The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh is easily one of the most recognizable pieces in art history.
And I’ll show you how to make it in this tutorial! Build the famous composition from scratch, using free stocks, Photoshop, and amazing filters from Filter Forge.
The following assets were used in the production of this tutorial.
How to Download Filter Forge
To use Filter Forge, you’ll need to download it first. After you run the installation, it’ll automatically update in Photoshop CC under the Filter menu.
To launch the program and peek around, go to Filter > Filter Forge > Filter Forge 7.
Browse their massive collection of over 12,000 filters for smart photo effects, 3D textures and more. Search their selection online or use the Download More Filters option within the program to get started.
Here are all the filters you’ll need for this tutorial:
- Van Gogh Flow
- Brush Engine Van Gogh
- Cracked Old Painting
- Starry, Starry Night
- Impressionist Channels
- Painting Frame
1. How to Create the Starry Night Scene
The first step is always the research. And it’s pretty crucial in this scenario. We’re challenging ourselves to emulate a very famous painting, so we want to pay homage and our respects by paying close attention to details.
Here’s a little backstory on the Starry Night from my Art History article on Impressionism:
Vincent painted The Starry Night as a patient at the Saint Rémy de Provence asylum in southern France. Like many of his works, it features cypress trees and a small town under a glowing night sky.
With this in mind, here are a few notes to remember:
- Oddly enough, none of the scenery in The Starry Night matches the actual location. It’s not a plein air painting, but one from imagination.
- However, you can find stocks that still match the original layout. Look for items like cypress trees, old historical towns, and general landscape photography.
- Also, Impressionism is a very loose style of painting, so the filters we’re using should match that too.
To build the Starry Night scene, we’ll need these images:
Create a New Document in Photoshop at 1250 x 950 pixels. Then Copy and Paste this Field reference onto its own layer.
If you have trouble with perspective, references like this can help you learn how to ground the landscape and figure out the layout. For the most part, we’ll be placing images on top of this field, so it’s just a placeholder for now.
To show you exactly what I mean, let’s add the main focal points—the trees and sky. Extract the tree from the Cypress image using the Magnetic Lasso Tool (L).
Delete the white background layer.
Then Copy and Paste the tree onto its own layer above the field. Control-J to Duplicate the layer twice. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to resize the other two trees to match the painting.
Now that we have the trees ready, we need to change their shape to look more fluid, like the Impressionist style. We’ll do this by using the Liquify Tool.
Bring the first tree into Liquify. Select the Tree layer and go to Filter > Liquify.
Use the Forward Warp Tool (W) to push the branches and leaves inward. Create curvy, S-like shapes like the ones Vincent loved. And make the base of the trees more round.
Do this for all three trees. Keep checking back with the original Starry Night to see which shapes work best. Here is my result.
The next part of this puzzle is the sky.
Both the sky and trees make up the biggest pieces to this puzzle. And this Sky and Mountains stock is pretty awesome because the high mountain shapes on the right side look just like the painting.
So let’s add it in, shall we?
Copy and Paste the sky and mountain reference onto its own New Layer above the field. Use the Move Tool (M) to position the image higher on the canvas, allowing the mountains to hit their mark in Van Gogh’s scene.
Next, add a Layer Mask to the sky and mountains layer. Now we must reshape the mountain image. Select the Brush Tool (B) and use a Hard Round Brush to paint black onto the mask. Mask out the areas seen below.
This step should help guide your eyes to understand where things intersect within the painting. One image alone will help create the perfect background elements!
If you’re picky about the details, let’s adjust this mountain before we move on. Go to Filter > Liquify and push the mountain higher using the Forward Warp Tool (W).
Now for a little surgery!
To create a sky more like the painting, we have to redistribute the clouds we see.
- Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a large selection on the left side in order to cut out that section. Hold Control-J after your selection to Paste it onto a New Layer.
- Flip the sky piece. Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.
- Place it above the right mountains. Use a Layer Mask to diffuse the edges with a Soft Round Brush.
Now repeat these steps to add more clouds to the scene. Select the clouds first, and then Flip and Mask them. Use a Soft Round Brush to help blend the clouds into the mountains and sky.
Here is the result.
Time for some more trees!
Copy and Paste this Landscape stock onto a New Layer above the clouds. Add a Layer Mask to mask out the sky. Then use a Soft Round Brush to feather out the trees near the top of the landscape.
Here is the result. The extra benefit of this stock is that it’ll help fill in the gaps of our painting.
Before we move on, let’s fix the color. Add a New Adjustment Layer of Curves and set it as a Clipping Mask to the landscape layer. Adjust the curves for the RGB, Blue, and Red Channels to make the landscape more blue.
Repeat these steps with the Old Town image.
This image will represent the middle ground area. This is where the town in the painting should be.
Paste, Mask, and then recolor, remember? Copy and Paste the image, or just an extraction onto a New Layer. Add a quick Layer Mask to clean up the edges around the buildings. Then add a New Adjustment Layer of Curves, this time lowering the RGB Channel for more contrast.
Feel free to use bits and pieces from the other stocks to fill in parts of the scene.
Before we move on, add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup. We’ll use this to finish the photo composite portion of this Starry Night effect.
Set the 3D LUT File to FoggyNight.3DL and lower the Opacity to 60%.
Here is the result.
2. How to Apply the Starry Night Filters
Time for filters!
The Starry Night is well known for its beautiful, painterly style. We’ll achieve this by using several filters from Filter Forge.
Let’s start with the trees.
Control-Click on the first tree layer. Then go to Filter > Filter Forge > Filter Forge 7.
Choose the Van Gogh Flow filter under the Effects > Creative category.
Choose the default preset, and then add the following settings.
Apply this filter to the rest of the trees. Use the same settings as above.
Apply the Layer Masks to the town and landscape layers, and then Merge them together.
Using the same process as before, we’ll apply the Van Gogh Flow filter to this merged result.
But first, Control-J to create a Duplicate of the merged layer. Use the copied layer for this effect. This time, choose the third preset on the list, and add the following settings.
Here’s the end result.
Next, let’s do the field layer. Using the same filter again, we’ll make some minimal changes to the settings to make the brush strokes more short and fat.
For the sky and mountains, we’ll be using the Brush Engine Van Gogh filter instead. Merge the sky and mountain layers together. Then, using the default preset and settings, apply this brush engine filter.
Here is the result after all the filters have been applied.
3. How to Paint Impressionist Details
The filtered results look great, but now they need to blend well together. Vincent often had a habit of outlining his work, so we’ll have to do the same before painting more color.
But first, let’s add a moon!
Create a yellow
#c6b16f ellipse with the Ellipse Tool (U). Place it in the top right corner and set the Blend Mode to Vivid Light.
Now let’s outline each section. Create a New Layer and select the Brush Tool (B). Use a Hard Round Brush (50-80% Opacity) to paint black lines outlining the landscape and town.
Build the line weight and texture by going along with the Impressionist style.
Start to incorporate some more color. Choose ones Vincent loved himself!
Use the Eyedropper Tool (E) to pick up colors from the scene and use them as your Foreground Colors.
Here I used colors like yellow
#bca736 and red
#693d38 to make the painting pop with colorful outlines and stars. Then I drew in a simple moon shape for a fun addition.
Set a New Layer to Overlay. Use a Soft Round Brush to give the stars and moon a bright yellow glow.
To finish this Starry Night effect, you’ll need to add a few more layers of painterly brush strokes, specifically white highlights. Study the original painting and experiment with different brush textures for more fun.
Here’s the Starry Night painting so far.
4. How to Add a Frame
If you want to take this another step, add a frame! Merge all the layers together.
Copy and Paste the Starry Night painting onto the canvas. Control-click the layer and go to Filter > Filter Forge > Filter Forge 7.
Select this Painting Frame and use the default preset with the following settings:
Here is the framed result against a nice
#ababab tan background.
If you’d like to add even more texture to this piece, consider an old, cracked painting effect. Select the Starry Night with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M). Control-J to make two layers of copies, and then use just one of the copies for this filter.
Control-click one copy and go to Filter > Filter Forge > Filter Forge 7.
Select this Cracked Old Painting filter, use the default preset, and apply the following settings:
The result may appear a little dull. So set the second copy to Lighter Color to bring out the painting again.
Looks great! Feel free to add a Drop Shadow for a realistic finish.
5. How to Apply the Effect to a New Painting
But wait…there’s more!
You can take this effect to the next level with a little painting inception. That’s right. A painting, within a painting… movie style.
To do this, we’ll need another piece to work from. Bedroom in Arles is another popular painting of his: a still life of his bedroom in France.
To recreate this scene in his famous Impressionist style, we should definitely try a shorter route! As it turns out, there’s this super awesome picture of a sculpture of his room that we can use instead.
Open the image in Photoshop. Hold Control-J to create a copy of the background, set it to Linear Light, and lower the Opacity to 22%.
Control-click the copy and Run Filter Forge to apply the Starry, Starry Night filter. Use the default preset with the following settings:
Next, add two New Adjustment Layers.
The first is Levels. Adjust the settings for the RGB Channel for more brightness.
Then add a Color Balance Adjustment Layer.
Almost there! Let’s rebuild the color scheme in these next few steps.
Fill a New Layer with brown
#392b24. Set the Blend Mode to Hue and lower the Opacity to 54%.
- Create another New Layer and use the Brush Tool to paint orange
#f7a300onto the wall. Set the Blend Mode to Subtract (it turns the wall blue) and lower the Opacity to 52%. Clean up the edges with a Layer Mask.
- Create another New Layer for the flower. Paint brown
#8f786bonto the floor, and then set the layer to Hue.
Fill a New Layer with blue
#3f00cd and set it to Difference. Lower the Opacity to 20%.
Now insert the Starry Night painting! Hang it on the wall in the back.
Make the Starry Night blend into the new painting by applying a filter. Use the same Starry Night filter from before.
Add a New Layer and dedicate it to adding some texture to the walls. Paint soft white strokes reminiscent of the style we created earlier.
Use this same layer to play with the line weight of the other items. When you’re through, Merge all the layers together.
Let’s add the final filters to complete this second painting. Duplicate the merged layer.
Run Filter Forge and apply the Van Gogh Flow filter to the copy. Use the default preset, with the following settings.
Set this layer to Multiply and lower the Opacity to 35%. Now the painting should have a great Impressionist feel.
For more texture, Duplicate the copy.
Run Filter Forge on this layer, using the Impressionist Channels filter this time. Use the default preset and settings, and then set the layer to Saturation. Adjust the Opacity to 100%.
Here is the alternative inception effect!
Congratulations, You’re Done!
Impressionism is a cool art style you can achieve digitally. And painting like the masters is possible with Filter Forge. Develop the right eye for stocks and compositing, and you’ll master photo manipulations with time.
I hope you’ve enjoyed following along. Feel free to leave your comments and result below.
Create more incredible effects with Filter Forge—check out these tutorials: