HOW TO PAINT LIKE VINCENT VAN GOGH
One of the best ways to hone a particular art skill or develop a certain style is to look at the work of admired artists.
For our study today, we’ll look at the famous painting The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh.
We’ll focus on one small part of the painting here: the moon, as I think it captures all the qualities of the painting that we’d like to study without presenting the overwhelming task of taking on a study of the painting in its entirety. In just a study of the moon alone, we’ll get to look closely at the use of brushstrokes, the staggered blending technique, and the use of flow with the direction of the lines. We’ll bear all of those aspects in mind as we start our practice session for the day.
Excerpted with permission from 30 Day Sketchbook Project by Minnie Small.
-Blue Pencil -Acrylic Paints: yellow, white, blue, light blue (which you can achieve by mixing white with blue). Van Gogh used oil paints for this work, but feel free to use acrylics or even colored pencils; just aim for something that will work well when layered. I used Acryla Gouache in yellow, white, and Prussian Blue. -- Mixed Media Brush No. 4
Let’s start by looking closely at the image and, in particular, at the part, we’re going to paint. Can you start to pull apart the artist’s potential process, the colors that he used, the potential stages he might have worked in, and what order he went in?
When I looked closely, I saw that there appeared to be a yellow underpainting in the gaps that peek through from the blue background, so that will be something to remember as we start painting. Otherwise, it looks like the very lightest blue brushstrokes that separate the yellow section from the blue sky were the last to be painted. The size, length, and width of each brushstroke also seem to be quite consistent throughout.
- In the center of your page, draw a medium circle with a pencil. It doesn’t have to be neat. And within that circle, draw the crescent moon.
- Mix the Yellow paint with White to start that base layer. With short even brushstrokes and in a circular motion, color the whole background with the Light Yellow you made.
Use this as a chance to figure out how much pressure you need to be using and how long or short you want the lines to be. You can fill the page entirely or leave gaps, as I have. The aim of this base layer is just to get some color down and get used to the painting process we’ll be using as we go forward.
- Now with blue, in similar small brushstrokes, paint around the outside of the circle. I had Blue and White paint on my palette at this point and every time I dipped my brush to pick up more paint, I mixed a different balance of Blue and White to keep the background coloring varied between brushstrokes—but this is entirely optional. At the same time, add a bit more Yellow or more White to the background color, and fill in the rest of the circle around the moon in small strokes to maintain some of the texture there.
- Use light blue paint or a mix of white with blue paint, and fill in any gaps in the outer blue area with more short brushstrokes. Paint the moon in Yellow with the same technique.
- Now, go back to the darker Blue and use finer brushstrokes to add more texture and detail. Continue with these smaller brushstrokes all over, using a lighter shade of blue as you get closer to the moon.
- Finally, mix the Yellow and Blue with White, and use this color on top of everything where the Blue border reaches the Yellow circle. Go back to the Light Yellow you mixed and paint it in short strokes around the edge of the middle circle. Remember to keep stopping to look at how the marks you are making are working as a whole. Are you achieving the gradient you want? Keep adding strokes of paint wherever necessary.
Prompt: Explore the Style of an Artist You Admire by Repainting One of Their Works
Now that we know what we can do with a master's study, our prompt for today will be to study the work of another artist we admire. Choose one of their pieces and focus on the parts of it that interest you the most. Remember to think about their process or the tools used, if that’s what you’re interested in. Look closely and get creative with the way you can capture that.
Reprinted with permission from 30 Day Sketchbook Project by Minnie Small.
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