Saturday Studio: Stamping and Stenciling like Shapiro

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education

For today’s Saturday Studio, we’re going to try painting like David Shapiro, FWMoA’s largest Archive artist. In a previous post, Lauren Wolfer, Associate Curator of Special Collections & Archives, describes Shapiro’s work perfectly as “complex minimalism.” His paintings are deceptively simple at first glance, often with muted color palettes and simple compositions; but, the longer you look, the more you are rewarded with rich details and textures. Also included in his archive are many of the paintbrushes Shapiro custom-made himself, but looking closely at the marks in his paintings, it’s clear that he often didn’t use brushes at all! So, that is today’s “assignment”: paint without brushes.

Gather your materials

An assemblage of tools for painting without a brush: fork, sticks, twine, hairband, bottle cap, can lid, sandpaper, scraper, palette knife, and more!

I scavenged my house and backyard for objects with interesting shapes and textures to use as stamps. One of my favorite details in Shapiro’s paintings is a twig–the same twig–that pops up in a few different paintings, so I wanted to try stamping with a stick, and I also found a few whirligig seed pods. Your kitchen and recycling bin are great places to find all kinds of shapes!

In addition to your items for stamping, you’ll also need:

  • Paper (I’m using colored construction paper)
  • Paint: tempera is best for easy cleanup, but I have acrylic.
  • Newspaper to protect your table (this tends to get messy)
  • Something to apply paint to your stamps and paper. A paintbrush is acceptable for this purpose, but a palette knife works great if you have one!
  • Scissors

We’re going to experiment with a few different techniques!

Stamping and Stenciling

Make a stencil from a small piece of cardboard! Fold it in half, then use scissors to cut your desired shape from the middle. I made a triangle. Hold the stencil flat against your paper, then scrape paint across it to fill in the shape. Mine oozed out the edges a bit, but I like the effect of the raised edges of the triangle and the flatter blob around it. Repeat around your paper.

You can also stamp your stencil to make a negative shape! Apply paint to the surface and press down. Try stamping multiple times without applying more paint.

Some other ideas:

  • Bubble wrap makes polka-dot patterned sections.
  • Try using the same stamp multiple times in different directions to create a pattern (I did this with the v-shaped seed pod).
  • A string dipped in paint can become any shape you like, as can a piece of cardboard!
  • Use water to thin out your paint and add a few drips and splatters.

Fun, right?! You can go wild overlapping your stamps and filling your paper. The real challenge is finding some Shapiro-like restraint; if that’s your goal, I recommend pausing often and stepping back from your paper. Does it feel balanced? Making sure to use each color and shape a few times across your entire paper can help unify your work. Knowing when to stop is difficult!

Scraping and dragging

Cut some notches into another piece of cardboard to make teeth like a comb.

Use a fresh piece of paper, and, working quickly so it doesn’t dry, apply paint to a small section, then use your cardboard comb to scrape through it. The comb will pick up some paint on its “teeth”–you can also use this to paint stripes across your paper!

Continue this method across the page, working in small sections so the paint stays wet enough. What other tools could you use to scrape?

Try different color schemes! I also made a monochromatic version with black paint on black paper, which I think really shows off the textures.

Finishing up

After your paint dries, you may decide your individual paintings are finished, or, you can try combining multiple pieces into one larger painting as Shapiro often did. I might cut up and combine my two scraped paintings!

As always, share your prints with us here on the blog or by posting to our social media: Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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