Today we publish Vincent, a graphic biography of Van Gogh by Dutch creator Barbara Stok. The second book in SelfMadeHero’s Art Masters series, Vincent documents the brief and intense period of creativity Van Gogh spent in Arles, Provence. Away from Paris, the painter falls in love with the landscape and light of the South of France, and dreams of setting up an artists’ studio in Arles. But attacks of mental illness leave him disorientated and confused. Vincent breathes new life into this fascinating story of art, friendship and brotherly love.
We caught up with Barbara Stok to see what she had to say about the project.
Why did you choose to focus on this part of Van Gogh’s life?
I chose the last couple of years of his life, the period he lived in the south of France, because it’s an extremely interesting time. There was a lot going on: he made his most beautiful paintings, he dreamed about setting up an artists’ house, there was the tragic incident with his ear and, finally, he went to a mental institution. He had hopes and dreams and big disappointments, but in the end he found resignation and consolation in his work and in nature.
How did you research the project?
I started by reading all of his letters. That was like reading a diary. From his letters I selected scenes and thoughts that I found interesting. I also went to Arles and Saint-Rémy to see where he lived. And I gathered all the necessary facts, for instance: What kind of furniture did they have in the late 19th century? Did they have electricity or gas light? What did their underwear look like? In order to make a drawing, you have to know every little detail.
What was your process and how long did it take?
First I wrote a broad outline of the story. After that I wrote the dialogues and started drawing page-by-page. My husband Rick coloured the book on the computer. We used the colours of Van Gogh’s own paintings: we selected one painting for each scene. All together, from the moment I started reading the letters until the book was finished, it took three years. This is me working on Vincent:
What were the challenges of the project?
The most difficult part of the book to make was when Vincent’s colleague Gaugin visits him in Arles. On the one hand, they get along; on the other, their characters clash. It was a real challenge to find the right balance.
What did you most enjoy about the project?
I most enjoyed making the part set in Saint-Rémy. This is where Vincent finds peace and resignation and where all the themes in the book come together. I could draw full pages of beautiful landscapes and bring forward his ideas about life and consolation: “When I am painting in the countryside, I feel the bonds that unite us all.”
Vincent is available now from all good book shops, brick-and-mortar and online.