Van Gogh – anew self portrait

master's thesis by suruchi sharma


a study in digital


This piece was an attempt to understand the use of colors which Van Gogh used for creating this self-portrait.

Van Gogh’s genius is attributed in his exceptional use for vibrant colors. He has a very colorful palette and he used a myriad of small strokes to create the rhythm. I would like to illustrate things which I came to realization while painting a digital version of the same painting.

1. Background- Van Gogh uses a combination of few colors (as illustrated in the picture above) to create an effect of light and dark regions. The strokes are placed in pure hues without any color mixing. Placing the colors right next to each other creates an optical illusion and the eye is able to blend the colors on its own.

The left side is lighter than the right side and he creates a wonderful blend between the two. Definitely trying to create the Chiaroscuro effect. Also, notice right side of the face is in shadow and is projected against the lighter background whereas the left side which is more brighter is put against the darker background.

2. The strokes on the coat are smaller and resemble more to the strokes in the background. The frequency distribution of red, green, blue and yellow strokes is well defined to create the brighter and darker areas.

3. Certain areas have a strong directional strokes whilst others have more randomized strokes.

4. Van Gogh’s color choices are based on few concepts-

a) Use of Simultaneous contrast- Two colors, side by side, interact with one another and change our perception accordingly. The effect of this interaction is called simultaneous contrast. e.g., the beard and the face

b) Use of non-representational color, i.e., using emotionally rich colors that have no relation to the actual color in physical world.

c) He uses bright complementary color to define the hotspot regions, i.e., the brightest regions on the face; and also to define the extreme curvature regions. Eg.g the use of green on the beard and nose regions and the use of red around the eyes. These are non-representational and emotive colors.

5. Yellow is used on the coat to define the shimmer and reflective quality of the velvet coat.


I ran an edge detection comparison on the actual painting and the digital version created by myself in order to see the areas of discrepancy of the strokes and their flow.


unwrapped colormap


vincent’s color

While searching the color application in Van Gogh’s paintings, I stumbled upon this piece.

“Vincent van Gogh was confronted with the colour theories of Charles Blanc in 1884.This book was one of the most important sources of inspiration for Van Gogh’s use of colour. Blanc gave a clear overview of the theory in which the contemporary colours played a key role. These are colours positioned opposite of each other on the colour circle and which are enforced when placed next to each other (red-green, blue-orange, purple-yellow). Van Gogh started experimenting with these contrasts in Nuenen. “

proof of concept in 3D