Van Gogh Self-Portrait Mosaic

Recently Doug Harris of Elementile sent me some photos of a mosaic rendering of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 self-portrait, and it is definitely worth seeing. I think some of the best examples of how to use adamento in mosaic to convey a sense of motion are actually demonstrated in Van Gogh’s painting, and this self-portrait was a natural choice for mosaic interpretation. I have a photo of the painting at the end of this article.

Mosaic interpretation of Vincent Van Gogh’s Self Portrait oil painting. The mosaic was done by Doug Harris and family of Elementile, with most work being done by his daughter Carly.

Note how more than one hue of blue are used in the same field of color: Phthalo blues (cyans) and ultramarine blues (French blues) in multiple shades are combined in differing proportions to render both the clothing and the background. Notice how well the reddish and yellowish browns of the beard work together to create the image of a Dutchman’s red hair and how well these colors contrast the blues.

Color Contrasts And Color Mood

Van Gogh’s original oil painting on which this mosaic is based made use of more complex and subtle color fields (after all, he was working in oil paint not glass tile), but I think Carly’s choice to use more blues and more intense blues was a stroke of genius. The blues make a more striking contrast with the beard than the colors of the original painting, and the emphasis on blue is so in keeping with Van Gogh’s work as a whole and his mood and how we think of the artist. I am thinking of both the lonely genius who painted “Starry Night” and the painting itself.

Detail from mosaic interpretations of Van Gogh’s Self Portrait captures the artist’s wounded stare. I like the use of blue in the hair to heighten contrast.

Art Happens

The last picture Doug Harris sent me was of the work in progress, and it is my favorite because to me it says a lot about how art happens, at least for most people, including many of the great masters.

Whenever I see advertisements for art retreats and classes in places like Big Sur and Sienna, I am enticed by the idea of going to these picturesque places, but I am also perplexed by the idea of having studio sessions there. I don’t think I could spend any length of time focusing on art while I was in a place of such natural beauty unless I had at least several weeks there. Instead, I would be hiking and exploring with what little time I had available, and I would probably be too busy even to take photos. Keep in mind that someone like me has to check out the local geology, the creeks, the fossils, the artifacts, the indigenous plant life, signs of old home sites, signs of how the land has changed over the years, etc.

Not only that, my mind is already overflowing with creative ideas that I don’t have enough time to pursue. Do people really have to go to some place with over-the-top natural beauty to be inspired to create? For me, it is sometimes difficult to walk outside and check the mail and not spend the rest of the day thinking about landscape painting, especially if there are low rolling gray clouds and yellow leaves shivering in the tops of the poplars.

I like Doug’s photo of such great art being made in a crowded busy warehouse because that is where and how most of my art was made in the past decade or so, and before that it was usually on the floor or dining room table of where ever I was living, even in tiny apartments and hotels during business travel. Some people have to create. It is a need, and they will pursue it where ever and how ever they have to. No trips to Sienna or Rome are required.

Van Gogh Self-Portrait mosaic in progress -on a low table, in what appears to be a warehouse hallway serving as an office/storeroom. When I first saw this photo, I thought that the mosaic was actually resting on the floor itself, a situation which seemed all too familiar from some my own projects.

Best Mosaic Artist: Vincent Van Gogh

To my knowledge, Vincent Van Gogh never made a mosaic, but I think many of his paintings offer great examples of how to use andamento in mosaic to create a sense of motion and add more visual interest to the artwork. Notice how Van Gogh uses flowing brushstrokes of different colors to build the folds of fabric in the artist’s clothing and how this same technique makes the background dance.

Van Gogh’s original self-portrait oil painting from 1889 on which Doug and Carly’s mosaic was based.






6 responses to “Van Gogh Self-Portrait Mosaic”

  1. Stained Glass Mosaic Art | How To Mosaic Avatar

    […] Natalija’s “Erza” mosaic to Doug and Carly’s “Van Gogh Self Portrait” mosaic. Notice how the flowing andamento so crucial to the the Van Gogh mosaic is COMPLETELY absent in […]

  2. Don Spencer Avatar
    Don Spencer

    I love Van Gogh and this self portrait. You did a marvelous job.
    Don spencer

  3. siobhan Avatar

    Hi Joe, i´m a english mosaic artist living in Germany. i´ve been looking on the net for software which i could use to make a large pixelated photographic mosaic from either a photograph or by scanning in a drawing or painting or whatever. Preferably a software i can download for free but i´d also be willing to buy a software if i thought it was clear and easy to use. I have come across 4 or 5 different ones, at least 2 of them you have to purchase. i´m not really a wizz with computers so i want to get something a bit “idiot” proof – not too complicated. Just wondering have you any experience in using such a software or do you know anyone who uses one and is happy with it?
    Your site is very good, very clear and informative, keep up the good work!
    Would be great to hear from you.

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar

      We haven’t looked at what is available for several years, but the last time we considered selecting one and offering it at our website, one of our suppliers told us they were all problematic. I think my supplier may have been referring to how reliable they were in terms of color accuracy, but I’m not sure. If you can find one sold on Amazon, I would read the reviews there and pay special attention to the negative reviews. I wish I could be of more help, but we are dealing with some problems with our web hosting right now that has me chasing my tail.

  4. Dianne Stearns Avatar
    Dianne Stearns

    Joe, I have had the pleasure to talk to you before. thanks for helping the masses understand the art of mosaic.
    Regarding the Van Gogh mosaic. Are the artists applying the glass to hardy backer/ wonder board with glue (weld bond?) or thin set? finishing with grout?
    Dianne Stearns

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman


      Nice to hear from you again! When you mount individual tiles directly to the backer, it is best to use a white PVA adhesive such as the Weldbond we sell for dry indoor mosaics. For outdoor mosaics, it is best to use thinset mortar, but in that case, it is best to lay up the mosaic first on mounting tape or mosaic mounting paper so that the design can be pressed into the spread mortar all at once.

      The backer looks like standard concrete backer board. The finished mosaic does not appear to be grouted. I sometimes fit the tiles extremely close together like their Van Gogh mosaic, but that does not make a mosaic water resistant. In fact, it is better to leave a gap and fill them with grout if water resistance is desired.

      Please let me know if you have questions!

      Please let me know if you have questions.

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