Starry Fright- a Post Impressionist How-To




Posted in TechnologyDigital-Graphics

Introduction: Starry Fright- a Post Impressionist How-To

About: Dressmaker, doodler, gamer girl, book devourer and lover of all things vintage, especially my Gran! Primary weapons of choice: gaffer tape and a sewing machine!

My other half, RandomIdeaMan, sent me through a link to a Paint & Draw competition and that was enough to convince me to sign up and become a not just a member, but an author as well!

For my first Instructable, I wanted to create a post impressionist Halloween themed digital painting using Sketchbook Pro 6 (trial), based on the masterpiece Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. In my opinion Starry Night is one of the most eerily beautifully paintings ever created, so I decided to try and capture a little bit of that haunted feeling with a Halloween remake. OoooOOOooooOOOoohhhhh! 

In the following pages I will walk through how I recreated the painting digitally and hopefully you'll be inspired to try your hand at making your own post impressionist style masterpiece. 

I've included a time-lapse creation video in the last page of this instructable for those of you who would like to watch the painting take shape. 

Step 1: Preparation

I decided to make a reasonably large document for this project because I wanted to print off the end result. The image size is 2500 x 2000 pixels. That should be large enough for a modest sized digital print. 

The next thing I did was find a good quality photograph of the original Starry Night painting that I could use for reference. Wikipedia hosts a few image sizes for you to choose from, the largest being a whopping 22,284 x 17,646 pixels. I love this painting so much- I grabbed the biggest one. The biggest image is far too big for this purpose though, so I cropped it down to 2,500 x 2000 px to match my sketchbook document.

Step 2: Setting Up a Transfer Grid

To make things easier to transfer to the new painting I divided both the images up in to grids. I applied a white grid to the original image and saved it out as a jpeg so I could leave it open for reference and I made a black grid for the document I'd be working on. Using a grid allows you to focus on smaller areas at a time and means you can get the basics down and looking correct relatively quickly.

In the Sketchbook document I changed the layer properties to Multiply, renamed the layer "grid" and tried to keep it at the very top of the layers palette as I was working. Any new layers I created were always moved to beneath the grid layer. 

To the left-hand side of the third image you can also see my custom copic colour palette. I went through all the copic colours and picked out hues I thought would match the painting. While the copic colour palette is somewhat limiting compared to using the colour puck, that's not a bad way to start , it keeps you focused and you can always tweak the colours later on. 

Step 3: Sketchbook Brushes

I spent a couple of days playing around with the Sketchbook brush settings because this is the first time I've used the pro version. I have Sketchbook on my android tablet but I don't get to use it very often. I ended up tweaking a few of the brushes for this project and I've uploaded them for people to download if they'd like to use them.

Starry Fright Brushes for Sketchbook Pro 6

I saved the swatch image out as a jpeg so I could glance at it to remind me which brush was which. I didn't end up using the Dry Strokes brush very much but it goes with the set so I left it in the download. 

Step 4: Sketching the Background

I created a new layer below the grid layer and renamed it "BG Sketch". On this layer I started pencilling in the background features. I started with the rolling hills, moved on to the night sky with the moon and stars and then on to the swirling clouds. 

Step 5: Sketching the Details

After the background was sketched out I added a new layer and renamed it "FG Sketch". On this layer I pencilled in the smaller details like the church and graveyard and the scary faces for the clouds which became ghosts. I also roughly sketched in a spooky, monster looking tree to replace the cypress found on the original artwork. I wanted to keep the foreground and background sketches on a different layers so that I could turn each layers visibility on or off when I needed to. 

At the end of this step- my list of layers are as follows:

FG Sketch
BG Sketch

Step 6: Blocking in the Basic Colours

After sketching in the basic details it was time to add some colour. I wasn't too fussed about making it perfect at this stage, I just wanted to block in the basic colours. I created a new layer and renamed it "BG Blocking" and moved it to the bottom of the layers list so that I could see the sketches above it.

I used the VanGogh_Blocking brush I'd tweaked earlier and laid down big blocks of colour. There is a cool feature in some of the brushes in sketchbook pro to vary the colour with every stroke. Most of the brushes I tweaked have this setting activated so that I could get a good range of similar tones using one colour. It feels a lot like using a "dirty" brush in real life.

As with the sketch layers, when it came to blocking in the colours for the tree and the church I created a new layer for it as well and renamed it "FG Blocking".

At the end of this step- my list of layers are as follows:

FG Sketch
BG Sketch
FG Blocking
BG Blocking

Step 7: Background Brush Strokes

I created a new layer and renamed it "BG Strokes" and moved it to below the sketches and above the blocking layers.

This is the stage where it gets interesting and the image really takes on a life of its own.

Using the two brushes I tweaked earlier (Brush1 & Brush2) I started laying down small strokes of colour starting at the upper left side of the image. The brushes really do most of the work here. I used short strokes and followed the sketched outlines of the layers above. It started to come together quite nicely after just a few minutes. This stage is time consuming but by no means technically difficult and the pay-off is definitely worth the effort. 

I worked my way down, starting with the sky, moon and stars, moving on to the ghostly forms, down to the rolling hills and the green countryside below. I added in some smaller details like the line of trees and the mound in the foreground for the spooky tree- and at the end I decided to tweak the sky colour so there is a slight shift in colours at the very last image.

At the end of this step- my list of layers are as follows:

FG Sketch
BG Sketch
BG Strokes
FG Blocking
BG Blocking

Step 8: Foreground Brush Strokes

With the background strokes completed I created a new layer for the smaller, foreground details such as the church and graveyard and the creepy tree. I moved this layer to sit above the BG stroke in the layers list.

Using the sketch layers as a guide I started filling in the church with small strokes. After the basic shape was down I turned off the sketch layer visibility and refined some of the details. I made a couple of the church windows glow and added a cross to the church steeple. I moved across to the graveyard area and painted in some tombstones and mounds of earth and I added a freshly dug grave as well. 

I turned on the "FG Blocking" layer temporarily to get an idea of where to paint the creepy tree. At this point I stopped used my custom copic colour palette and instead switched over to the full range of copic colours. I filled in the tree shape with a range of browns and warm greys and then painted in a dark hollow on the trunk to look like a spooky face. I made the eyes glow with a smidgen of yellow and added some grabbing branches for hands.

After the tree was done I gave the cloudy swirls some classic ghost expressions to make them stand out more and I tweaked some of the colours to make them more ghost like.

At the end of this step- my list of layers are as follows:

FG Sketch
BG Sketch
FG Strokes
BG Strokes
FG Blocking
BG Blocking

Step 9: Refining the Hills

When I look at the original image by van Gogh, one thing that strikes me is that even the hills look to be sleeping. I wanted to make that a bit more obvious for this Halloween remake so I ended up redrawing the hills to look like a sleeping form. 

I added a new layer to tweak the hills and moved it to sit between the FG Strokes and BG Strokes layers. I wanted it to sit below the FG Strokes layer so that the church and graveyard wouldn't have to be repainted. 

I sketched in a female form with her head tilted towards us and gave her some flowing hills for hair. I painted over the top of the sketch in similar hues to the existing hillside.

At the end of this step- my list of layers are as follows:

FG Sketch
BG Sketch
FG Strokes
Refined Hills
BG Strokes
FG Blocking
BG Blocking

Step 10: Time Lapse Creation

As I was painting- I'd set up an automatic screen capture to take a picture of my screen every five seconds. I stitched the images together to make a time-lapse video for those of you who would like to see more detail. The video is simple, there are no instructions or annotation, it's just something for you to sit back and enjoy.

I would love to see what other people come up with if this project has inspired them to try and make their own post-impressionist style masterpiece!



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    Miss Thrifty - beautiful work and great instructable. Do you use a wacom pen or just mouse?

    1 reply

    WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAA I just gotta say that art is clever and amazing!!!!!!!!!! i've got to know how u do it!!

    This piece is awesome. Excellent work.

    Found you through the blog and had to check you out.

    Congrats, this is a really creative piece

    Thanks for the warm welcome, canucksgirl! :)

    Great tutorial! I am so glad I entered my first Instructable as well! This was really fun. I used the iPad version for my submission but, I use SBP on the desktop a lot and I will say that you really know your stuff!
    Great job in the instruction and a fantastic painting!

    1 reply

    Sketchbook is an interesting program, isn't it? For digital artwork I'm usually glued to a beast of a desktop but with Sketchbook and it's myriad of incarnations you can sketch and paint on your phone, tablet, netbook and laptop as well. It even runs well on my 7 year old laptop with 1GB of RAM an onboard graphics- heh!
    Thanks for the comment and good luck in the comp!

    GREAT instructable!
    Very detailed!

    What software did you use for your time lapse.
    I really enjoyed that!

    1 reply

    Thanks! I'm pleased you enjoyed it, I thoroughly enjoyed making it!

    The software used for the time lapse and for the screen-caps featured in the Instructable is called Chronolapse. It's not a very flashy program but it works wonderfully well for this type of project. 

    Very Nice, I enjoyed your time lapse.
    You have inspired me, and I respect your fondness for Vincent and Post-impressionist but I'm hooked on classics.

    Thanks for sharing this,


    1 reply

    A'hem, that should have read "Vincent and Post-impressionism" or "the Post-impressionist " remember to proof read.

    thanks again,

    this is soo fantastic. can i order a print from you? i would love to have a print of this hanging in my home.

    3 replies

    Aww- that's a very flattering comment and an unexpected request. If you'd like to print off a copy to hang in your home you're more than welcome to! *blushes*

    I've added a couple of download links below for the higher resolution images. I wanted a roughly 6x8 inch print to sit on my bookshelf so that would be the ideal size but you might be able to get away with a larger 12x15 poster print if you wanted something larger and a drop in quality/clarity doesn't bother you. 

    Starry Fright by MissThrifty 6x8
    Starry Fright by MissThrifty 12x15

    if you ever some up with anymore fantastic digital paintings, let me kno!

    thank you. this is fabulous!

    Way to bring Van Gogh into our culture! Hee hee. Well done!