Van Gogh Immersion with Dena Peterson


My name is Dena Peterson and I am so proud to be a new Art Ambassador for Royal Talens, North America. I was also a painter and animator for the film, Loving Vincent, the first full-length hand-painted animated film about the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh featuring his beautiful paintings. Interestingly, Royal Talens’ Van Gogh Oils was the brand of paint chosen from many others to be used in the paintings for the film. I loved working with this paint; it stayed workable long enough for us to scrape and repaint the many paintings required for each scene. Additionally, the colors were vibrant enough to recreate the colors in Vincent’s work. I am so proud that it was nominated for an Academy Award in 2017!

I recently returned from my first trip to visit the places where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted in France. I was invited by Sue Ann Hum of My Art Trip to teach for her Van Gogh Immersion trip. Royal Talens donated Cobra Oil Paints to the students of the trip so that they could try oil painting, many for the very first time! Sue Ann put together hand-made pochade boxes made from donated cigar boxes which included the Cobra Oils and two small canvas panels. The ease of Cobra Water Mixable Oils made it easier and safer to paint while traveling. No solvents needed! Just some tap water or bottled water to clean our brushes.


I had been using the Cobra Oils in my studio to create several paintings before I left on my trip and discovered how much I loved them. No fumes from the solvents just felt safer. Clean-up was easier, and they behaved just as my traditional oil paints had. I knew I was ready to take them on the road!

We had an amazing trip together. We visited and sketched in Auver-sur-Oise, in the north of France where Vincent painted some 80 paintings during his brief time there before his death. For me, visiting his grave and the Wheatfield that I painted for the film was the most moving part of the trip.


The Famous Wheatfield just outside Auver-sur-Oise where Van Gogh painted many paintings

And Vincent’s grave nearby

I taught the students the importance of thumbnail sketches to determine composition and value groups. I also introduced them to the idea of a “pattern sketch”, similar to Van Gogh’s reed pen drawings, to determine the patterning of the brushstrokes. Van Gogh was more interested in color and patterns that in strict light and shadow painting. (Here is a link to a recent article I wrote for Outdoor Painter if you’d like to learn more: ).

Here I am painting a demo using Cobra Oils on the Oise River

A thumbnail sketch showing value groups and composition

A thumbnail sketch of patterns or directional brushwork ideas

Students learned many of his techniques and was encouraged to try them in their own work; and, to import the passion that he felt toward the landscapes he loved. These were the same scenes in which we would be immersed during our time in Van Gogh’s France! We spent a week in St. Remy in Provence and visited St. Paul’s Hospital, where Vincent admitted himself and painted many great works of the hospital, the grounds, and the olive orchards at the foot of the Alpilles. We visited Arles where he lived at the Yellow House with Gaugain and painted the Night Café. Our trip ended in Paris, visiting Montmartre, the hub of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists and many scenes painted by Van Gogh. Finally, we saw his original works at the Orsay Museum.

My Art Trip Students and myself (front center) with Sue Ann Hum, owner (front left) and Susan Rubin co-host (front right)

I can’t count the number of “goosebump” moments I experienced on this trip. Van Gogh became even more real for me after painting and walking where he painted and walked. For more information about My Art Trip, visit For more information about Royal Talens’ Cobra Oils or other Royal Talens products, visit

Using Yellow Ocher Cobra Oils to paint Roussillon, the home of the Ochre Cliffs!

Me, Loving Vincent….and Theo’s apartment in Montmartre!



Dena was honored to be selected as one of 120 international artists out of 5000 applicants for the film, "Loving Vincent", truly a labor of love and tribute to the life and struggles of Van Gogh as told through his paintings.

"As artists, many of us can relate to Van Gogh's struggles, which is why his life strikes such an emotional chord with us."

Dena's small-town roots prompted one of her art professors to comment that her work expresses a love of intimate, quiet, and peaceful spaces. She enjoys the richness and texture of painting with oils, both en plein air, and in her Colorado Springs studio.

"For me, painting is not about copying reality. I want to paint with passion to evoke emotion."

An award-winning artist, Dena's paintings have been exhibited in regional, national, and international shows, such as Birds in Art at the Leigh-Yawkey Woodson Museum and national traveling show. She received her training at the Loveland Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Students League of Denver, and the Scottsdale Artists School, where she was selected for the prestigious Wade Fairchild Memorial Scholarship.

She was invited to be an opening night speaker about her work on "Loving Vincent" at the Plein Air Convention and Expo 2017 in San Diego, CA, sponsored by Eric Rhoads, publisher of Plein-Air Magazine and Fine Art Connoisseur. Watch for her soon-to-be-released DVD on how to paint like Van Gogh.

Among her teachers and mentors are Kevin MacPherson, Kevin Weckbach, and Jay Moore. She is a signature member of The American Impressionist Society and Women Artists of the West and Associate Member of Oil Painters of America and Plein Air Artists Colorado.

She also enjoys inspiring others through teaching.