There are few artists who use color more vibrantly than Van Gogh. After experiencing his paintings in person, most people would agree that it is difficult to capture that vibrancy in any reproduction. However, his pioneering use of color is probably what makes his work so enduringly attractive to both adults and children, so we’ll try to suggest ways of exploring these masterpieces without traveling around the world!
The one book that we found really reflected Van Gogh’s use of color is a book by The Metropolitan Museum of Art aptly titled Vincent’s Colors. The detailed, beautifully reproduced pictures of his painting in this book are each accompanied by a short quote from Van Gogh about that painting. Although the book is aimed at young children, it is a fascinating study for any art lover to see how Van Gogh himself describes his use of color in specific works. This is also a great book for introducing the concept of impasto because these pictures really show the texture of Van Gogh’s paintings very well.
For younger children, In the Garden with Van Gogh (part of the Mini Masters series) is a delightful board book with simple descriptions of several Van Gogh paintings. As the title suggests, this book mostly focuses on his still life paintings of flowers or landscape paintings of gardens but it is a good introduction.
Children aged 4 and older will benefit from reading the book Van Gogh by Shelley Swanson Sateren, part of her series Masterpieces: Artists and Their Works. This is a good, simple biography of Van Gogh with some simple descriptions of his painting techniques and small pictures of his most famous works.
We love both the book and the app version of Van Gogh and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt. The book is a fictionalized account of Van Gogh’s real life friendship with Joseph Roulin, the postmaster in Arles, France, told through the eyes of Roulin’s son. The app is an interactive version of the book that can be read by a narrator or read on your own and includes an interactive gallery of Van Gogh’s works that he painted while living in Arles. The story really brings Van Gogh’s paintings alive for children and does a good job of explaining how his emotional turmoil might have influenced his work, in a way that is not disturbing to children.
Van Gogh painted a variety of subjects and his works include beautiful examples of portraits, landscapes and still life paintings. Therefore, studying his art provides a great opportunity to talk to young children about these different types of paintings. The project below is not an art project as they have been previously, but more an idea for discussing Van Gogh’s art with children with a view toward teaching them about different types of paintings.
Project: Landscape, Portrait or Still Life?
Colored pencils or crayons and drawing pad
1. Start by explaining to children the difference between a portrait, landscape and still life painting. It might be a good idea to show them examples from different artists that you find online or in a general art book.
2. Go through a book of Van Gogh’s paintings and have the child tell you what the subject of each painting is and whether they think it is a portrait, landscape or still life.
3. If you have time, have the child draw a still life, portrait and landscape of their own and then talk about their drawings with them.
For a great Van Gogh art project, check out this Starry Night project from artiswhatiteach.blogspot.com. It’s a fun combination of collage and painting that will keep kids engaged and makes a beautiful finished product.
Artprojectsforkids.org has a nice, simple project for kids inspired by Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers. This project has kids use cd’s or other circular items to help them position the centers of the sunflowers and then complete the picture with oil pastels. It’s a fun way to help kids learn about positioning and balance.
Printable Artist Fact Card
Print this fact card out and add to your collection of great artists and their work. Fold in half and laminate or cut and paste onto a 3×5 card.