Make Art Like Famous Artists: Vincent van Gogh

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Make Art Like Vincent Van Gogh

Easy Clay Paintings

Art teacher Marion Abrams knows a masterpiece when she sees one: her young students create them every day at her summer art camps. But to teach the campers about world-famous masterpieces, Marion has devised projects in the styles of three great artists — Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, and Henri Matisse. The simple techniques, such as painting with clay or creating a room from paper, promise lots of hands-on fun. And as you'll see, the results are so satisfying that your kids may just want to make an oeuvre of their own.

Van Gogh's work is full of vibrant colors and thick, often swirling textures. "This project lets kids capture those elements in a really fun and tactile way," Marion says. To replicate van Gogh's distinct style, swap cardboard for canvas and modeling clay for paint.

Artist Statement: Nona Yglesias, age 11

"Making the swirls for the background of my portrait was a lot of fun. It took a while, but it was worth it! I'm really proud of how this project turned out."

About van Gogh

Van Gogh is famous for applying paint impasto, meaning in lots of chunky, uneven layers. "He didn't disguise his brushstrokes," Marion says, "so we can actually see the way his hand moved across the canvas." Of course, the Dutch artist is famous for another type of dramatic gesture: cutting off his earlobe. Despite (or maybe because of) his mercurial temperament, van Gogh produced an array of stunning works, including "The Starry Night" and "The Bedroom." Although his work sells for millions today, van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. He painted this self-portrait in 1889, the year before he died.

What you'll need

  • Pencil
  • Cardboard or foam core
  • Modeling clay
  • Palette knife (optional)

How to make it

  1. Use a pencil to sketch a design on the cardboard or foam core. If you like, use a photograph or art print for inspiration.

  2. Pinch off peanut-size pieces of clay and press them onto your design. Using your fingers, push and smear the clay until all the edges meet or overlap. For swirls, roll dime-size pieces of clay into thin coils, then arrange and press them into place.

  3. To create new shades, apply other colors and blend them into the base coat. If you like, use a palette knife to push the clay into small peaks.

  4. Add details, such as facial features and jewelry, with more clay. You can press them on lightly to preserve their dimension, or flatten them into the base layer.

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