A Great Master Inspires
Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work became known for its rough beauty, emotional honesty and bold color. His oil-on-canvas painting titled Vase With Twelve Sunflowers recently became a source of inspiration for me.
I challenged myself to create a contemporary version of his Sunflower Series using digital photography and Photoshop. After step-by-step experimentation, I’m happy to say I successfully achieved my creative goal.
My “Masterpiece” Process
Here is a brief overview of the steps I took to create my Van Gogh inspired “masterpiece.”
Since I already knew the subject matter I wanted to shoot, my first task was to find the necessary props. Rather than use fresh sunflowers, I chose to purchase a bouquet of silk sunflowers from a local craft store. They were very realistic looking, and I liked how the stems allowed me to bend the individual flowers into any position I desired. I also knew the size and shape of the vase I wanted and was lucky to find one at the same craft store.
Setup and Composition
I arranged the sunflowers in the vase and shot them on a table against a white foam core background. Knowing that I wanted to incorporate two bold colors during post production, I chose to shoot from an angle that would incorporate both the table and background in the image.
First I cropped the image to my liking. Post production then basically involved selecting a specific area of the image, copying it to a separate Photoshop layer, and adding a layer mask before making any adjustments. Here is a breakdown of the areas I worked on individually.
The background was the first area I selected. After copying it to a new layer and unlinking the layer mask, I selected a turquoise foreground color and filled the background with it.
I then selected a slightly different shade of the same color and used the Brush Tool to paint random strokes onto the background.
Once I was done painting the strokes, I used the Marquee Tool to select a small area of the background. From the Filter Menu I then selected Distort>Twirl. I repeated that process until every part of the background had been altered to my liking.
I knew I wanted the table to be a different bold color. To do this, I selected the table and copied it to its own layer. Just like with the background, I selected a slightly different shade of the same color and used the Brush Tool to paint random strokes onto the table.
Once I was done painting the strokes, I used the Marquee Tool to select a small area of the table. From the Filter Menu I then selected Distort>Twirl. I repeated that process until the two main areas of the table had been altered to my liking.
To create a bold line between the background and table, I then clicked on the New Effects Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette and selected Stroke from the menu of choices.
Next, I selected the vase and copied it to its own layer. To enhance the detail of its lines and edges, I clicked on the New Effects Layer icon and again selected Stroke from the menu of choices.
Before continuing, I merged all of the layers by going to the Layer Menu and selecting Merge Visible.
To intensify the edge detail within the overall image, I then went to the Filter Menu and selected Artistic>Poster Edges. I carefully adjusted the sliders to achieve the look I wanted.
Voila! My masterpiece was now complete. But my creativity didn’t stop there…
If Van Gogh Painted An Abstract Orb
After completing my version of Van Gogh’s sunflowers in a vase, my thoughts turned to modern graphic art. If Van Gogh were alive today and wanted to paint an abstract orb of sunflowers, what might it look like? I suspect something like this…
Note: If you don’t know how to create an orb in Photoshop, but would like to learn, my recent article for The Art of Macro Photography will take you step-by-step through the process.
Van Gogh Inspired Kaleidoscope
But would Van Gogh stop with an orb? I think not. He might actually take things further still if he were around today. Perhaps he would embrace the art of symmetry and continue to transform his love of sunflowers by painting a kaleidoscope version such as this…
We’ll never know what Vincent Van Gogh might have created if he were alive today. All I know is that whenever I see sunflowers, I will now think of him and whisper a silent, “Thank you,” for being my inspirational muse this week.
~ Liz Mackney