Paint a Portrait in the Style of Vincent van Gogh | Karolina M | Skillshare

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Paint a Portrait in the Style of Vincent van Gogh

teacher avatar Karolina M, artist, freelancer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project and Materials


    • 3.

      Finding Your Reference Images


    • 4.

      Preparing Your Canvas


    • 5.

      Transfering your Reference Image to the Canvas


    • 6.

      Mixing Colors


    • 7.

      Painting the Background


    • 8.

      Painting the Portrait - part 1


    • 9.

      Painting the Portrait - part 2


    • 10.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

In this Skillshare class you’ll learn how to imitate Vincent van Gogh’s iconic painting style!

Your project will be to create your own portrait in this style, using the knowledge and guidelines presented in this class. You’ll learn how to deconstruct a work of art and use the components to create your own interpretation.

We’ll be using the oil painting technique but all you really need is just a few basic colors, a canvas and a some brushes.

I’ll take you through my process, from finding the suitable reference images, sketching your idea, preparing the canvas and mixing colors and all the way to the finished artwork!

While having some prior experience in this technique is going to be helpful, you don’t need to be an expert in oil painting to discover your inner van Gogh, so the beginners are welcome to follow the class!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Karolina M

artist, freelancer


Hello, I'm Karolina, an artist and a freelacer. I'm one of the artists who worked on the Oscar nominated movie "Loving Vincent" (2017). I graduated in Art History and Archaeology and I'm currently working as a digital artist. 

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Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction: Hello, and welcome to my Skillshare class. You will be learning how to imitate the painting style of Vincent van Gogh. I am Carolina. I'm an artist born and living in Poland. I am one of the artists who worked on the Oscar-nominated movie, Loving Vincent. Entirely hand painted in the style of Vincent van Gogh. Now, I want to show you how you can paint like Vincent himself. In this class, I will walk you through my entire process, from finding suitable reference images, sketching your idea, preparing the canvas, mixing colors, and all the way to the finished artwork. While having some prior experience might be helpful, you don't need to be an expert in oil painting to discover your inner Van Gogh. All beginners are welcome to follow this class. 2. Class Project and Materials: Your class projects will be to create your own portrait in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. We won't be making a copy of any existing art, but instead, we will try to make our own original art, only imitating the style of Vincent Van Gogh.. All you need is five basic colors of oil paint. Four or five brushes, small or medium canvas, and every little bit of linseed oil. For the canvas preparation, you will need a little bit of acrylic paint and some water. If you want to sketch your idea first, you might need paper and pencils. If you want to follow my easy method for beginners, you might need a printer. Let's get a closer look at our materials. First of all, brushes. What we are going to use are pretty harsh brushes and they're synthetic brushes or a natural hawk bristle brushes. The only kind of brush that you don't want is this soft watercolor brush. What we need is a pretty harsh unyielding brush. The other thing that we need is a palate to mix our paint on. I'm using a piece of glass as a palate because it's much easier to clean and the paint doesn't get stuck in the texture. We need of course, oil paint. I'm using Van Gogh by Talens. Those are pretty good oil paints but you already can use whatever you have. Singles for acrylic paint, pretty much any will do. Of course, we need to some canvas. You can either use those flat painting boards, a thicker canvas, or honestly a piece of thick cardboard will do just fine. One optional material that we might need is linseed oil but we are going to use just a tiny little bit of it. Basically, that's all you need. That's all it takes. Let's get to work. 3. Finding Your Reference Images: Now let's try to decide what to paint. I'm going to be painting a self portrait but you can paint a portrait of your best friend, your mom, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your favorite celebrity or your favorite fictional character. It's really up to you. I'm going to be working on a self portrait because I find it the easiest. I have a picture of myself that I really like and that's going to be my main photo reference. After full of Google images, I'm going to pick some of them to help me with my own painting. First, you need to choose a picture of your subject, be it yourself, or anyone else. Pick a picture that you like the best and we will tell everything else to work with it. I will be working with this picture of myself that I took last year but I'm going to change the clothes that I'm wearing here and instead, I'm going to find myself in this coat. Because it happens to look a lot like the green coat Vincent is wearing in his famous self-portrait. This is going to help me with imitating the style, since I can pretty much copy the way his coat is painted in this painting. This is exactly what we want to do. Go for a Vincent's portraits and look for clothing that looks familiar. Is it a straw hat that you were on holidays, a dark blue jacket, a yellow coat, a green dress, some stripes or polka dots? You can find plenty of examples and easily pick something that feels familiar. We need to do the same with the hair and the face itself. The best reference might not be immediately obvious. The reference I'm using for painting my long curly hair is actually a bird. The portrait of the Postman provides a perfect reference for Vincent's steak on a wild curly structure. How about the angle? Is your photo of choice on firm or free quarters and profile. Find a few examples of Vincent's portrait in this angle and see how he deals with those angles. Once we collected all the images, it's time to put them together and create our preparatory sketch for the bank. 4. Preparing Your Canvas: The first thing that we have to do is to prepare our canvas. What you need here is an acrylic paint, water, and a white brush. If you pay close attention to Vincent's painting, you can often see the canvas picking out from below to the paint. And it's not exactly white. Vincent Van Gogh used to paint on a row, line and canvas without using a white preparatory ground. Since we are trying to imitate Vincent's style. Let's start with making our surface look more like his canvas. I'm mixing white paint with a little bit of light brown and a tiny bit of black. Don't worry about the excellent sheet or about having a smooth, evenly covered surface. Just make sure it doesn't completely hide the canvas texture. I want to make your paint to thick. To make layer thinner, you can dilute your paint with some water. Aside from imitating Vincent, getting rid of white back ground is simply very helpful. Working on a stark white surface affects your ability to perceive values and hues, it makes judging the relationships between cars more difficult. Once the whole canvas is painted, leave it to dry for ten minutes or so. Let's move on to the next topic. 5. Transfering your Reference Image to the Canvas: Now that our canvas is dry and ready, it's time to sketch our portrait. You can draw a preparatory sketch with pencil and paper first, or just draw directly on the canvas. If you are feeling confident, you can start painting without any preparatory sketch. For those of you who don't feel confident in their portrait joint abilities and for all the beginners, here's a very simple method how you can transfer your sketch onto your canvas. If you don't really feel like drawing at all, I'm going to show you how you directly use photo reference on your canvas. Let's get into it. Once you pick your mind photo reference, what we want to do here is to get rid of all the colors and values and give a solid black contour. Whether you are going to sketch it or print it, getting the lines to stand out is going to make it easier. I'm using photos kept here because it's free and easy to use. But if you're more familiar with any other program, just go ahead. I'm using an effect called pencil and all you have to do is to adjust the levels to the maximum. Save the image as a template file, and let's move on. The next step is optional and serves mainly as a way of save ink on printer ink if you intend to print your reference. All I'm doing is cutting away the background and the details that I'm not going to need. Now in order to print, let's open a new file, and let's pick A4 format. I'm cropping the image to just the face because I'm pretty confident that I can draw the rest freehand, and also because I will be changing the clothes to a coat from a different reference picture. Now that we have our image cropped, let's save it as a PDF and print it. Time to grab a pencil and some scissors, and let's get to transferring our reference to the canvas. This method works both for your hand drawn sketch and the print. What we are going to do now is to get the contour of the face, the position of the eyes, lips and nose, and a few other important details marked on the canvas. You have all the important precautions in place. Don't worry. If the contour that you got is rough or distorted or if you can't get the nostrils exactly where they should be. Luckily for us, we aren't doing Vincent Van Gogh and not Leonardo da Vinci. Distortions are our best friend here. As you can see, I'm cutting away the parts of the print to get the outer edge along the contour, and I'm using it as a guideline, to draw the shape of the chin, the ear, the outer edge of the hat and so on. Getting to the eyes or inner line off the lips requires a little bit of creativity. But it's not hard at all. Now that we got the most crucial parts done, it's time to draw their finer details. Keep looking at the reference image and fill in what's missing on the print. Since I'm mixing two reference pictures, it's time to draw the coat. I'm doing it freehand and, I'm not being particularly careful about the exact shape or distance between elements. What we want is the general appearance of the coat, not necessarily a fineful study. If you don't want to draw it freehand, feel free to repeat the process of sketching or printing, cutting and tracing the lines. If you are working with a sketch instead of a print, the exact same principle applies. You just might be having a harder time with destroying your drawing. 6. Mixing Colors: All you need to start is a basic color palette. I'm using prussian blue, vandyke brown, cadmium red, azo yellow, and titanium white. Since oil paint is pretty expensive and you can get all the shades you need from those five colors, this limited palette will do just fine. I'm mixing a few shades of blue and teal for the background, to have them ready in advance. If you look at the second color, it appears almost black. It's the darkest shade that we are going to use, a mixture of Prussian Blue and Vandyke brown. No need to get an actual black. Flesh tones in Vincent's palette are a peculiar mix of yellows, pinks, and a variety of greens. Olive green hues and vibrant blues can be frequently found on his portraits, especially into shadow areas, paired with pale yellow and orange tones in highlights. Ears, mouths, and lips have pink and red tones, often with either dark red or dark blue contours. Here, I'm mixing some preliminary colors for the flesh tones that I am going to adjust later on when I see how they work together in the painting. Since I'm a red head, I need to make some orange colors for the hair, but you might need some different shades. 7. Painting the Background: Now it's finally time to start painting. Let's start with painting the iconic swirly background. I like to start with covering the background with a solid flat color, or at least mostly flat and solid. I like to mix in some different shades to add a little depth. You don't have to be very precise. Actually, leaving some of that grayish under paint peaking out is going to add some interesting texture. Now, it's time to start painting the swirls. I'm using the same brush, but I keep dipping it in four different shades of blue, allowing them to mix and blend a little bit. You want to keep the paint thick and almost dry. I'm not mixing it with any oil or turpentine. We want the brush bristle to leave a strong visible mark. The swirly shapes need to be organic, refined in size and direction giving an illusion of motion. Once the background is done, I'm quickly filing in the big front shape of the hat. Now I'm using a diluted paint mixing it with linseed oil and keeping it light. It creates a nice contrast with the crowded detailed background. I'm leaving the outline empty for now. I'll be back to it once the dark paint dries a little bit. 8. Painting the Portrait - part 1: Now it's time to start working on the face. I'm applying the flesh tones in quick dynamic strokes. I'm not aiming for details or accuracy just yet, just simply building the foundation for the next layers. I'm also adding some dark contours to the eyes and nostrils so I don't lose them. Now adding some brownish red tones to the hair around the face, to see how the color palette comes together. I tend to avoid focusing on just one area until it's finished and then moving to the next one. I prefer building general shapes and color blocks to see the relationships between them. It's easier to correct mistakes and change your mind on the early stages of the painting. It really doesn't have to look like a masterpiece immediately. At this stage, we are just concerned with getting the colors more or less right and building a solid foundation. Now, filling in the coat area as a preparatory ground for the finer texture that will come up later on. Again, just quickly covering the surface with a thin layer of a font, emerald color, using a wider brush and no oil or [inaudible]. Since my third layer dried a little bit, its time to come back to its outline. I'm adding a vibrant yellow line to separate those two areas painted with [inaudible] and a dark navy contour makes it really pop up here. Remember to always put like colors first before painting the dark contour. Or you're just going to end with some mess. Time to fill in all the remaining areas. Her neck and scarf and the outlines of the coat. Again, keeping the first layer pretty basic and flat will be adding some fine details in the next art. Once we are done with that lets add some contours. The dark outline is one of the more prominent features of Vincent style. It keeps a nice definition to the shapes and makes the whole painting more vivid. Keep the line varied in thickness and fixture. We don't want an even flat contour. Those look best in cartoons or posters. 9. Painting the Portrait - part 2: Now it's time to focus on details and textures. Let's start with the hair. I'm using a deep auburn shade. Some orange, dark brown, pale yellow, greenish gray, and the same blue as in the background. I'm using all those colors at once, alternating between them constantly. In the same way as with the background, I need to keep the shapes organic and varied, making sure they don't become repetitive. I'm using three brushes at the same time. Keeping one for the darkest brown, one for blue, and the third one for all other colors. Again, letting them blend and mix a little bit. It's really the same principle as with the background, but with more colors. Luckily the coat is much easier to paint. Those sharps straight strokes are going to provide a nice contrast for our otherwise sweaterly textures and will match nicely with the similar short strokes of the face. I'm alternating between lighter and darker shades of teal with some occasional strokes of pale yellow. I also decided to add some touches of rusty orange to the yellow outlines of the code to make them more interesting. Once the whole coat is ready, we can come back to the face and work on some finer details here. Looking both at the picture of me and some examples of Vincent's and face portraits, I'm trying to blend them together. In my picture, the upper part of my face is in the shadow provided by the hat, while the bottom half is much lighter. I'm trying to keep that in mind while I'm working. I'm adding some green tones around the eyes and nose and dark pink strokes on the cheeks to give the face that distinct Vincent's five. Some finishing touches here and there and that portrait is finally done. 10. Final Thoughts: That's it, that's the portrait. It's dry and ready to be hanged on a wall. I hope you guys enjoyed the class and that you learned something new. Please don't forget to share your progress and your final artwork in the class project. I really can't wait to see what you guys made. That's it. That's all I've got. Thank you for watching and see you in my next Skillshare class.