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Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers
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Students will create expressionistic sunflowers in the style of Vincent Van Gogh.

By Andrea Mulder-Slater and Linda Moucha [Linda is an art educator for Barry Community School District in Barry, Il.]

About Vincent Van Gogh:

Vincent Van Gogh (born 1853, died 1890) is probably one of the most well known and influential artists of the 19th century. The son of a Dutch pastor, the young Van Gogh worked for picture dealers along with his brother Theo. He also taught in two English schools and in his twenties, became a missionary in the coal mining district of the Barniage in Belgium, where he lived among the miners and shared their hardships.

During his life, Van Gogh lived in various locations including Brussels, The Hague, Antwerp and Drenthe and in his travels, taught himself to draw and paint, in addition to taking the occasional art lesson. He moved to Paris at age 33 to live with his brother Theo (who was working in a gallery), and it was there that he came into contact with the work of the Impressionists.

Where before his work was dark in color with heavy forms and subject matter depicting peasants at work in the fields, in Paris, Van Gogh’s paintings began to take on a somewhat Impressionistic feel. Flowers, portraits, self portraits and images of Paris appeared in his work. He went to Arles (later joined by fellow artist Paul Gauguin) at the age of 35 and upon arriving painted landscapes and portraits full of vivid colors and passionate feelings. In the years following 1888, he spent time in an insane asylum and eventually – at the age of 37 – took his own life. It was during the months approaching his death that Van Gogh created some of the most vibrant, expressive paintings known to man. In all, he produced an enormous volume of work – much of which was left in the care of his brother Theo’s son.


  • Students will be able to demonstrate an interest in and knowledge of the artists who painted (and paint) sunflowers.
  • Older students will become acquainted with the use of oil paints. Younger artists will experiment with acrylic and other water-based paints or pencil crayons.
  • Students will also be introduced to the style of Expressionism as they discuss and learn about the many connections between art and culture.
  • Students will become acquainted with Vincent Van Gogh.
  • Students will learn that pastels can be used to create a variety of lines and textural effects.
  • Students will realize that colors can be subjective as well as objective.
  • After completing this project the students will be acquainted with the following:
    1. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) was an Impressionist painter who painted in the 1880s in Europe.
    2. Vincent used bright unusual colors to paint portraits, flowers, and landscapes.
    3. Colors seem brighter when drawn on dark or dull paper.
    4. Bright colors and large shapes attract the viewer’s attention.
    5. Pastels can be used to create a variety of lines and textural effects.


    • Impressionist art
    • Bright and dull


What You Need:

Older Students

  • canvas if possible (thick poster paper as an alternative)
  • oil (or acrylic) paints (in primary and secondary colors) OR oil pastels
  • paintbrushes
  • muffin tins for paint and for mixing paints
  • clean up supplies

Younger Students

  • poster paper
  • poster paint, brushes and water OR pencil crayons OR crayons

All Students

  • images of sunflower paintings and drawings
  • a real sunflower if possible
  • a field trip to a sunflower field if possible
  • sunflower seeds

What You Do:

  1. Read Camille and the Sunflowers to the class. Showing the pictures and pointing out posters/visuals of pictures hung about the room at the appropriate times. Discuss the story and the artist Vincent Van Gogh.
  2. Teacher should discuss the sunflower works of van Gogh, Nolde, Rivera and any other artists they feel would be beneficial. Teacher should also discuss sunflowers, why do they look the way they do? how do they grow? when do they grow? Search Google images for sunflowers to find lots of images.
  3. Try, if possible to take a class trip to a sunflower field or, set up a sunflower still life in the classroom (or home).
  4. Discuss expressionism and the idea of painting with a great deal of emotion, energy and color. Expressionism was influenced by the masks and other arts of native cultures in Africa. Talk about the connection between culture and art. Refer to the work of van Gogh and Emil Nolde.
  5. Distribute materials. Have students write their name on the back of the paper or canvas in pencil or crayon. Then roll up long sleeves.
  6. Place paper vertically on the table.
  7. Have the students plan out their sunflower painting or drawing.
  8. Once the images have been planned out, its time to lay down color using either oil paint, acrylic paint, oil pastels or pencil crayons.
  9. Refer to the support material at the bottom of this lesson for more “how-to” information.
  10. Be sure to encourage the use of bold strokes of color and energetic lines. Remember, the idea is to not only express how the sunflowers look, but also how they make you feel when you see them.
  11. Once the work is complete, hang it up around the room and ask your students what they have learned. What did they enjoy the most? the least? How would they do things differently next time? What other subject could be painted in the expressionistic style?

Other Artists to Study

Vincent van Gogh, (1853-1890), Dutch post-impressionist painter, whose work represents the archetype of expressionism, the idea of emotional spontaneity in painting.

Emil Nolde, (1867-1956), one of the foremost German expressionist painters, whose mask-like heads, contorted brushwork, and raw, strident colors were intended to give the viewer a visual and emotional shock.

Diego Rivera, (1886-1957), Mexican painter who produced murals on social themes, and who ranks as one of his country’s greatest artists.

You Will Love These:

Vincent Van Gogh Sunflowers Lesson Plan

Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in a Vase Lesson Plan with Worksheets

Students will look at the work of Vincent Van Gogh, examining his style and the materials he used. The life and times of the artist will also be discussed. Then, children will create beautiful paintings or pastel drawings of sunflowers in a vase.

Visit Teachers Pay Teachers for this Lesson Plan Packet


Starry Night Lesson Plan Pack


Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night Lesson Plan with Worksheets

Students will look at the work of Vincent Van Gogh, examining his style and the materials he used. The life and times of the artist will also be discussed. Then, children will create beautiful paintings of The Starry Night.

Visit Teachers Pay Teachers for this Lesson Plan Packet

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