational, the way he kept at it, continually pushing himself to try new things and through his doubts about what he was doing, going from beginner to the artist we love so much in only a few years. (The Van Gogh Museum has an interesting timeline of Van Gogh's life in which you can track this progress.)

This project challenges you to create a painting in his distinctive style. The colors Van Gogh used changed as his skill developed and artistic knowledge increased. He initially used dark, earth colors, before adding brighter hues under the influence of the Impressionists. Your painting can be in either the dark, earthy colors of his early work or the bright, intense colors of his later where his mark making became even more vigorous. To get even more from this project, I suggest painting the same subject in both palettes. (For details on what the colors are, see: Palettes of the Masters: Vincent van Gogh.)

Don't forget that brushwork are as crucial to his style as color. The rhythm with which the paint is applied, the visible brushmarks created by a stiff-haired brush in the paint. Study his paintings using the Van Gogh Museum's website which has them organized by subject and period. Make notes in your sketchbook about the thickness (width), length, and direction in which he's applied the paint as much as the colors used. Look at how he reduced detail from reality, selected and emphasised the crucial aspects of the subject he wanted to convey. Use your sketchbook to develop your ideas.

Whether you use a subject that's closely associated with Van Gogh, such as sunflowers, paint a self-portrait, portrait of a friend, landscape, or still life, is up to you. For inspiration, browse around the photos from the Van Gogh and Expressionism Exhibition, the works by Van Gogh in the Famous Painters photo gallery, and of course the project gallery. But don't pick something simply because it's easy. Ask yourself "What would Vincent do?"

I know Van Gogh used oils, but you needn't; size and medium are up to you. Though working with thick, slow-drying paint with a coarse-haired brush will make it easier to replicate his style. If you don't like traditional oils, you might try water-soluble oils (Buy Direct) or slow-drying acrylics such as M. Graham (up to an hour, Buy Direct) or Golden Open (up to a couple of days, Buy Direct).

Note: Submissions for this project must be made using the online form not by email.

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