How to Paint Like Van Gogh

How to Paint Like Van Gogh

First of all, before you can paint like Van Gogh, you have to know who Van Gogh is and what he has to do with painting. So, in this article, we will give you a short biography of Van Gogh, his influence on painting and the beneficial effects of painting like him. 

Van Gogh was born and raised in a small village in the Brabant region of the southern Netherlands, the eldest of six children of a Protestant pastor. He was a shy, introverted adolescent who spent his free time exploring the countryside and observing nature. At the age of 16, he began working as an apprentice at the Goupil and Co. art gallery in The Hague, where his uncle was a partner. From 1873 to May 1875, Van Gogh worked for Goupil in London and then in Paris until April 1876. His artistic sensitivity was piqued by daily interaction with works of art, and he developed a love for Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and other Dutch artists, while he preferred two contemporary French painters, Jean-François Millet and Camille Corot, whose impact would remain throughout his life. Van Gogh disliked art dealing.

Furthermore, his outlook on life changed after he was rejected by a London girl in 1874. He became increasingly reclusive as his yearning, craving for human affection was stifled. In England, he worked as a language teacher and lay preacher before moving to the Netherlands in 1877 to work for a bookshop in Dordrecht. He was drawn to the ministry by a desire to serve people, therefore he studied theology. When he questioned the conventional doctrinal approach, he found himself in a power struggle. He left to perform missionary work for the impoverished people of Borinage, a coal-mining district in southern Belgium, after failing to acquire an appointment after three months. There, in the winter of 1879–80, he went through his first major spiritual crisis.

He sunk into despair and withdrew from everyone, penniless and convinced that his religion had been broken. “They think I'm crazy because I wanted to be a true Christian,” he told a friend. They threw me out like a dog, accusing me of raising a ruckus.” Van Gogh began to draw seriously around this time, and in 1880 he discovered his true calling as an artist. Van Gogh decided that from then on, his duty would be to bring humanity comfort through art. “I want to send a fraternal message to the wretched,” he stated to his brother Theo. "I sign [my paintings] 'Vincent,' as if I were one of them." His self-confidence was restored as he realized his artistic abilities. 

His artistic career was brief, lasting only ten years between 1880 and 1890. He devoted himself nearly entirely to drawings and watercolors for the first four years of this time, while gaining technical proficiency. He first studied sketching at the Brussels Academy before moving to his father's parsonage in Etten, Netherlands, in 1881 and starting to create from nature. 

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How Can I Paint Like Van Gogh?

Below are some of the steps if you want to learn how to paint like Van Gogh:

  1. Tone your Canvas: utilize a color scheme that you can see in the work. You can either use acrylic paint thinned with water and allowed to dry or thinned oil paint. Use yellow ochre acrylic paint and let it dry completely for your painting. For lifespan and optimal paint adhesion, remember the "fat over lean" rule. More oil/binder = “fat.” “Lean” refers to less paint that has been diluted with mineral spirits. Oils can be painted over acrylics, but not the other way around. Acrylics had not yet been invented when Van Gogh painted. Acrylic brushwork holds its "impasto" shape better than oil brushwork.
  2. Divide your reference photo and your canvas into a grid: Each side is divided into even thirds. There's no need to use a ruler here; precision isn't required! To keep the photo safe, place a dry erased marker on a clear sheet cover which can then be removed afterwards. Draw your grid on the canvas with a thinner darker blend of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue. These lines will be painted over later. This is not required, however, it will aid in the transfer and placement of your huge shapes onto the canvas. In a similar way, Van Gogh created and employed a viewfinder to help him put his view onto his canvas.

  3. Use the same thinned mixture to draw the largest shapes onto your canvas: Use a smaller brush; a size 2 natural bristle hair filbert will be the best tool to use. When you make mistakes, you can easily wipe this off with a paper towel or rag soaked with some spirits. Make sure you study the lines for each grid on your reference photo and transfer those proportions onto your canvas. Focus on the placement of the largest and most important shapes and don’t worry about perfection in drawing and placement. You will adjust this as you paint. For the moment, it is more about getting the overall shape relationships correct on your canvas.

  4. Begin to study the main colors in the photo: There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for blending these colors; there are numerous ways to achieve similar results. Simply try to identify someone who is a close fit. This will improve your color-mixing abilities as well as your observational skills. A color formula might not be the best to use because each paint manufacturer's colors have different properties. Even if you believe you've got something close, you won't know if it's right until you've had it on your canvas and can compare it to the colors and values around it. When you're sure it's right, mix up a big batch of this hue. You may need to make changes while you paint, but having enough color mixed in will allow you to paint more freely. Finding your darkest colors (tree branches and trunks) and then your lightest colors (sky) and comparing the rest to these is a good way to start. These extremes will aid you in determining your value range. 

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    You can, for example, compare your sky to faraway mountains, mountains to trees, tree trunks to the ground, and so on. It's worth noting that the sky is made up of fractured hues with comparable values rather than a single color. This is what Van Gogh learnt by studying impressionism and, in particular, pointillism. This adds to the lively nature of his work. The same may be said for the remainder of his work. Pay close attention to this impact and reproduce it. You may also note that the value of the “shadows” cast by the trees is incorrect. Van Gogh was more concerned with painting color, pattern, and shape than he was in painting light and shadow. He also once remarked that he doesn't paint what he sees; he paints what he feels.

Other Tips For How You Can Paint Like Van Gogh

  • Practice lightly laying the brush on the canvas (maybe by rolling it) and then leaving it alone.

  • When applying paint to the canvas, avoid rubbing it in or moving the brush around too much.
  • Pick up some more paint and make a similar brushstroke next to it, switching colors as appropriate.
  • If you're changing colors, use a paper towel to wipe away the previous color. 

Examine how Van Gogh applied his brushstrokes once more. As strokes were set adjacent to one another on his canvas, he occasionally mingled his paint together a little. But, be careful not to overdo it. He didn't do anything to "mix" his colors together on purpose. 

Use one brush for darker values/colors and another for lighter values to keep things neat colors. Van Gogh avoided using the medium in his paintings because it would dilute the impasto properties. He preferred his paintings to have a "matte" finish, and he would lay the paint out on towels to absorb part of the oil.

Don't be scared to make changes to your shapes as you're painting. Your original drawing should be covered up. Van's drawings were frequently "re-stated" and highlighted with dark outlines. His individual strokes may appear to be very straight, but they also produce movement as they develop form and pattern. 

The method entails layering paint and brushwork. It takes time, and patience is required. Continue painting until your canvas is completely filled, and remember that it's fine if some of the original toned canvas shows through between your strokes of paint; Van Gogh did this frequently.

Beyond this, as Van Gogh stated that his duty would be to bring humanity comfort through art. So, you should also let your painting bring comfort to humanity. 

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