Reviving Kees Van Dongen: can Fauvism be digitalized?

Kees Van Dongen was one of the pioneers of Fauvism, focusing on women and portraits with unique details. Among his paintings, there are countless figures with memorable faces. But an important feature of his women is their clothing. Colors, creases, folds, and textures are very well defined in Dongen’s artworks, which is something to consider if you’d like to start painting portraits in the form of Fauvism.

What does it mean when clothing is important in an artwork?

Now you may ask what it translates to in the art world, when I say that clothing is a dominant part of Dongen’s work in Fauvism style. It’s easy to think that clothing should be detailed if the art form is Fauvism, but that isn’t the main point.

It’s essential to go back to your vision and build on what you create as you keep the eye of a viewer as well. Sometimes you might find yourself buried in layers you’ve created for the characters you paint, which will prevent you from seeing it the way a viewer might. So start sketching clothing that strikes the eye; garments that appear before the women (or men) you’re depicting. Sometimes clothing makes the character!

How would Fauvism work digitally?

Well, in short, it won’t if you’re hoping to revive Fauvism resembling the work of its pioneers. Many artists such as Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, and Van Kees himself worked with gouache, lithography, and oil colors. But if you’re like me, you’re giving the digital programs a chance. It may never look like a real painting done with those colors since it’s more of an illustration. However, it’s a fresh way to give your illustrations a direction to a specific art form.

The key to making digital art lean toward an art style is to preserve the elements that make an art form complete and recognizable. For example, Fauvist paintings have a notable outline around objects and people. This outline is usually in deep blue, and not drawn so precisely. Another property of this art form is the strong colors that stand up to reality. In the field of Fauvs, you don’t have to worry so much about things looking real and making so much sense through the lens of impressionism. Paint colorfully and don’t be able to define your work imprecisely.

Layering a Fauvist illustration in Procreate

There are many different programs and applications that are great for illustrations. I personally use Procreate because of the variety of brushes and textures, easiness of layering, and ability to make alterations to my work conveniently. Here is a video where I illustrate using many different layers.

Video of illustrating a woman using Procreate.

The purpose of this video is to show you how illustrations are layered digitally. This is not a tutorial video, but rather a snippet of the work behind my illustration. A great thing about digital illustrations is how much you can change and how indispensable layers are. You can hide and unhide layers or even delete them. You’re able to erase again and again and change brushes, colors, and textures as you’re learning. So take the opportunity to build on your vision as you choose the art style you’d like to revive. It is always great to be traditional and go for pencil and paper, but remember that digital programs can also be an awesome alternative if you’re going for less waste (read more about art and waste here).

Painting of a woman wearing a gray and blue dress, decorated with a big blue bow on her neck and a blue hair on her head, all inside a painted ochre frame. Painted by Kees van Dongen.
Kees Van Dongen, Claudine, ou Mlle Oeuie de Lynx, Color lithograph, circa 1950.

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