Drawing Vincent – a pen illustration inspired by Van Gogh


“How lovely yellow is! It stands for the sun”

~ Vincent Van Gogh

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Pen details of Vincent's face and sunflower
Sunflower close-up and textured paper

Vincent Van Gogh has got to be one of the most recognised artists today. His iconic paintings pop up everywhere and are an endless source of inspiration for other artists and makers. I first encountered his work at school. Aged six or seven years old, our class was tasked with painting our own version of his iconic Sunflowers series. Did you do the same thing at school?

After completing my Frida Kahlo inspired illustration, I began thinking about who my next artist muse would be. I’ve always really enjoyed studying other artist’s work through the act of recreating them myself. It’s like another way of looking at it, but in more intimate detail, tracing every line, shadow and texture with my eyes.

“… his paintings evolved from being interesting and beautiful pictures to vessels of his life experiences.”

A few years ago I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I’ve done plenty of visits to galleries in my time, but the experience I had at the Van Gogh Museum is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever had. The museum surpassed all my expectations, and left me feeling that I had a deeper understanding of Vincent.

His artworks are presented in chronological order alongside letters and information that provide context about Vincent’s life. Walking around the museum wasn’t just an exploration of his artwork, but a journey through his life.

I think I’m a pretty empathetic person, which could be why I found the exhibition to be very moving. His paintings seem to evolve from being just beautiful pictures to vessels of his life experiences and feelings, preserved in time. It was kind of spooky, actually.

Making my Vincent illustration

From the get go I knew that I wanted to create a portrait of Van Gogh in black pen with a colour background. I enjoyed creating the leafy background in my Frida portrait so was keen to do something similar with this one. Sunflowers soon popped into my mind, and I sketched out a plan in biro ink.

A biro sketch of the artwork
Early progress on the artwork

Van Gogh created many self-portraits in his lifetime so I had a good base of references to use as inspiration for my portrait.

“Studying his brush strokes, their direction, depth and colour, then interpreting them into lines of black ink”

Unlike photographs, using paintings as a reference when creating a detailed pen drawing is a really unusual and mind-bending experience. Studying his brush strokes, their direction, depth and colour, then interpreting them into lines of black ink. It’s unlike any other process I use to draw a person.

I still had to inject a great deal of personal interpretation into the illustration. Even with a painting as reference, there were still plenty of gaps to fill, and I really liked that. It made the creative process feel like a response and not a recording, which is exactly what I wanted it to be. The goal was to use what I had soaked up from my Van Gogh experiences and use it to create something new.

Crosshatching the shirt details in fineliner pen
Shading with black pen

Vincent in the Frame

After sketching the final details of his clothing and the sunflower seed heads, it was time for me to add the finishing touch – a black border that would frame Vincent with his favourite flower.

In Van Gogh’s era, sunflowers were not a popular subject for floral art. They were even considered to be a bit crude by his peers. It was this association that Vincent loved and so made the sunflower his flower. I wanted to capture this relationship in my illustration. The flowers and the sunflower man are in the frame together, as one piece of art. They can’t be contained though, the flowers burst from the frame, breaking the mould, just like Vincent did.

Enjoy Vincent at Home

Let Vincent’s story radiate from your walls with a beautiful, archival fine art print of my original illustration. Crisp details, rich colours, each print truly captures the detail and vibrancy of the original artwork.

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Vincent fine art print
Signing a giclee print

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Learn more about the life and works of Van Gogh at The Van Gogh Museum official website.

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