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How to paint Van Gogh’s Starry Night mural on an old fence (step by step)
Van Gogh’s Starry Night is one of the most famous paintings of all time. I don’t know many people that don’t love this painting. The best part about it is that it makes a really great project to create as a mural — even if you’re a beginner!
Yes! I said even for a beginner! The reason this is a great painting to start from is because you can complete it with a very minimal amount of colors. All you need is black, white and 3-4 other colors.
Trust me! This is a really easy and fun DIY project that makes a beautiful piece of art for your garden or backyard. I hope that you’ll follow along and create your own beautiful masterpiece.
Each section below will have a video reference time under the heading. At the bottom of this post, you’ll be able to watch a video that will show me creating this painting on an old fence I took down in my backyard.
Ready? Let’s get started on our Starry Night mural using these 13 easy steps.
1- Gather mural painting materials
Before we can get to painting… you’ll need to gather all of your materials so you’re sure you have what you need.
Materials needed for mural painting
Here’s what I used:
- Starry Night Line Drawing (for your grid)
- Starry Night Reference Painting (for reference – haha)
- Reference Video (bottom of this post)
- Kilz Acrylic Exterior Primer in White
- Dewalt Random Orbit Sander (optional – any sander will do)
- Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane in Satin
- Hangman Heavy-Duty Mirror and Picture Hanger (only if you need to hang the mural)
- Acrylic Paint – preferably outdoor paint if you plan to hang this outside (colors below)
- Paint brushes, Paint Palette, Cup of Water, Paper Towels, etc.
Colors you’ll need to complete your Starry Night mural painting
Use exterior-formulated acrylic paint for the best outcome. Here are the acrylic artist paint colors with a Benjamin Moore alternative so you don’t have to spend the time color matching like I did 🙂
Video Reference Time: 0:49
- Cadmium Red / BM 2000-10 Red
- Primary Cyan / BM 2065-30 Brilliant Blue
- Ultramarine / BM 2067-20 Starry Night Blue
- Cadmium Yellow / BM 2022-10 Yellow
- White / BM 2121-70 Chantilly Lace
- Mars Black / BM 2120-10 Jet Black
2- Prep your “canvas” for the mural
Whether you’re using a regular artist canvas, a wall or a 30 year old weathered fence like I did, you’ll need to prepare your canvas so you can get the best results possible.
Determine the right proportions for your canvas
This made things a lot easier for me. I took the line drawing of Van Gogh’s Starry night that I found online here and used it as a template, or grid, in order to transfer the drawing onto the larger canvas (my fence). In order to do this correctly, you’ll need to take the line drawing and make sure that the dimensions are proportionate to your canvas.
This particular line drawing is about 14″ wide by 11.25″ high. So, your canvas will need to be roughly the same proportion. An easy way to figure this out is through cross multiplication (yes, grade school arithmetic is your friend, here).
14/11.25 = Canvas Width/Canvas Height. Plug in either the width or the height of your canvas and then cross multiply to get the other dimension. So, if your wall is 84″ (7 feet) long it would look like this:
14/11.25 = 84/x
So if your wall is 84″ long, the height should be 67.5″ (about 5.6 feet). Proportions are fun, right?
Clean, sand and prime the canvas
Because I used an old fence, I needed to clean it first. I used some dawn dish detergent and water along with another round of Murphy’s oil soap. After the surface dried I sanded the fence to make the surface a little bit smoother. Then, I painted the back of the fence with an outdoor acrylic paint + primer in one. On the front, I covered most of the fence with an acrylic primer.
Create a grid from the line drawing
Video Reference Time: 0:12
Once you have the proportions of your canvas correct, you can now create a little grid for yourself. This can be divided in any way you like. I’d recommend dividing the line drawing into a 4×4 grid. Or, in my case I did 4 vertical sections and 14 horizontal sections (because I had 14 fence boards to work with).
However you decide to divide the grid is up to you. Just do whatever is easiest and makes the most sense. Divide both the line drawing and the canvas in the same way. Now it should be a little bit easier for you to transfer the drawing onto your canvas because you can work in sections!
PS: If this is confusing you, just watch the video in this post. It should help you to understand this step better.
3- Transfer the line drawing onto the canvas
Video Reference Time: 1:15
Using the grid we just made, you can slowly and carefully start to transfer the line drawing onto the large mural canvas. I used a paint brush and some black paint for this but you can use whatever you are comfortable with to do the initial drawing.
The grid should help you keep everything in proportion as you move along.
4- Block in the color
Video Reference Time: 2:10
Now that we have the entire Starry Night painting transferred onto our large mural canvas, we can start to block in the colors. I call this an “underpainting.”
We aren’t getting fancy here. We are just blocking in a dark base layer that we will build upon. This will help you to visually separate each area of the painting into different sections to work on — stars, sky, mountains, town, cypress tree, etc.
5- Paint in the stars and moon
Video Reference Time: 3:00
Now that everything is blocked in we are starting to get to the fun part! I started by creating big blobs of yellow for the stars and the moon. While you are doing this you can use the yellow to start to create the movement in the sky. Just use big swooping motions to get a feeling for the direction of the curves.
This is what my painting looked like at this stage. All of the sky color is blocked in along with the yellow spots for the stars and the moon. It doesn’t look like much now but we are getting there!
After you finish up the yellow, switch to white paint. You’re just going to paint in the white around the outside areas of the stars and the sky movements. These are your highlight areas where things look bright in the Starry Night painting. If you’re having trouble determining where the highlights are, just reference the video around 3:00.
While you are working on the stars, you may want to use a little bit of your red paint mixed with the yellow to create the crescent moon shape in the upper right corner. This is really the only area where you’ll need to use the red paint. You don’t need much red at all.
6- Add detail to the sky with cobalt blue
Video Reference Time: 3:30
Use cobalt blue to paint more detail into the sky. Here you’ll just look at the reference painting of Starry Night and create little dashes in the direction that the sky is moving in the reference photo. Painting in dashes is how you’ll get that impressionistic effect that really will make your mural look like the original Starry Night by Van Gogh.
7- Mix white and cobalt blue dash strokes to build up more detail
Video Reference Time: 3:45
The trick to getting this to look super detailed is by making dashes with the cobalt blue paint, then paint dashes with white. Then, go over them again with the cobalt blue in places. By layering the colors on top of each other while the paint is still wet, the colors will start to mix together and give you all different variations of blues, light blues and whites.
Be sure that you’re following the direction of the dashes that you see in the original Starry Night painting. Around the stars, the dashes will be more of a circular motion and will be connected by streaks that flow across the sky.
My dog Sally made sure she guarded the painting for me while I ran inside. Here you can see the sky details completed along with my setup of the line drawing/grid and the reference painting above.
8- Paint in the details of the mountains
Video Reference Time: 4:10
Now that the sky is about done, use the ultramarine blue and black to add more detail to the mountains. This is the layer that separates the sky from the town. You’ll just want this to be darker than the sky to create a nice definition. Even a solid color here will work if you are having trouble.
9- Paint in the details of the town
Video Reference Time: 4:25
The town is always a bit tricky for me because there’s just so much going on. Instead of trying to recreate every little detail of the town, focus on the important defining elements like
- the placement and coloring of the church
- any of the light coming from the windows of the homes
- blocks of color where grass, trees or forests are
By not overdoing the details in the town, you’ll let the sky really be the focal point of your painting. So, like I said, just fill everything in so it looks complete rather than dwelling on all the details in this area. Just keep it dark with your ultramarine blue, black and even some green paint.
10- Finish painting the cypress tree
Video Reference Time: none
If you haven’t done so already, block in the cypress tree (the swiggly black thing in the left foreground. I completed the tree early-on just by creating a very dark black base and then using the “dash” technique I used in the sky to add some detail with ultramarine, green and any other mix of dark colors I could come up with.
11- Distress the edges
Video Reference Time: 4:35
If you are going for the same rustic look as I have, you may want to use an orbital sander to distress the edges of your painting. I did this because the fence is so old. Once I completed the painting I thought that it looked too “new.” So, by distressing the painting along the edges I was able to feather the paint into the background a bit. I think it helped to make the painting match the old fence canvas.
This step is optional, of course. If you don’t want to distress the edges then just leave it as is.
12- Seal your Starry Night mural
Video Reference Time: 4:50
Once you’ve completed your painting and finished up all the last details, don’t forget to sign your work! Then we can use the spar urethane to seal the painting.
If you used outdoor paint, this isn’t a necessary step but I would still recommend it to give your painting more protection. The spar urethane also has UV blockers in it which should keep the paint nice and vibrant so it doesn’t fade in the sun.
To give the mural the best protection possible, I used about 8 coats of spar urethane. After applying a coat, I left it to dry in the sun before adding the next. It was a pretty warm day so I only had to wait 20-30 minutes between coats.
If your mural is inside, there’s really no need to seal it. So, just skip this step.
13- Hang the mural
Video Reference Time: 5:20
After the spar urethane dries you are done and ready to hang the mural. I used the Hangman Heavy-Duty Mirror and Picture Hanger cleat system and found that really easy to work with. First, attach the one cleat to the wall or surface that you’ll be mounting the mural. This system is aluminum so it wont rust outside. It also comes with a built in level in the cleat so that makes it really easy to hang it level.
The other cleat goes onto the back of the canvas– in my case, the fence. Once that’s screwed into place you can just lift the canvas and set it onto the cleat on your mounting surface.
Obviously, if you’re painting a “true” mural directly onto a wall you won’t need to hang it. If that’s the case you’re already done!
Watch the Video: How to Paint Van Gogh’s Starry Night Mural on an Old Fence
Watch the video to learn how to create Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting as a mural on an old fence. All of the description sections have reference times so you can follow along!
Well, that’s it! I hope you found this tutorial fun and helpful! I would love to see your projects so be sure to comment below with photos and any more advise you have!
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Amy is the founder of Pretty Purple Door and has been a garden designer since 2014 and graphic designer since 2005. She helps home gardeners design their own beautiful landscapes that are colorful in all four seasons, show off your personality and suit your lifestyle. Amy's work has been featured in publications like The Spruce, Family Handyman, Buzzfeed, Country Living Magazine and more. Read full bio.