How to Paint a Vincent Van Gogh Background in Acrylics  by Ginger Cook

How to Paint a Vincent Van Gogh Background in Acrylics by Ginger Cook

Hi, this is Ginger Cook and today, I want to talk about how to get a really interesting model background for a still life. Now this particular painting is a slight replica of one of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings done around 1880. But you’ll see that if you look at countless pictures of still lives, you’ll see this very interesting background that’s multicolored and put on in layers. I’m going to show you an easy way to do it and A lot of people wouldn’t think you would do it this way particularly with acrylics. It’s very effective, so this is what we’re going to learn today. So I’m going to move over here and take this out of the way. And what I’ve done is going to show you a couple different ways to get it. This is a canvas that I’ve done; I’ll put it sideways so you can see it and I’ve taped it down the middle with some tape. So I’m going to show you two different kinds of backgrounds. So this first background that we’re going to use is the, it’s done with burnt umber and so, the second one is done with burnt sienna. So what you want to do whenever you’re doing any kind of background really doesn’t matter what it is, when you’re trying to do a background like this, multicolored, I’m going to just show you here. Start here and down and across down and across. Don’t keep doing this way make sure that you’re weaving a pattern. This is very important, your brushstrokes make a difference! This is one of the tricks that I want you to guys to get. It’ll aid you a lot. So you see, I’m going down and across down it across and I’m using quite a bit of paint and That there’s quite a bit on this brush and using quite a bit of paint going down and across, down and across like that. Okay, so that’s our first layer. Now, this has to be really dry. We’ve got burnt umber on this side because really, the whole idea was is to show you a couple different ways; what happens when you use different background color, background layers. This is the burnt sienna and this one is burnt umber so one sort of a lighter reddish background. So you can use, I’m going to back this camera a little bit, you can use, they both look pretty dark from here. But when I close up on it for you, you can see it’s, you can see it’s a little bit lighter than you think so take a moment and just dry the background. Make sure they’re really, really dry. Now this is just a technique. You can use all the time. But you have to have a dry background, maybe you need to wait overnight to make sure it’s dry, but make sure you have it dry. All right now okay, so this is the background we’re going for here. This is the background we’re going for here! It’s all these multiple colors. So you see you can almost see what’s behind it. Whenever you’re trying to do that, now I’m going to take a brush like this, I’m going to rinse it, as I had the red on it. I’m going to start on this side I believe because that’s the driest, and I’ve pinched my brush off in a rag like this: taking a rag, pinch the brush. All right now, let’s take a color say like yellow oxide or yellow ochre kind of a gold color. Now I’m going to put it on both sides of my brush. Now over here you’re going to see a little bit, I’m just going to tap off a little bit extra right there. Now using the side of my brush, the side of my brush, I’m going to start making little circles like this, little tiny circles and moving. Little tiny circles and moving like that. Almost like I’m making clouds. Very similar to clouds except now this is, you’re doing it in colors, you want to still like background. Now the trick is we’re not going to just use one color here. There’s this color, that that’s this pure yellow oxide, but maybe we’ll take a little bit of cad yellow medium with a little tiny bit of cad red medium, alright like see that? Now I’m going to start with this color! And I’m going to come over here, very bright, kind of just put that over this one like this. Now the, if you stay in one place with making circles you’ll dig a hole, just like a tire that’s stuck in sand. So if you’re going to be making these circles you have to keep moving, always working on the wet edges. If I have that color there, I probably want some of that up here. Now what most people end up with, sometimes they’ll end up with a hole or they end up with some sort of scribbled mess. You have to keep layering this. This is what you don’t understand. You have to dry it in between layers! All right, so this is sort of nice! I don’t dislike this. So now I’m going to dry it real quick. Now this is the trick you’ve got to dry between layers, because you’ve got to seal these colors to each other. If you get it to light, you can always add some more dark colors. All right, so now I think I’m going to go, I’m still going for my lighter background here, So I’m going to take a little white and yellow oxide now, and I’m going to wipe off the extra, like that, off my brush. Now I’m going to come up here like this and do this, just come around here like that. Maybe layer some of this on here like this, then I’ll come back into some gold maybe and just that yellow oxide color without any white. See how I’m kind of going over that. Now my brush is flatter. I was on the side before and now it’s flatter and I think this is the key. It’s flatter and I’m working the wet edges. But on the other hand, I still want you to see these wonderful colors that I’ve got underneath. You see that? I want you to see these, you see a little bit of that orange underneath, a little bit of that kind of reddish color. Kind of getting the edges here now. I’ve got something up here so go back into the yellow oxide, then maybe just come up like this. Now when I come to these two maybe I’ll get a little more of this lighter color, kind of blend those together, let’s see. Let’s take a little bit of burnt sienna that might be a good color to have out. You can see, do I have it out here somewhere? Yep, okay, so I used most of it up in this other venture over here on the other side. But I take a little burnt sienna for instance, maybe I’ll put a little vat and mix that with this. Now remember, I’m still layering my backgrounds now my brush is going flatter, less on the side, flatter. And you see how I keep weaving these colors together like smoke and mirrors. It’s like smoke, if I were to tell you that. Now maybe I’ll put a little lighter gold on top of this. Barely touch it, and coming over here into the corners. Now I’m talking about, this is how we’re talking about getting a very nice light background, say for a still life or something you want to do, maybe a portrait. What if you got too much of the light color? Well here’s a little bit of the dark brown, let’s just move some of that back in here. Add some of the burnt umber. You can put it back if you do too much at one time, however, It can start getting [uhm] you can start making holes. So this is why I just sort of suggest drying in-between. But I’m going to come up here and do a little bit of the brown back, because that this is about layering your colors. Now maybe I’ll come back here and just very gently. If I just did a wet paint there I can barely touch this if I want to lighten it, and then I’m back into the side of my brush. Alright you see how we we’ve kind of created all this kind of background. Maybe I think I want a little bit more of a reddish, kind of an orange color down here, and I’ll wipe off the excess paint off my brush, and then I’ll come up here and maybe add a little bit of color here. And this is what I’m talking about, if you get some of those beautiful backgrounds that are very, very subtle, just kind of weave these colors over each other. You think of this, you know, like doing clouds or water mist or something? That’s what I would tell you. Then I’m going to dry this one more time and just cover that up like that. I don’t really want all that orange showing. Then, I’ll just rinse that, my brush again, because I’ve had that orange color on it. Then I’ll come back in with this lighter yellow oxide, kind of using the brush flat now, see that? Barely touch it now because I do want some of that to show through I’m not trying to cover it all up. I want to maybe I want to lighten this background up a little, somewhere, maybe a little more yellow oxide if I got that a little bit brighter than I want. All right, see that, and you can just keep blending this in together, and I’ll see, I’ll take a little bit more burnt Sienna on top of here. Just sort of blend all this, and again, you just, as long as you’re drying in-between you can get some really, really interesting effects. But, you have to dry in between. For instance, suppose you wanted a little area that was darker in here for some reason, that there’s going to, contrast a plant or something in a background where you need it a little bit darker, you could add a little more brown to an area you see that you can add just a little bit more brown. But if you wanted to lighten that up, just add another light color and at some point though you have to dry it again. So this is how, what you do. You just keep layering the colors and layering them on there and then you get this beautiful, beautiful background that really doesn’t take much to do and I can just kind of show it to you like this, and back it up a little bit. Whoops wrong way! Alright, let me back it up, and just kind of lighten up the camera here. You can see what I’ve got. Okay, this is not backing up well. Okay so, alright, so if I thought that I needed more dark, I might just come in here at this [unintelligible] and maybe darken the corners a little bit. Just come back in here and go over it and really, this is what we’re talking about doing. The brush is now flat and I’m going to darken up some of these corners and let some of this stay light. You see what we’re doing? Maybe with this corner a little darker, a little bit of dark here on the, flat of it, but all these other colors are sort of melting through here. They’re peeking through. And that’s what I’m talking about and maybe I want a little bit, Oh, I like this let’s put a little bit light right here. You can kind of look at your picture and say what, what would, what would be very helpful in my painting? Where do I need some light and where do I need some dark? And then also if you’re painting something on top of this, if you need to repair the edges, you know, for instance if you painted something you didn’t like, you can go back and add these colors again. Like right in here. What if I had something real light right in there? Barely touch it, and then what if it came up in here like this. It takes, you know this isn’t fast it takes a little bit of something, but this is not fast but it can get really pretty if you just take your time with this. All right, so that is the that’s the one I want to show you for just say, using burnt umber and you can see how we’ve got this sort of very nice dark background. That would be good for maybe a portrait, may be good for, maybe you want to use fewer colors, but I like to use a lot of colors. Alright, now here’s my burnt Sienna and I’m going to do the same thing. Now this, I didn’t start off with the dark color this time. I started off with this sort of light reddish color So now I’m going to come into some dark brown, and I’m just going to put, this is burnt umber, and I’m just going to go over this with some dark brown, and this is what happens, this is what happens when you start off with the lighter color. Which you could do, you could paint the whole thing red for instance. I mean, this is pretty subtle with the with the burnt sienna kind of a reddish brown, but, I mean, you can see here what we’re doing with the with the, with the, just putting burnt umber over this. Really not getting too clever about it, for a number, like that. Here we go See? Now, but some of this red showing through, do you see that? This isn’t just a plain background anymore because some of the reds showing through. So then what if we took some burnt sienna and some burnt umber and mixed them together and then added another color in here? Now this is our second layer. So now it’s going to start covering up on all the little see-through things at the canvas, and it depends on what kind of, whether you want a real dark background, what you want! I could take some dioxazine purple and some burnt sienna and get something really dark going up here in the corners if I wanted. Just as they wanted that and maybe some some cad red medium what if I want to lighten it up? Here’s some cad red medium! Now watch here. This is all still wet, I haven’t tried anything, now look what happens. Just like this. Now I’m adding some cad red medium, and I’ve got it on the flat of my brush. Let’s just say I want it right in here and the brush is now going flat not on the edge. Kind of going back and forth in here, got a different brushstroke going. Now I’ve got some sort of very interesting background without having to, have done much. Maybe over here a little bit, put some of that red, like that. Now. Alright, let’s do a little bit of orange so if I take cad red medium and, [collects thoughts] cad red medium and cad yellow make a little oranger color. Now what if I want to lighten this up in here? Look at that, see? Now if you have, if you kind of think about a still-life mostly you’re not going to see a lot of this. You know, you make a background like this, and then you can always adjust it to depending, if it’s a portrait or still life! But what you’ve got is something, that’s paintable as opposed to just, you know, plain old piece of pictures. You know, just painted one color. So let me just take off the tape here so you can kind of see what I’m talking about. So those are two different backgrounds that are possible and again, I’m going to show you this picture: where we could see, how I might have done this and have Van Gogh did it! Van Gogh had a best, it’s kind of a copy of his background and, and how all these colors were added to this. Starting with a very dark base. In this case, I started with burnt umber and in this case I started with the burnt sienna then I put the dark over it, then I started adding lights And I, you noticed that I didn’t even dry that much in this. Alright, so that’s our tip for the day I hope this is going to be helpful when you’re, when you’re painting. Let me just move all this out of the way so you can see what we’ve got and there you go how to make backgrounds in different colors. Look for more tips check out my other lessons, I have over 125 lessons recorded on ginger cook live. So get a subscription to that if you want to look at, get more art lessons that I’m always adding new things up to our YouTube channel. So feel free to subscribe to my channel and if you like this let me know if you thought this was fun, let me know. Thanks very much! This is Ginger Cook and [collects thoughts] I appreciate you joining me!

Dereck Turner

100 thoughts on “How to Paint a Vincent Van Gogh Background in Acrylics by Ginger Cook

  1. Gail Bernard says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful technique! I used liquid acrylics for the background which turned out amazing. I'm using regular golden acrylics for the subject on top and I think it is beautiful.. Best tip I've learned in the last ten years. Love this!

  2. sandy corrigan says:

    Thank you. Great

  3. Judith Brock says:

    Awesome Ginger

  4. olympe walser says:

    Thank you for the tip …Beautiful work …Best wishes from France …<3<3<3 FIERCE

  5. Molly Muzette says:

    Hi Ginger! That's my mother's nickname, btw. Glad I found you. Love your teaching style and am grateful for the free education.

  6. Laurie Morse says:

    Thank you for your instruction, it's so helpful and beautiful! Quick question on when to use the side of the brush and when to use it flat, I'm not clear on that? Thank you!

  7. Brenda English says:

    Very helpful thank you

  8. pcat1000 says:

    marvelous ! i used a similar technique to paint out graffiti when i lived in los angeles.

  9. Luis Negrón says:

    Thanks very much.

  10. Diane Gusikoff says:

    great lesson…thanks

  11. jeffery warburton says:

    this can also be a great use for left over paint on the pallet or even when you clean your brush just keep a small canvas insted of a paint rag

  12. Mary-Lee Van Der Merwe says:

    lovely idea and well explained

  13. Nel Boswell says:

    This is great, always wondered how the background came into play … thankyou.

  14. Melissa Dennis says:

    Thanks Ginger
    You are very good at explaining what I need to know and do

  15. Kristen Dixon says:

    Thank you for this video, Ginger. I’m going to try this background technique on a few different paintings I’m doing.

  16. Lee Hauser says:

    Thanks so much! That was so exciting to watch it all come together . I'm encouraged!

  17. Gabriel says:

    Your camera is a little lagging. You said it was 3 cameras ago, do you have an updated version of this?

  18. Krazzy JJoe says:

    van gogh… which van gogh's are you talking about…

  19. Clarise Boudreaux says:

    thank you, very clear lesson.

  20. sammy anagolum says:

    could someone help me in getting this stroke. I have been trying this but i just don't seem to get the strokes

  21. MISSY TAMI K says:

    Thank you for this tutorial, very informative. I understand your brushstrokes a little better also.

  22. k patten says:

    This is one of my favorite Ginger Cook video's. I love doing backgrounds!

  23. Robin Rowe says:

    Thank you thank you . I was wanting to learn how to do this .

  24. JoAnn Kensler I’ve says:

    Very helpful and interesting to watch. Thank you.

  25. Dorothy McCaffrey says:

    Thank you so much for these tips. The backgrounds are beautiful.

  26. Chris Newton says:

    Yes, Ginger you've got many admirers and rightly so. I thought that was excellent, really excellent. I'll get cracking first thing tomorrow morning. I'm off to the bar now to have a few beers. Goodnight and kind regards to you and all your 49,000 subscribers all – Chris

  27. ginwin27 says:


  28. Chavi Chauhan says:

    Hi ginger! Loved your technique.. Do you think I can attempt this with sponges??!!

  29. Jean Milhollin says:

    Amazing thank you

  30. Ally5853 says:

    I always wondered how to do this my backgrounds are going to be so much better now, thank you for the tutorial👍

  31. Tracey Hairgrove says:

    Thanks that's cool

  32. Lodovica Galli says:

    Mm m

  33. Von McKnelly says:

    Thanks for the help Ginger.

  34. marcos aquino says:

    I am on a crash course to learn and transfer what I learn to Hannah, 8 yrs old, one of my gkids who has autism… She is already very excited… You are such a great teacher…. Thank you, thank you, and more thank you… Jon, thank you very much also…. I am a senior disabled vet, who wants to be a blessing to my grandkids, speally to Hannah. She loves painting….

  35. honeybld67 says:

    Absolutely love this background… BEAUTIFUL…any way you could list the colors you used in both??? Or the do's and don'ts as far as color combinations?? Do you ever use complimentary colors together or will it get muddy looking?

  36. maria del socorro giraldo lopez says:

    Gracias por el tutorial, muy lindo, ojala puedas seguir enseñando a los novatos

  37. Marko artist says:

    Thank you very much Ginger!…your class helps and is fun!

  38. Mary Anne Salazar says:

    Excellent material. I’m learning that backgrounds add much more to a painting. In haste, wanting to get at the subject, I think I’ve neglected opportunities to make a nice painting a great painting.

  39. Luz Cano Pinto dos Santos says:

    I like it very much! Thank you for sharing!!!!

  40. Pottymoon says:

    Thanks Ginger, nice to meet you!

  41. Carola Banuelos says:

    Thaks a lot beatiful lady.

  42. Hugo Samson says:

    The camera is amazing !! So fast and professional ! +1 sub

  43. Janet Hallmark says:

    Great tip. Can’t wait to try it. I will let you know how it works out. Maybe send a picture of one that I have & would like to replicate……….just don’t how to duplicate. Young kids probably call it modern art. I really would like to replicate though sometime when I meet up with the person who painted in art class.

  44. Reb Col says:

    These backgrounds are so beautiful. Mine not so much, but I"m trying.

  45. Suzy Smith says:

    Thank you so much, I plan on trying this out when I get home from work tomorrow.

  46. chris venegas says:

    Confusing… Next

  47. Ishika Pal says:

    What kind of sheet is that??? Plezz reply..🤗

  48. david Hirshhorn says:

    Very helpful. Thanks a lot!

  49. R. Murillo says:

    Thank you again for sharing your talent with us. Have a question what was the original size of the Vangough paintings robert

  50. MKL Holst says:

    Loved it!

  51. Blue Salamander says:

    meravigliosa ! Thank you for sharing ! Very informative !!!!!

  52. cathy serafinowicz says:

    Love this Ginger,if you wanted to start with a purple background,what colours would you use to blend in? Thanks for another great tutorial.😘😘

  53. DeAnn H says:

    This was my first into to Ginger Cook. Fell in love with this technique and colors. 2 yrs later, I still come back to this video. 💜💜

  54. Shelley Donathan says:

    I’m so happy you did this, I have been playing with background color, very helpful ,Thankyou 💕

  55. Sarah Spilman says:

    Thank you Ginger! Your videos are educational and fun, and you have such a positive energy! Love your coaching, lessons, and appreciate your free videos! It is like talking to a friend when I hear your videos, don’t ever stop ❤️

  56. Raechel Burns says:

    I love this because I suppose it's kind of an "oil–painters" looking background and I'm just starting in Acrylic even though all my inspirations and influencers are oil painters.. and there seems to be a lot of tutorials out there on oil, but less so for Acrylic which is sad because I feel acrylic has been cast aside as a sort of "not-as-capable-medium" which is unfortunate and probably untrue.

    So thank you for this. It looks just as good as an oil 😀 and would be amazing for portraits which one day I am eager to paint!

  57. Anony Mouse says:


  58. Mary Cacia Masser says:

    Thanks for sharing this tip on making interesting backgrounds. These are beautiful. Love them!!

  59. Tiara of Love says:

    Thank you so much! Ginger in new to painting and I absolutely love this! Thank you for teaching me!

  60. Mary Filkins says:

    Face @7:33

  61. Patty Leibnitz says:

    You're an amazing teacher. I sure do appreciate it.

  62. Carolyn Miller says:

    WOW!!!!!this is sooooooooo!!!!!!!! Coooooooooool!!!!!!!Love,U Bless U thanks for all U do!!!!!!

  63. Jill Usher says:

    Ginger, you are a great teacher! I've seen a huge improvement in my paintings, just from this one video alone.

  64. Ute Sell says:

    Amazing video Ginger! I will practice this right away and try to find out how to use this technic in abstract painting.

  65. Suzette Barclay says:

    Wow, I just love this instructive video on how to use different brush techniques!! I am preparing a big canvas to paint an opened red rose and was looking for an interesting background that would compliment the rose and let it stand out. Thanks very much. So beautiful.

  66. John Seckinger says:

    Thank you so much. I’m using this technique to make Christmas painting!

  67. jay Em says:

    This is beautiful. I'm very grateful to you for sharing. Can't wait to try it. XX

  68. LuAnn Thatcher says:

    Amazing video, Ginger! I am a beginner painter. I am trying to create a background for a still life that I photograph. This is the best process and your suggestions work!

  69. LuAnn Thatcher says:

    Ginger, what is your paint consistancy? I am a beginner, is it out of the tube thick or watered down? Also, your brush stroke is it a scrubbing movement? Thank you for your reply!

  70. Pocahontas Seguin Art says:

    We did not have blow dryers in those days and they don’t use that to dry the canvas dumby

  71. Wendy St.Germain says:

    This is great! Thank you!

  72. Annette Keys says:

    Ginger this is priceless ageless .. I am about to do a bike race of my nephew in pole position and want to blur out the background but with the colours to compliment obviously .. thank you Ginger Cook great teacher

  73. Teent B says:

    A great oldie but goodie, thank you Ginger for leaving this video up 🙂

  74. Minh Nguyen says:

    Thank you for your great tips!

  75. Reliance says:

    This is exactly what i was looking for, Thanks!

  76. Zheng Garo says:

    I like you pant

  77. Kaye Groff says:

    Beautiful and you make it look so easy

  78. sahja324 says:

    These are beautiful and would make wonderful dramatic backgrounds for photography.

  79. Marthie Scholer says:

    THANKS so MUCH I'm going to repeat and repeat this video over and over again until I succeed!!!! THANKS AGAIN

  80. Donna Shguit says:

    This is wonderful…thank you

  81. Hanne Romeike says:

    These backgrounds are so beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and techniques with us🥰🥰🥰

  82. Seth Hammock says:

    It is unfortunate the video quality does not show your hands moving. The brush work technique is also what I am after.

  83. Renate Wulfken says:

    ginger I loved this and painted this and also the flowers in a blue glass.. I will also try some of your Kat images,,

  84. Leila Salehi says:

    Youre amazing

  85. Lan Le says:

    So beautiful backgrounds 😍Thanks for your tutorials.

  86. happy Christian says:

    Very informative thank u

  87. Susan Zehrung says:

    Beautiful background tutorial! Acrylic painting is so fast! Love your videos.

  88. Mary Nausadis says:

    The one thing I really learned, Ginger, is to dry between layers….I have not done that before….

  89. agnvs.dei says:

    Thank you! I saw so many faces in the painting while you were doing it, gonna try this technique next:)

  90. Daiken Antonio says:

    Lag level 99999999 but great tutorial and such a great masterpiece

  91. Gina says:

    Extremely helpful 😀

  92. Venger says:

    Thank you for this. I love you for sharing your knowledge.

  93. Mark Thompson says:

    This is an outstanding tutorial and I appreciate it greatly. Thanks so much, Ginger!

  94. Marie Cooley says:

    Can you do this in oil

  95. ArtsyGirl Fleming says:

    Very, very cool!

  96. Tonia Sagoo says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this tutorial. As a fellow artist, I can't express enough how valuable this example is and how it will help me with my portraits. Thank you Ginger and God Bless xx

  97. Patricia Johnson says:

    Thank you Ginger, This will help so much on improving my backgrounds.

  98. Lucy Nicholas says:

    Really enjoyed your tutorial. The backgrounds are pretty enough to frame by themselves!

  99. mona2242 says:

    Interesting ! Wish one could do this in oils .

  100. Elizabeth Tuning says:

    This was really helpful. So glad I stumbled across it. Love your work. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us. Looking forward to much more.

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