Help make my office a Van Gogh shrine
August 26, 2010 11:38 PM   Subscribe

I have access to a large poster printer and want to fill my office with beautiful prints of Van Gogh's paintings. Please lend me your aesthetic guidance on how to make this awesome, not tacky or crowded.

I want Starry Night to be the largest print and the focal point. I'd like to find other appropriate Van Gogh pieces, nighscapes or landscapes, to accompany the main paining, but I've never chosen a collection of paintings to display together so I'm not sure what will look right together vs. what will look jarring.

I'd also like some advice on how to interpret digital file dimensions as to their suitability for being reprinted in large size.

Also, any other decorating ideas to go along with the general theme?

All of this will be hung in the 6.5 ft wide swath of white space I have in my office above my office couch. (The couch is plaid, but I could cover it with a more suitable color or pattern.) I also have a bunch of plants, and occasionally sea-monkeys, in my office.


If anyone else out there has their own "Vince Wall," I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see photos of what you've done with it.

posted by Jacqueline to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh and pointers to appropriately high resolution pics, please!
posted by Jacqueline at 11:48 PM on August 26, 2010

I, too, am a fan of Vincent Van Gogh, and I have several prints (mostly cheap, of varying sizes) scattered around my house. I decided to do it in thematic groupings: stars/skies together (Starry Night, Night Stars), buildings together (The Church at Auvers, Night Cafe) and flowers together (Irises, Sunflowers).

Since you're just doing one wall and you want to make Starry Night prominent, maybe you could put that one in the middle of the wall and then form groupings of smaller prints thematically, with other star/sky ones on top, then buildings, landscapes, and flowers along the bottom and sides.
posted by amyms at 12:07 AM on August 27, 2010

Since your centrepiece is The Starry Night, you could look to the 2009 "Van Gogh and the colours of the night" exhibition for other works that have the same night-time theme. The MoMA site (requires Flash) lists the works that were presented, such as The Starry Night over the Rhône and The Dance Hall in Arles. You can still order the exhibition book at the Van Gogh Museum Shop or the MoMA Shop.

I also recommend going through the Van Gogh Museum's permanent collection, organised by period; it can give you a good sense of the different "phases" Van Gogh went through. He painted The Starry Night in 1889 while living in the sanatorium in Arles, so his other Arles-era paintings might be a nice complement.

Here and here are some helpful resources about how image resolution affects print quality.
posted by neushoorn at 12:37 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd also like some advice on how to interpret digital file dimensions as to their suitability for being reprinted in large size.

Well, you can't do the dimension that matters, which is z. I hate to be a party pooper, but Van Gogh without depth and texture is sort of wrong. I'd put up prints of Vermeer or even Canaletto in a living/working space, but I'd never do Van Gogh, having blubbed like a babe at the paintings in Paris and Amsterdam.

What I would do is details. Don't try and replicate the works themselves, but see if you can pick out bits of the Arles nightscapes, print them much larger than they were painted, and collage them into something that is and isn't Van Gogh. That hints at Van Gogh, and the unpainted paintings you wish he could have painted. Which makes you want to book a round the world trip to see them all.
posted by holgate at 12:56 AM on August 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd also like some advice on how to interpret digital file dimensions as to their suitability for being reprinted in large size.

For print 240 pixels per inch is about as low as you'd want to go, 300ppi would be much better.

If you wanted an A4 sized print your starting image would need to be at least 3500×2400px or about 8 megapixels. For a "poster-sized" print you'll need 14000×10000px at least. I don't know where you're going to find an image at that resolution.
posted by alby at 2:20 AM on August 27, 2010

While decorating, I seldom try to lay out a whole wall at once. I start with one item on the wall, and then over time, figure out what flanks it. Then fill in, maybe remove some old choices I no longer like, and keep iterating. You get to lear as you go that way, too. And your tastes will evolve as you go, so you'll probably end up replacing something, but that's part of the fun.

I think you can go lower than 240 pixels per inch. I've started with images as low as 72dpi when printing things out Really Big. But figuring between 100-200 dpi for your lower limit is going to get you into the ball-park. You'll waste less time and get better looking results.

Finding online images of high enough resolution for decent poster-sized prints of Van Gogh's work may be challenging. If you get stuck there are plenty of places that sell well-done art prints, like this one. An "art print" is going to be offset-printed, and will look reasonably good. A giclee print is a fancy name for inkjet, similar to what you could produce with your poster printer if you had a high-resolution file to start with. And the print on canvas will probably also be inkjet, but on canvas rather than paper.

Also consider how you're going to present the prints. Framed? The cost of the framing will be 3-5x the cost of buying the cheap "art print". Laminated onto foam-core (a cheap alternative I've used) will be much more reasonably priced, but still is likely to cost more than the cost of buying a print. Or are you just going to stick the print to the wall? The last will be the least durable by far, and will give you a "dorm room" look, rather than the awesome look you're after.
posted by DaveP at 4:26 AM on August 27, 2010

Thanks for all the advice so far!

Poster printer prints or cheap poster store prints are all I can afford right now, and the "dorm room look" would still be a significant upgrade over the "drab, chipped, blank walls and banged up 1950s-era metal desk look" I got going on now. :) Maybe I can afford to upgrade to framed nicer prints someday but not soon.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:38 AM on August 27, 2010

The wikimedia archives often have high resolution files of these sorts of things. I would start there - though I'll warn you that for printing things at poster size (24x36, say), you're going to need some pretty frakking huge files. (BTW you could probably get away with 72 or 180 dpi.)

I'm also going to be really honest with you here.

Several poster sized prints of Van Gogh paintings all displayed together in what I'm assuming is probably a small office is going to be jarring regardless of which specific images you choose. If you have a cubicle, or really any space smaller than maybe 6x8 feet, I would choose one Van Gogh painting you really love, print that, and be done with it. Maybe two or three if you print them smaller than poster size (16x20 or 11x17, say).

If you want to avoid the dorm room look, I'd avoid The Starry Night and his other ultra-famous works, entirely, and instead choose something that people maybe haven't seen before.

As for presentation, you might be able to up the "classy" factor by having your images mounted to foam-core. Images on foam-core leaned against the wall rather than applied directly to it look much nicer than taping up a poster.
posted by Sara C. at 6:52 AM on August 27, 2010

I visited a friend recently who totally knocked the poster cliche out of a Monet by having it blown up to mega-size, like it must have been 6x8 feet on a wall not much larger than that! I'm sure it cost a fortune to frame it, but the effect was mesmerizing and powerful -- it worked as both focal point and background.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:18 AM on August 27, 2010

Without going through a specialized source or digitizing something yourself from a slide, you are not going to be able to blow up a jpg of a Van Gogh painting to that kind of size (and even then, you probably will not be able to print it well on the machines you have available to you - most of those oversized poster printing machines have a max of 48 inches).

Not to mention that Van Gogh didn't paint that big - it wouldn't look good, even if you did it.

Later in his career, Monet painted huge canvasses that took up entire rooms. Those works look AMAZING blown up to something approaching the size they were meant to be seen at. If you blew up a Van Gogh image to that size, you'd just get globs. And not in the good way.

OT re huge Monet paintings that'll blow your mind - when MoMA here in New York re-opened in their newly renovated space back in 2004 or 2005, they installed one of said huge paintings of water lilies in a large open-plan gallery, alongside several extremely moderinistic, even minimalist, paintings and sculptures. Mind. Blown.
posted by Sara C. at 8:54 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I manage a quick-print shop, and I deal with this every day. While it's always preferable to get the highest-resolution source you can, 300dpi or better isn't strictly necessary for huge prints. For small prints someone is going to hold in their hand, yes. Detail is critical, and the flaws in a low-res source file are going to be very apparent. But with large prints, an important factor is viewing distance. Just as nobody is going to stand inches from a movie theater screen and go "Hey, this looks grainy!", with prints this large, the viewer is generally going to be at least a few feet away from the print, so you can get away with lower resolution.

We have a local professional photographer who still shoots some of his stuff with his beloved old 3MP Nikon, and even at 24x36 they still look fantastic from a few feet away. Get right up close and sure, you can see some jagged edges, but from what would be an appropriate viewing distance, the prints are more than fine.

Another thing you should consider, if you have access to this wide-format printer, see what media types you can run through it. We do a lot of reproductions for local artists on matte and glossy canvas (for oils, acrylics, etc) and on heavy textured watercolor paper (for watercolors). Using this type of media instead of photobase paper not only makes the piece look more authentic (it's a true gallery-grade art print and not a poster print), but the texture of the canvas or paper itself will hide a lot of the flaws of a low-res image. So maybe the only digital image you can find of Starry Night is roughly 4000 x 3000 px; don't give up. Print that sucker on canvas and you can go simply huge with it, and much of the artifacting from JPEG compression will be nicely concealed by the weave of the canvas itself.

tl;dr: Don't be discouraged if you can't find super hi-res images of the paintings you want. Keep in mind where they will be displayed and how close people are likely to get to them, and consider printing on canvas instead of photo paper, and even a typical 3MP image at 2048 x 1536 will scale up to poster size nicely.
posted by xedrik at 9:25 AM on August 27, 2010

Seconding xedrik, plotter prints can be pretty forgiving even down to 150 dpi or so, since you're seeing it from further away than if you were holding a photo print in your hands.
posted by heliotrope at 11:02 AM on August 27, 2010

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