Looking at Paintings: Learning from Van Gogh

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A great way to explore styles and ways of painting is to attempt a copy of an Old Master.

Camille by Vincent Van Gogh

Here is ‘Camille’ by Vincent Van Gogh.

Griding up to transfer an image

Print out a good copy onto an A4 piece of paper. Once you have your print out, draw grid lines over it and the same size or scaled up grid on your painting surface. You can increase the scale by just adjusting the size of the grid boxes – for instance, a square on the original measuring an inch would become an inch and a half on your painting surface. Then look carefully at each square and draw exactly what appears in that square. This ‘gridding up’ is a great way of transferring designs and drawings. For drawing onto the canvas, I have used Cretacolor Oil Pastel Pencils.

First layer

Van Gogh was able to use Oil Paint in an Alla Prima way that laid down layers of paint very quickly and thickly without muddying the colours. This can be a tricky technique to master so, for this exercise, use Acrylic Paint for ease and speed and simply take from it what colours are being used, how they are being layered and the brushstrokes used to apply the paint.

Second layer

By really looking at the original print, you will begin to see how certain areas are treated. For instance, looking at the original, there appears to be a darker green colour peeking through areas of the yellow background, the blue hat and face as well as on the jacket. Therefore, using green as a base colour will become these flecks on latter layers and tie the painting together. So, after painting the whole canvas a suitable green, I can then start building up the subsequent layers whilst still allowing some of this green to come through in places.

Third stage

Looking carefully at the colours and brushstrokes of the original, continue to build up the layers of colour …

Finished piece

…until you are happy with your finished painting.

The lessons learnt by doing this exercise can then be applied to your own work.