The Painting Materials of Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh painting closeup

So I’m always ( guess you can tell by now) fascinated with artist materials. Of course, It’s not just about materials but I really believe they should be studied like a musician studies his guitar.

Funny, I happened to catch a YouTube video the other day of one of my guitar heroes called Mark Knopfler Master Class – Mark Knopfler was teaching a group of up-and-coming guitar players some tricks of the trade.

And it was really fascinating (to me anyway, as I know almost nothing about chords, notes, strings, etc. on a guitar) to watch him. He sees and hears so many things the students don’t. Why? Simple – he has had a lot more practice – thousands and thousands more hours than them.

But to know your instrument (or your art materials) can and should be part of your artistry. Really take the time to study, test and really KNOW your materials. You want to get to a point where they are almost invisible – then your creative expression can just flow through your materials effortlessly.

I did want to take a look at some of the materials Van Gogh used. Granted, there was not an exceptional amount of precision to Van Gogh’s works. They were not really about that. The were about the immediacy of the moment, trying to capture the changing emotions and moods of nature.

I have had continuing conversation with some of the technical analysts and paint conservationists at the Van Gogh Museum in Holland. They have been exceptionally delightful to deal with.

Like his contemporaries Van Gogh used a combination of soft (ie; marter or polecat hair) fine pointed brushes for detailing and other generally flat-tipped hog hair bristle brushes – up to about an inch wide.

As for supports, he typically painted on plain weave linen canvas, although twill weave linen, cotton, jute and carton supports also occur throughout his work.

I will be getting a lot more into Van Gogh, his materials and process. I am even thinking of producing a DVD on the cool stuff I am finding – so stay tuned.

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