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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Seban

Vincent Van Gogh: How Do You Paint Happiness?

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) was a Dutch artist who is famous for showing us his how he felt. Raised in the Netherlands, he drew from the time he was little, but had difficulty deciding what to do. He worked as an art dealer, then wanted to become a minister, and eventually decided to become a professional artist. He arrived in Paris in 1886 and took the idea from the Impressionists that artists paint their own reality.

Van Gogh’s reality was challenging. It was hard for him to fit in. He did not sell any of his paintings so his brother supported him. In many letters to his brother, Theo, Vincent talked about his anxieties, his depression—and the fact that painting is what made him feel content and connected. You can see this in his self portrait from 1889.

Self-Portrait, 1889

If you look at his Bedroom in Arles, you can see how he placed the colors.

In Starry Night, Van Gogh used blue and yellow, two complementary colors, to give a sense of the happiness and peace he felt when he saw shooting stars as they crossed the night sky.

Van Gogh painted flowers in the colors that made him happy: deep blue irises and vivid yellow sunflowers. Today, these sell for MILLIONS of dollars—but in his lifetime, Van Gogh did not sell any of his paintings. He died in 1890 at the age of 37—we don’t know exactly what afflicted him, and probably never will. But we can read his letters and his paintings to see the joy he found in art, and looking at the world around him. In just the last 2 years of his life, he made over 850 paintings!---at his funeral, his brother Theo placed many of those paintings around the room.


In the Netherlands, sunflowers are a symbol of good luck and happiness—maybe that is why Van Gogh painted them so many times!

Materials: Paper, paper plate, paintbrush, red, yellow and blue paint

**No water needed--don’t rinse paint brush at all! The variation of color is achieved by using the same brush with traces of other colors.

Prep: Place 3 TB each of red, yellow, and blue paint on the plate—at 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 positions

This is a directed painting so children should follow directions as closely as they can—the paintings will still have their own inimitable styles!

1. Dip brush into yellow paint and create a fist side circle of yellow on the top half of paper. Once complete, children can make 2-3 more circles of similar size, leaving space between each one—this will be the sunflower centers.

2. Have children place the TIP of the paintbrush into the red, place brush on outside of circle, press down and out, creating a petal. Repeat, each time starting at edge of circle and stroking outwards on each sunflower center. Sunflowers have MANY petals!! Color of the petals will vary as kids reload yellow and red paint.

3. Dip the brush in red to make the vase for the flowers on the bottom third of the paper—it can be a square, rectangle, or angled shape.

4. Dip brush in blue paint to create a table line across the bottom half of the vase. Then use short brushstrokes to create a dappled blue background above the table line.

****use this time for questions or to admire artwork, and allow for the background to dry a bit****

5. Take the brush and make a separate blob of blue paint on the paper plate. Mix in yellow to get green, and draw stems from a few of the flowers to the vase.

6. Add red to the green to make a brownish muddied color. Use wide horizontal strokes to create the planks of the table.

7. Use the remainder of the brown to add small dots or seeds to the center of each sunflower.

8. Students can touch up their flowers by adding red or brown to the flowers or adding shadow to the vase.


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