When you look at the painting below, what do you see? American artist Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011) was an Abstract Expressionist; these artists used line, shape, and color to express themselves.
Frankenthaler invented her own painting technique, which she called “soak staining.” First, she added turpentine to her oil paints to make them thinner (and very runny!). Then, she laid a cotton canvas flat on the floor, and poured, dripped, and brushed the paint onto its surface. Since her canvases were unprimed, or raw, the paint soaked into the fabric.
The swirling lines and shapes in Frankenthaler’s works show how her arms moved across the canvas. Look at the painting below. Can you try to copy the artist’s movement? Now, it’s your turn to try “soak staining”! Follow a few easy steps to create your own Helen Frankenthaler–inspired masterpiece.
- Liquid paint
- Cotton fabric (An old bedsheet or any lightly woven cotton fabric will work!)
- Disposable cups
- Popsicle sticks or paint stirrers
- A tarp or drop cloth
Take it Outside!
With the warm, sunny weather, summer is the perfect time of year to take art making outdoors. Since I’ll be pouring paint, this project might get a little messy. Lay down a tarp or drop cloth to protect any surfaces you don’t want painted. Then, lay your cotton fabric on top. For my painting, I’m using cotton muslin fabric. This material is thin, so the paint will spread and soak into it.
Before moving on, place rocks or other heavy objects on each corner of your fabric to weigh it down and hold it in place.
Mix your paint.
To make your paint thin and runny, simply add water.
Fill half of a cup with paint, and then add the same amount of water. Stir thoroughly.
Gently pour the paint onto the fabric. Move your arm across the surface to create smooth lines and different shapes.
Mix, pour, and paint!
Repeat steps two and three with all your paint colors. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Move your arms faster and slower, or move them in different directions. Is the paint making puddles or soaking in? What shapes are you creating? I moved my arm faster when I poured the red paint, and it splashed. It’s okay to make a mess sometimes! Art is all about having fun.
As more paint is added, the colors will begin to layer and mix. What colors can you create?
Let your painting dry.
Once you’ve added all your colors, leave the painting to dry. If there are any puddles of paint on your fabric, let them soak in.
Don’t forget to wash your hands!
It’s time for the big reveal!
Congratulations! You’ve made your own Helen Frankenthaler–inspired soak-stain painting. What other colorful creations will you make? Share your masterpiece on social media. Tag us, @MilwaukeeArt, and use the hashtag #MAMStudioAtHome.
Kohl’s Art Studio at Home activities are designed to be enjoyed with the whole family, regardless of age. Families can work together to learn new techniques and materials, and to explore creativity. As with all new things, provide your child the support and supervision that they need for their developmental level, practicing safe use of tools and materials. You know your kids best!
Liala Amin is the Kohl’s Color Wheels Team Coordinator. She develops art activities inspired by the Museum’s collection, and brings a pop-up studio to school and community festivals throughout the region. When she isn’t driving the giant, green van, she enjoys hanging out with her parakeets and painting.