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Vincent van Gogh Painting Techniques

Color and brushstrokes convey emotion in Vincent van Gogh's painting.
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Vincent van Gogh was a self-taught, Dutch post-Impressionist painter, who used a range of painting techniques throughout his artistic career. He understood the importance of mastering drawing skills before moving on to experiment with color and was not afraid to express himself through his work. Ill health and his appreciation of the French landscape and its Impressionist painters were all major influences on his work.


Pointillism is a technique of applying paint in a pattern of different colored dots. From a distance the eye does not see the dots individually and the colors blend together to form an image. Van Gogh painted a "Self Portrait" in 1887 using this method. The lively effect of the dots and color in this image contrast sharply with his dour expression.


This is a technique of spreading paint thickly onto the canvas with a palette knife or brush so that the strokes are visible. Van Gogh used this technique often, but it is notably effective in his painting “Starry Starry Night” where the swirling brushstrokes of the stars and clouds in the sky create a sense of rapid movement. Van Gogh worked instinctively and quickly and this distinctive brushwork is a recurring theme in his paintings.

Use of Color

Van Gogh used color as a form of expression and symbolism rather than replicating the image in front of him. He used bold, complementary colors together, such as yellows and blues, to create impact. Plagued for much of his life by a form of epilepsy, Van Gogh often suffered seizures for which he took various medications. It is believed that the effect of combining these drugs, may have contributed to his affection for bold colors in particular yellow, which is color prominent in much of his work.


Taking influence from Japanese woodcuts, Van Gogh emphasized his images with black outlines giving a graphic feel reminiscent of Japanese prints. One such painting is “The Bridge in the Rain,” which was based on a woodcut by the Japanese artist, Hiroshige. Van Gogh used bolder color within his painting, creating a contrast with the original print. Van Gogh appreciated the elegant simplicity of line within Japanese art, but still conveyed his distinctive style through rapid brushwork.


Lithography is a form of printing where an image is painted or drawn on to a flat stone surface using oily paint and water. These substances repel so that when paper is laid on top, an imprint of the image remains. Van Gogh created a black and white lithograph entitled “Old Man with his Head in His Hands” in 1882. It was a graceful but bleak image which he later reproduced in 1890 as a colorful oil painting.

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