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!
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?
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.
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.
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