Painting Without a Brush

When you were very young, you probably enjoyed finger painting. Maybe you still do! Finger painting allows you to feel the materials, and to really become a part of the work. Jackson Pollock was an American artist who created a style of painting called "action painting." While he didn't use his fingers to paint, Pollock used items other than brushes to create his work. Usually he laid the canvas on the floor, and moved quickly around and into the work, dripping paint from cans with holes in the bottom! Sometimes he would just throw the paint at the canvas.

Pollock's style of painting is called Abstract Expressionism. Artists who paint this way are not interested in making pictures that look real. They care more about expressing their feelings and emotions, and to do this, they use the art elements of color, value, shape, line, and texture as ends in themselves. While Pollock was interested in the finished product or the art, he thought the process of making the painting was an important part of his work, too. By creating action paintings, the artist felt that he actually became a part of the painting.

If you look closely at a Jackson Pollock painting, you'll see that he built layer after layer of paint to create his work. The detail of Number 8 is an example of his technique. You can have fun making art by painting without a brush in the style of Jackson Pollock. There are many common items you'll find around your house that can be used to apply paint. By recycling an old bed sheet for a canvas and reusing things such as plastic bottles for painting tools, you'll help save landfill space, natural resources, and the energy needed to make new or virgin materials.

You will need:

How to:

First assemble your painting tools. Look for things such as empty plastic glue bottles with nozzles, liquid dishwashing detergent bottles, mustard dispensers, medicine droppers, turkey basters, and roll-on deodorant bottles. You also can poke holes in the bottoms of empty food cans just like Jackson Pollock did! Sticks and scraps of dowel rods can be used, and you can even paint with string or cord. Any container or object which will hold paint will do, so use your imagination to come up with your own set of painting tools. Clean all the bottles, cans, and dispensers thoroughly, and fill each with a different color of acrylic paint. You can thin the paint with acrylic medium or a little water, and liquid watercolors can be used right from the bottle.

Now you're ready to paint! The best place to work on your action painting is outside or in a large, open space. Protect the area under your work with layers of newspapers or a plastic painter's tarp. If you use a full-sized bed sheet, tear it in half and use only part of it, so that it will be easier to paint all around and into the canvas. Place the bed sheet on the ground or floor on top of the protective material, and weight the corners with bricks or large rocks. Just as Jackson Pollock did, apply the first color by moving around and into your canvas. When you're finished, apply the next color and so on, until the painting is completed.

Tips and Tricks:

Have an adult remove the rolling ball from a roll-on deodorant bottle by prying up the ball with a metal nail file or small knife.

Recycle leftover latex house paint by substituting it for the acrylics or liquid watercolors. If you prefer to work smaller, recycle an old white handkerchief for your painting surface.

Paint to music. Notice how different kinds of music affect your mood, the colors you choose, and the rhythm of your painting.

This is an excellent group activity, because people can take turns painting. After everyone has had an opportunity to apply a color or layer of paint, each person can take one area of the canvas to add his or her own touch to the work. When everyone's finished and the painting is dry, it can be cut apart and the sections given to each person. These smaller canvases can be dry mounted or framed individually.

Jackson Pollock photo link courtesy of Artnet.

© 1997 Marilyn J. Brackney (updated 2018)

Volume 7 No. 3

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