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Activity: Make A Drape Painting

Sam Gilliam, Mazda

This activity is inspired by Sam Gilliam’s drape painting Mazda. Learn more about this artwork and get a little messy making your own 3D drape painting full of fun, expressive colors!

Look Closer:

Sam Gilliam, Mazda, 1970 

Take a moment to look closely at this work. What do you notice? How do you think this painting was made?

Artists often make paintings on a square or rectangular canvas that is stretched on a wooden frame. In the 1960s and ’70s, Sam Gilliam rejected this norm and made three-dimensional drape paintings. The word three-dimensional describes an object that has height, length, and width. 

Mazda and Gilliam’s other drape paintings were made without using a paintbrush. Instead, Gilliam would dip, dye, stain, and splatter the canvas. Have you ever painted without a brush? What was it like?

Gilliam is associated with the Color Field movement. Artists in this movement created abstract paintings that explored color. Do you have a favorite color? Are there any colors that remind you of emotions, objects, or people? 

Sam Gilliam, Mazda
Sam Gilliam, Mazda, 1970, acrylic on canvas, Installed: 135 × 90 in. (342.9 × 228.6 cm). Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2020.12

Activity: Make A Drape Painting

Materials Needed: 

  • Acrylic paint
  • Piece of old fabric 
  • String
  • Dowel rod or bamboo skewer 
  • Tinfoil (recommended)
  • Cookie sheet (recommended)
  • Plastic silverware (recommended)
Small blobs of acrylic paint all over a canvas


Step 1: Find a piece of old fabric that you can use as a canvas to paint on. It can be any shape you want. For this project, I chose a rectangular shape cut out from an old handkerchief. 

Step 2: Prepare a surface to paint on. Painting can be messy, so be sure to put something water resistant over your table. I used a cookie sheet covered with tinfoil, but you can also tape down trash bags or work on top of the cardboard. 

Note: acrylic paint can be washed out of most clothes, but should be done soon after you’ve finished painting.

Step 3: Put your piece of fabric on your painting surface; this will be your canvas. Then, place small blobs of acrylic paint all over your canvas. What colors will you choose? What emotions do you associate with certain colors?

Step 4: Spread paint all over the canvas using plastic silverware or even your fingers! Notice how the colors blend together. What new colors can you make? What happens if you mix white or black with another color?

Step 5: When you’ve covered all of your canvas, leave the painting to dry overnight and clean up your workspace and materials.

Paint being smeared all over a canvas using plastic knife
Drape painting in the style of Sam Gilliam

Step 6: Once your painting is dry, bunch together sections of your canvas and tie it in place with pieces of string. Then, use those strings to attach your painting to a dowel rod or bamboo skewer. Notice how your painting has become three-dimensional. How does this change how you see your painting? What colors or shapes do you notice the most?

Have fun creating!

Written by Marie Hofer, museum educator, Crystal Bridges.

Special thanks to our sponsors:

Youth and Family programming is supported in part by AMP Sign & Banner, Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services, Juan, Marcy and Joaquin Camacho, The Coca-Cola Company, iHeart Media, JTH Productions, Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Pinnacle Car Services, Procter & Gamble, Gordon and Carole Segal, The Simmons Family Fund, and ViacomCBS Consumer Products.

Education and Learning is supported in part by Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, The Northern Trust Company, Pamela and Wayne Garrison, Doug and Shelley McMillon, Jack and Melba Shewmaker Family, Neff and Scarlett Basore, Galen and Debi Havner, Lance and Sharon Beshore, Cardinal Four Foundation, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Harry Cornell, Cox Communications, Dorothy Hurt, J.M. Smucker Company, Kimberly-Clark, Nice-Pak Products, Inc., The Russell Berrie Foundation, Stephen and Claudia Strange, Felix and Margaret Wright.