203: The Genius of Van Gogh

I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. -–Vincent Van Gogh

The reason you don’t see many painters painting thickly in the style of Van Gogh is because it is extremely difficult. The fact that he perfected his technique at such a young age is astonishing. Here are a few reasons I feel Van Gogh was successful painting with thick strokes:

HIS USE OF CLOISSONISM

Van Gogh’s habit of surrounding his shapes with a bold outline–which he borrowed from Japanese woodcut–helped to simplify some of the frenetic nature of the thick strokes. The outlines gave a linear boundary that helps the viewer deal with form that otherwise might have succumbed to chromatic chaos.

DESIGNING LARGE MASSES

Imposing order on chaos is the challenge of thick paint. Van Gogh designed his compositions so that each component of the painting became a well connected series of shapes. He gave each mass a simplified yet highly designed silhouette.

STROKES OF COLOR THAT GUIDE EYE MOVEMENT

If paint gets too thick it can be difficult for the eye to navigate through the picture plane. Van Gogh solved this problem by using long dash-like strokes to give a very prominent direction to each area of the painting. Such strokes give the composition an additional unity that counteracts the potentially overwhelming activity of the thick strokes.

Below is a short video about field effects and why they are important. To read about field effects go here. To watch a video on how to achieve this effect go here.

Brad Teare–December 2014

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Updated: 27th November 2020
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