Vincent van Gogh : Sunflowers

Overview Artist Biography Planning Ahead Materials & Setup Class Discussion Project Directions Reflections Downloads & Resources Docent Forum


Sunflowers 1888, oil on canvas, 91 cm. x 72 cm. Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze Sunflowers, by van Gogh, and learn how artists paint expressively
  • Identify warm colors, circular shapes, and rough texture
  • Draw round and oval shapes and straight and curving lines to make flowers and vases
  • Paint still life of flowers, using a digital paint program

Lesson Teaching Notes

A document of summary pages on the lesson’s Key Concepts, Discussion Questions, Artist Points, and Project Directions.

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Materials and Setup

Materials List
  • Vase with yellow and orange flowers
  • Color Wheel
  • Digital Device (e.g. computer or tablet)
  • Digital Paint App on the device
    • Some suggestions: Adobe Draw , Brushes Redux, Paper 53, Sketch Pad, or Sketchbook Edu – some are iPad and/or Android apps, some may have computer versions as well.
Setup Directions
  • Preload digital devices with the desired digital paint app.
  • Familiarize yourself with the user interface of the digital paint app.
  • Consider having a separate short class session to learn about the digital paint app, before teaching a digital art lesson.

Photos of Setup

Class Discussion

How did Van Gogh paint these expressive sunflowers?
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Style - Expressionism

Van Gogh painted these Expressionist sunflowers with large brushstrokes and thick impasto paint. He filled the vase and the canvas with bright, warm colors that contrast with the turquoise background. At the time Van Gogh painted this, people preferred realistic paintings, and they didn’t like this painting. But now most people love the happy, expressive flowers that seem to have personalities.

What did van Gogh do first when he painted this still life?
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Vocabulary - Sketch

van Gogh first drew a sketch of an oval for the vase, then he drew the flowers in the arrangement. Next, he mixed the colors, using oil paint, and then he painted the canvas. He painted the flowers, one at a time, in a lively arrangement.

What makes this still life seem alive?
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Style - Personalities/Still Life/Museums

The flowers in this painting seem to have personalities. van Gogh arranged these flowers to make them appear lively. He painted the flowers one at a time, adding each one to fit into the arrangement. Some flower heads seem to look at us. Some flowers droop sadly. Some flowers stand tall like brave soldiers. Some flowers hide their faces, like shy people. Which flower is cheerful? Is there an angry or frightened flower? How many flowers are in the vase?

A still life painting shows objects that are still and cannot move on their own. van Gogh liked to paint still-life compositions because he could arrange the objects in pleasing ways. The flowers show the warmth of fall. In winter, after the sunflowers are gone, the lively flowers in this painting will still be blooming.

We are looking at a reproduction, or copy, of the original painting that is in a museum in Germany. This reproduction is a photograph of the real painting. On the original painting, you can see the thick oil paint layered on its surface. Where did van Gogh sign his painting?

Why is yellow called a warm color?
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Color - Warm/Cool

Yellow is a happy, warm color. Yellow is considered a happy, warm color because it is the color of the sun, of summer flowers, and of wheat fields in autumn. For van Gogh, the color yellow symbolized everything good, including love, hope, and friendship. Look at the color wheel and find the warm colors. Red, yellow and orange are warm colors.

The warm colors are bright against the cool blue background.

How did van Gogh make the color orange?
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Color - Mixed

Orange is made by mixing red and yellow. van Gogh mixed his paints to make many different shades of yellow and orange.

How do the straight and curving lines give the flowers personalities?
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Line - Straight/Curving

Some flowers have straight stems. They seem to stand straight and tall.

Some flowers have curving stems and petals. They appear to be shy or sad, like a person bending over.

Did van Gogh paint the table line or the vase first?
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Line - Horizontal

He drew the vase and flowers first and then added the table line. We know this because the table is a different height on each side. He had already painted the vase before he painted the line.

What shapes are repeated?
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Shape - Round/Oval

Flowers seen from the front have round shapes. Flowers turned sideways have oval shapes. The vase has an oval shape with a flat top and bottom.

How does van Gogh show that some flowers are in front of others?
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Space - Overlap

Overlap shows that one thing is in front of another. The flowers are arranged in a vase. Some flowers overlap others and hide their shapes. Which flowers are in front of all the others? Which flower is almost hidden by the others? The vase is sitting on top of a table. The oval shape of the vase overlaps the table and background. Some flowers overlap the vase.

How does van Gogh balance the flowers in this arrangement?
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Four flowers form a zig zag line above the center of the vase. Four flowers on the right twist and turn. Four flowers on the left hide their faces. These groups of four are balanced in the painting.

If you could touch the paint, what texture would you feel?
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Texture - Rough/Impasto

This reproduction is flat and smooth, but the real painting has actual texture. The flowers and vase have rough texture. You would feel it if you touched them.

van Gogh used thick, impasto paint, like toothpaste, to paint the flowers and vase. We can see the marks made by the paintbrush.

Download Discussion Questions
Download Key Concepts


Project Directions

Still Life Flowers

  1. Set the background color to turquoise.
  2. Select the pencil or pen tool and draw an oval vase with curving top and bottom.
  3. Draw several flowers above the vase. Create flowers of different shapes, sizes, and height. Have some overlap one another.
  4. Draw a table line behind the center of the vase.
  5. Select the brush tool and color pick different warm colors, like yellow, orange, and red to paint the flowers.
  6. Color pick dark orange and paint the centers of the flowers.
  7. Paint stems and leaves that are curved and straight and some that overlap one another. Color pick various shades of green for the stems and leaves.
  8. Paint the vase a medium warm color like tan or rusty brown.
  9. Paint the table a bright yellow.
  10. Save your digital flower painting and try another still life.

NOTE: If your paint app has layers, create a new layer for each new item you sketch. Make sure layers and colors are set to 100% opacity.



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