How do you study an art style? How do you learn a specific art style? How do you analyze art styles? How do you find your art style?

In this Style Study Session, we will use the 6 qualities of style to not only better understand the artist we study but also to apply these ideas to better develop your own unique style in your art.

For our inaugural Study Session, I chose an artist who has fascinated people of all ages: van Gogh.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽 If YOU want to choose an artist for me to study (living or dead), be sure to comment the name of the artist in the comments below so I can use your feedback for a future Art Style Study Session!

Hey there! 👋 I’m Carrie. Here on Artist Strong, I help self-taught artists with home studios who feel stuck with their art move from wondering what’s next to confidently expressing themselves through unique, original art. To date, thousands have joined the community.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽 If you feel like gaps in your learning hold you back from making your best art, sign up and watch my workshop, “How to Create Art from Your Imagination.” It’s completely free, and the link is in the description below.

Now, let’s jump into today’s Style Study Session.

I mentioned at the beginning that we will use the 6 qualities of style to discuss the work, but how do you define style and what are these 6 qualities? I have a full video on that I’ve linked for you here and below, but let’s have a short primer:

Style is the unique way in which an artist shares their voice in their art. People often see someone’s work and recognize it as theirs because of their style. It has six qualities, which include:

  1. Elements and principles of art
  2. Medium and materials
  3. Genre
  4. Theme
  5. Influence
  6. Personal experience

We will use these 6 qualities to briefly review an artist and their work to help you better identify artistic decisions other artists make so you can also better recognize the decisions you make as an artist. 

While you can create a unique style without consciously working with the qualities of style, it will be easier and faster to work with them to help you make decisions that align with the vision you have for your art.

Let’s begin.

Elements and Principles of Art

The elements of art are your foundational tools that you use to create all art. They include: line, value, color, texture, shape, form, space. You use the elements every time you make art even if you aren’t thinking about it. 

The principles of art are created by your use of the elements of art. They include: balance, emphasis, contrast, pattern, rhythm, movement, proportion, unity and variety. They are experiential states that can be part of how we communicate ideas and messages in our art.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽I have a great little ebook all about working with the elements and principles of art called ArtSpeak that you can grab using the link below.

Van Gogh’s line work and mark-making are distinctive, characterized by thick, swirling strokes achieved through his use of impasto—a technique involving the thick application of paint. This method brings a dynamic texture to his work, creating a palpable sense of movement and emotion. 

Sometimes he let lines show through to create clear edges where in other paintings the edges of objects blend and blur into the background.

His color palette evolved over time; his early works featured dark, neutral tones, but as he grew, he embraced brighter, more vivid colors. Notably, van Gogh often skipped the soft transitions of value and color typical of realism, opting instead to let the raw paint texture show through, adding to the emotional intensity of his pieces.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽 I’m curious, what other elements or principles of art do YOU see showing up as a focus in van Gogh’s work? Tell me more in the comments below.

Medium and Materials

Medium refers to the kind of art an artist makes and the tools they use to make it. Van Gogh was primarily a painter, who worked in oils. He used rolls of canvas to stretch his substrate (the surface an artist works on).

Van Gogh often applied oils thickly straight from the tube using both a palette knife and a brush. It does not appear to me that he used much medium to “water down” his paint. His chosen colors were diverse and vibrant, including yellow ocher, chrome yellow, cadmium yellow, chrome orange, vermilion, Prussian blue, ultramarine, lead white, zinc white, emerald green, red lake, red ocher, and raw sienna. This range of materials allowed him to explore and express a wide spectrum of emotions and moods in his work.

The way van Gogh applied his paint, using impasto, really prioritizes the medium. We can see his brush strokes and palette knife marks directly in the paint applied to the canvas. The paint is so thick, it has a relief-like quality (reliefs are an artform or medium where artists make a kind of sculptural painting, with sculptural elements coming out of the flat surface.).

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽How is your medium important to your work? Tell me more in the comments below.

Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, c. 1885–86. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam


Van Gogh’s work is representational but with a strong abstract element. He is often classified as a Post-Impressionist and an Expressionist. 

Post-Impressionists were making art fighting against the Impressionist values of the focus on studying light and how it plays on the natural world. Instead they wanted to focus on color, line and form with a focus on the emotional expression of the artist. 

Expressionism takes this idea one step further with an entire priority on the internal, emotional experience of the artist.

Van Gogh’s art does not aim for photographic realism but rather prioritizes emotional experience and mood. His paintings capture the essence of his subjects—whether landscapes, portraits, or still lifes—through expressive colors and bold brushstrokes that convey his inner emotional landscape.

When we go to apply genre to our own art it’s important to remember that sometimes the characteristics of a particular art movement become clearer with time. You don’t have to know you wish to work in a Post-Impressionist style, but maybe you are drawn to the Expressionist idea of focusing on the internal emotional experience. How can you bring that more into your art?

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽Is there an art movement or genre like realism or abstraction you wish to explore more? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Memory of the Garden at Etten, 1888. Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg


A recurring theme in van Gogh’s work is observation of the world around him. He was driven to paint, and used everyday life, whether through portraits of people, still lifes of objects, or landscapes of his surroundings for his subject matter. 

This observational approach was driven by his desire to communicate the emotional and spiritual experience of his subjects. Van Gogh’s work reflects his deep engagement with the natural world, transforming the mundane into expressions of profound emotional depth.

The van Gogh museum states, “Van Gogh experienced life and the world intensely and wanted his art to portray the great themes of life, such as hope, love, anxiety and suffering.”

What connections can you make between the artworks you make and any meaning or message conveyed in the works? Articulating this (as well as HOW you do it with the elements and principles of art) will help you take your art to the next level.


Van Gogh was influenced by a variety of sources, both contemporary and historical. Japanese woodblock prints, with their bold lines and flat areas of color, profoundly impacted his composition and use of color. He was also inspired by the realist works of Millet, who depicted the lives of everyday laborers. Additionally, his relationships with fellow artists like Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard influenced his stylistic development, pushing him to explore new techniques and approaches.

In Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon*, he briefly mentions something he coined “mapping your artist family tree.” By looking at the inspirations of the artists you study, you can learn more about what draws you to their work and what elements you wish to explore more in yours.

If you are drawn to van Gogh’s work, doing studies of Millet, Japanese woodblocks and the work of his peers is a natural extension of your exploration, because these influences helped lead van Gogh to his unique style.

If today’s Art Style Study Session is inspiring you and you feel your art simmering inside, ready to celebrate your unique artist voice, I have just the thing. It’s called Self-Taught to Self-Confident, and it will help you move from feeling stuck, wondering what’s next to confidently creating a series of artworks that you can share with loved ones (and even sell).

Choose a time from my calendar here so we can discuss where you are at with your art, where you want to be, and see if I’m a good fit to help.

Personal Experience

In my art history studies it was as if the artists were completely separate from the work. I wanted to dig into the life stories and how it has impacted the art, but we were to focus on the formal decisions the artist made (this means how they used the elements and principles of art).

And yet, all artists across history have made art that is a direct reflection of their experience. Van Gogh’s personal experiences are deeply intertwined with his art. (Not to mention, the movement of Expressionism is about the internal experience of the artist).

He was extremely prolific, suggesting a real passion and drive to make art. He created over 900 artworks and thousands of drawings, which an article from Google Art project did the math on and explained he essentially made an artwork every 36 hours.

His struggle with mental health, his bouts of depression, and his search for meaning and connection are all reflected in his work. Living in poverty, van Gogh often painted the people, objects, and landscapes around him, capturing the reality of his world with a poignant intensity. His art was a means of coping with his mental health struggles and finding solace amidst his turbulent emotions.

👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽You don’t have to share if its too personal, but I encourage you to pause here and do some reflecting on your own journey and how it’s impacting the art you are interested in and choose to create.

For me, I received a lot of positive feedback growing up about being able to draw and paint realistically. I was thirsty for approval and validation and I am sure this fueled my desire to pursue art that often represents reality. It’s been a big and vulnerable switch to start a community based project that uses embroidery and digital art as its mediums.

Understanding our mindset and the way we were raised and socialized to think about our art is the most important thing we can do to unleash the unique voice within us.

How to Apply This to Your Art

Making art in the style of other artists, or copying their works to understand techniques, is a great way to develop skill and confidence. You could choose a painting of van Gogh’s to study or explore how he applied paint to incorporate that into your practice. 

When you study an artist and their style, it’s important to consider their color palette as well as the actual technique of how they apply paint to their surface (and even consider the kinds of substrates they worked on).

Doing studies of many artists, and mashing up the techniques that most connect with you and the focus of your work (again, look at the 6 qualities of style to help you decide this), are what help bring your unique style to life.

Starry Night Over the Rhône, 1888. Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Van Gogh is a great example of not sticking to one specific style his whole life, and yet, we can see him in all his work. This is what can and will happen to your work as you grow. The connections between pieces will grow deeper as you develop a better understanding of the qualities of style and more consciously use them in your art.

Don’t let the messaging that you have to stick to one style forever stop you from making your art. As we continue this series, you will see most artists have NOT stuck with one style and evolve. 

What would it look like if you felt full permission to explore all the techniques and ideas waiting to bust out of you?

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👉🏽👉🏽👉🏽Tell me → what’s one thing you’ve learned about style today that can help your art?

Thank you so much for watching and remember:

Proudly call yourself an artist.

Together, we are Artist Strong.


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