Starry, Starry Nights


In preparing for teaching an art class for adults (all who chronologically fall into the demographic of “seniors” just like me!), I drew this starry night scene using oil pastels. The inspiration is Van Gogh’s Starry Night and we are going to create our own versions inspired by this famous work of art. I am not trying to be,  nor asking others to be, Van Gogh, as that would be an obvious act of futility. Instead,  I was trying to just let myself be me by interpreting his vision and make it my own. Dare I ask others to do the same?

Van Gogh’s life and art provides fertile ground for appreciating his immense talent and intelligence, while striving to understand his struggles with depression and anxiety that eventually led to his demise. For this class, however, the focus will be on his inspired art. In the starry starry night art project, the emphasis will be on appreciating the wonder and beauty of a night scene. Who hasn’t stood before the canvas of a star filled sky and marveled at the silent beauty literally stretching for limitless miles? There are similarities to Van Gogh’s effort but there are far more differences and the goal in this artistic effort is one of discovery and learning.

The art therapist in me is ready to analyze meaning and the symbolism that underlies the conscious realm, taking my creative effort to the depths of the unconscious where the process of creating is as beneficial to examine as the end result. While there is a place for that self analysis – like clearly the tree in the foreground is almost a barrier to seeing the starry night sky, giving new meaning to “can’t see the forest (sky) for the trees (or in this case a single tree with many leafless branches) – I am leaving that reflective process to my journal later! What I am interested in is whether this effort will translate to a meaningful and enjoyable learning experience for an eager group of people with varying degrees of art experience?

I don’t want to ask something of others that I am not willing to experience myself, which is why doing a test run is a good thing. In asking others to create a starry night scene, I hope they will feel free to draw from their imaginations and allow themselves the permission to change their scene as they like. While Van Gogh used oil paint, we will be using oil pastels and this difference will create a changed effect from the very start. Another difference is that we will use blue toned paper where Van Gogh most likely started with a white canvas. I thought this would give a different approach having to bring out the light from the darkness. Layering light effects with oil pastels works well on dark toned paper. The metaphor of “light in the darkness” is the foundation of this experience where my hope is that others can know the joy of letting our lights shine. Don’t worry, I don’t plan to sing This Little Light of Mine I’m Gonna Let it Shine, although it is a tempting thought!

One final difference is that we will not be using turpentine to blend the oil pastels as Van Gogh would have done with oil paints ( though I am fairly certain he would have used linseed oil or mineral spirits for his impasto technique). I tried this technique in an earlier sample but was surprised that even with low odor turpentine, I was affected by the fumes! I had to open a window in the large, ventilated space  of my living room to offset the woozy dizziness I was feeling. I certainly don’t want to make anyone sick or high! Here’s  a headline for you: Seniors Experience Breathing Problems from Sniffing Turpentine Fumes in Art Class – EMS Called to The Scene!”

We shall see how it goes! Until then I will be taking in all the starry starry nights I can -without the “help” of turpentine! Be sure to catch the next Total Lunar Eclipse on January, 20-21, 2019. It is being deemed the Blood Moon and the next one will not be until 2032. This is one starry starry night we don’t want to miss! Who knows what surprises await us?


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