The Elements of Design
Line and Shape
Van Gogh uses line to define shape and color. There is some outlining in the face, like the eye, the far side of the nose, the ear, and the mouth. The lines are mostly curved, and even those that are expected to be straight are wavy. The shapes are mainly organic, except for the paintbrushes and the palette. The lines in the background surround van Gogh like a halo, bringing attention to the subject of the composition.
The actual texture is probably somewhat rough. The simulated textures appear rough as well, his method of painting involving the use of lines of color creates a harsher texture. The smoothest texture appears to be the palette, which may tell us something about the artists self-perception.
The light source is from the far right side. There are no really distinct shadows, but the majority of his face is facing away from the light source, shown as the greenish tinge. There is very little highlight in the painting, most of it being on the left side of the head.
Semi-local color is used in this self-portrait. While the colors are similar to life, it is not truly what they are in real life, especially in comparison to Renaissance and Baroque paintings. It is predominantly cool, with the warm colors centered in van Goghs face.
There is no real sense of space in this painting, since the background is a field of blue that has no defined objects. This conveys a feeling of isolation and emptiness.
Principles of Design
The style of painting is consistent throughout and the dominance of the cool colors, especially around the perimeter of the painting, helps to unify the composition. The repetition of lines also helps to create a sense of harmony.
The different colors and direction of the lines create variety in this painting. Contrast of temperature also helps.
This painting is asymmetrical since all the sides are unequal. There is a balance between positive and negative space, however.
Dominance and Center of Interest
The focal point is van Goghs face. The halo created by the lines of the background focus in on the head, and its warm colors contrast with the rest of the composition, drawing the eye to itself. The lack of detail in the rest of the painting also serves to emphasize the head.
There are no objects in the background, and the clothing and palette lack detail, making the face the most detailed part of the composition. It is not a complex composition, rather it places emphasis on the emotional aspect of the painting.