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Becoming Van Gogh

How difficult can it be to recreate a relatively straightforward painting such as Van Gogh's Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear? There's only one way to find out

My first thought on seeing these painstaking photographic recreations of famous paintings was, "Why would anyone want to do that?" But my second thought was, "Right – give us a go, then."

The rules on Jeff Hamada's Remake project stipulate that only classic works of art should be staged, and that no post-production effects are employed. Some of the interpretations are literal, some are loose, others have been updated or toyed with.

My choice, Van Gogh's Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, from 1889, was pretty straightforward, or so I thought: coat, hat, bandage, done. Van Gogh cuts a pitiful figure in the portrait, painted just after he cut off his left ear lobe. He was in and out of hospital, plagued by hallucinations and despair. He looks cold, too. I figured I could fake all that.

Recreating a painting in a photograph, however, presents all kinds of challenges – of composition, of colour, of depth and perspective. I knew I didn't look much like Van Gogh – I'm not complaining, by the way – but in my efforts to reproduce the painting as faithfully as possible, I encountered a number of unexpected problems. For example:

1 It is an odd but surprisingly persistent tradition that men's coats button up on the right side and women's on the left. Van Gogh, of course, painted himself using a mirror, which is why his coat buttons up the wrong way. My coat was of no use.

2 He may have done a mirror-image portrait, but the background is the right way round. You can tell by the figures in the Japanese woodcut behind him, Geishas in a Landscape. Finding a decent copy of the print at short notice would be difficult – Van Gogh's print was nicked from the Courtauld in 1981. I tried printing one off the internet, but the result was too small. Besides, Van Gogh had messed with the composition for his painting, cutting out a seated figure to the right. In the end I drew my own with pastels – an approximation of Van Gogh's impressionistic rendering. It didn't take that long, because I didn't have to do the bit obscured by his head.

3 I had an easel of my own, but the top of it was nothing like Van Gogh's, so I fashioned a fake top out of scrap wood and lashed it to the easel with duct tape. The canvas I had lying around the house.

4 Van Gogh's painting has a sickly, yellow cast, which accounts for a lot of its pervasive melancholy. I tried to reproduce the effect by climbing out a window and draping a yellow duvet cover over the kitchen skylight, but this wasn't terribly successful.

So, with my wife's coat, a borrowed hat and some bandages from the first-aid kit, I set about arranging the scene. The position of the door on the far right corresponded to an actual door in my house, but it wasn't a good match. An old Ikea shelving unit worked better.

5 The little tail of hat fur peeking out from behind the bandage is in fact an ear belonging to a small stuffed rabbit, which is stuck down my the back of my collar. The forlorn expression and the sallow complexion, I'm sorry to say, are the model's own. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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