An Acrylics Exercise after Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh Exercise 031

This exercise in the Expressionist style can be done at home and is suitable for beginners.  Painting in an Expressionist way means responding to the subject with your emotions. Bold use of colour, distorting forms or painting them more simply as blocks of colour that interact with each other are some of the features of Expressionist painting.  If you are keen to research, some artists who worked in this style are Van Gogh, Oscar Kokoschka and Edvard Munch. Now if you are ready to get started the following “night sky” exercise is an easy one for artists of all levels including beginners.

You will need:

  • 8 pots of acrylic paint, warm primary coloursUltramarine blue, a warm yellow and a warm red.  Cool primary colours, cool blue, Lemon yellow, Alizirian Crimson.  1 black and 1 white. Ask at your art shop for the different cool and warm colours.
  • 2 long handled paint brushes, one small, and one medium.
  • A small canvas, canvas board or paper suitable for painting with acrylics.  The size is up to you.  If using a canvas prime it first, otherwise wash with warm soapy water and dry.
  • Rags, a container for water.
  • If using paper, you may prefer to tape it to a board to make things easier.
  • Palette, I used two old kitchen plates.

You will need to allow about one hour for this exercise.  Do not be too precious about this process.  As you can see, I have slapped the paint on and the end result is loose and spontaneous.  You can do likewise!

Van Gogh Exercise 003

Firstly, draw in a simple village scene with pencil.  With ultramarine blue and a small long handled brush, draw over your pencil lines.  Holding the brush by the end of the long handle will allow your drawing to be loose and flowing creating a harmonious painting

Van Gogh Exercise 004

Complete all parts of the drawing with the blue paint.

Van Gogh Exercise 006

Paint in some crazy swirls for the starry sky.

Van Gogh Exercise 008

Mix in a small amount of cool red (Alizirian Crimson) into the Ultramarine blue to make a sky colour.  Paint in the sky with your medium sized brush. This cool colour will show the sky as receding.

Van Gogh Exercise 009

This is how your painting should look so far.

Van Gogh Exercise 010

Make up a green by mixing Ulttramarine Blue and Warm Yellow plus a very small dot of red.

Van Gogh Exercise 011

Paint in the foreground trees.  This warm green will bring the trees forward.  Cooler colours in the background will allow the scene to recede.

Van Gogh Exercise 012

Mix up a brighter green by using warm yellow and a small dot of ultramarine blue.

Van Gogh Exercise 013

Paint the yellowish green into the trees here and there using small strokes.  This will show the highlights of the foreground trees. Be bold with this and don’t be concerned where the highlights are placed, just allow the darker colours to show also, do not cover them completely.

Van Gogh Exercise 014

This is how your trees might look after putting in the highlights.

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Next, add some white to your ultramarine blue mix to add to the sky.

Van Gogh Exercise 016

Place dotted swirls through the sky in a flowing pattern and continue to swirl it through the areas previously defined for the stars.  Use dot strokes with your brush to get the Expressionist look.

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This is how your painting might look at this stage. It is best to take a break now and allow 20 minutes for the work to dry.

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Using a cool yellow (e.g. lemon yellow) continue to use small strokes to define the stars and sky even further.

Van Gogh Exercise 019

Mix up a cool green with Lemon yellow and Ultramarine blue plus a dot of Alizirian Crimson for the distant and foreground hills.  Paint them in using broad strokes.

Van Gogh Exercise 020

Add warm yellow in small strokes to the foreground hills to bring them forward.

Van Gogh Exercise 024

Mix up a lightish purple with Ultramarine blue, Alizirian Crimson and a small amount of white.

Van Gogh Exercise 025

Paint broad strokes of this purple into the night sky, particularly close to the hills and bring strokes of this purple throughout the painting into the hills.

Van Gogh Exercise 026

You can use the purple and other colours you may have on your palette to paint in the houses.  Stay with the colours you have already used.  It is best not to introduce new colours at this stage.

Van Gogh Exercise 027

Mix up a dark colour with warm red and cool blue.  If this colour is not dark enough for your liking, you may add a very small amount of black.  Use this colour to go around the houses.

Van Gogh Exercise 030

You can also use this colour to define the hills.

Van Gogh Exercise 031

Don’t forget to show where the moonlight hits the tops of the trees and houses by using dots of a light yellowish white on the tops of the trees and the roofs of the houses. Notice how I have left the foreground warm and light.  You have artistic licence and if you want to change anything just go over it once dry.  That is the beauty of acrylics!

A related post after van Gogh can be found in “Copy the Great Masters” category.



6 thoughts on “An Acrylics Exercise after Vincent van Gogh

    • Yes Patsy, I am happy for you to print the tutorial out. I hope you enjoy doing this fantastic Van Gogh exercise. The moonlight effect makes it so special. I look forward to seeing this exercise done in your own unique style:)


  1. Pingback: Paint the Great Masters – Vincent van Gogh | Zen School for Creative People

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