by Dina Wakley

Using Brushstrokes Inspired by van Gogh

Van Gogh’s directional brushstrokes are a visual force. What you don’t realize about van Gogh’s work until you stand in front of it at a museum is that the paintings are more than just visual. They have a tangible texture that moves the eye. They have energy.

When you can see visible brushstrokes in a work and the paint stands up off the canvas, we call it “impasto.”  Van Gogh painted very rapidly, with a sense of urgency, using the paint straight from the tube in thick, graphic brush strokes. Let’s take a look at how to get that energy on your art journal pages.

Because I’m not really a painter, I don’t know how to paint figures or apples or trees…but I can use brushstrokes as part of my expression.  When you want your brushstrokes to show movement, you have to get your whole arm moving as you apply paint to the page. Try this quick and simple circle flower exercise.

1. Choose 3 shades of a single color of acrylic paint,  and gesso a page in preparation.

2. Using the lightest color, draw some large, flowing circles onto your page. Work quickly and don’t think about it…just do it! Make the circles loose and flowing, and leave some visual space in the middle.  Apply the paint thickly and don’t smooth it out. Let the bumps and ridges be.


3. Take the next couple of darker colors and add a few more brushstroke circles over your lighter circles. [insert dina02.jpg]

4. Repeat the brushstrokes again with the darkest color.


5. Fill the center of the flowers with a few quick strokes of a second color.


6. Add a second shade or color in the center of the flowers, van Gogh style.


7. Add leaves around the flowers with two or three shades of green. Paint them loosely and quickly…no over-thinking!


I used this technique in my art journal—the effect is slightly different because of the texture of the watercolor paper. And in my journal, I don’t know if they’re necessarily flowers…but they are free-flowing circles, or wheels, or suns, or whatever interpretation you want to apply. The inspiration and feeling is definitely van Gogh!