Saturday Studio: Taking a Dot for a Walk

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education

Francisco Valverde’s drip paintings, on view now in the exhibition Hidden Truths, are all about the line, that most basic element of art. How do you define “line”? We all know what it is and what it looks like: they can be wavy, zig-zaggy, straight, curly, and go in all different directions. My favorite definition has always been that a line is a dot that’s gone for a walk. While we often think of a line as something that is directly drawn or painted with the artist’s hand, by a stroke of the brush or pen, in the case of Valverde the lines are a drop of paint on a walk (or a drip) down his canvases, drawn by gravity! The lines of different colors band together to form stripes that hide the abstract background of each work. Valverde uses resin, a clear, plastic-like material, mixed with pigment rather than traditional paints, which he squeezes from bottle dispensers. Painting this way, the artist gives up some control–all he can do is place the start of each drip and the paint and gravitational forces take over from there. This method is a bit challenging, but also freeing for that reason. 

Let’s try it!

Here’s what we need:

For this art activity, you will need paper, paint, and a board. As well as some painter's tape, all pictured in this photo.
  • Paint in lots of colors (tempera for easiest clean-up, but acrylic will work too)
  • Water
  • Squeeze bottles: we purchased squeeze bottles from Dick Blick for a previous project, but you might be able to find something similar in your recycling bin. Any plastic bottle with a nozzle of some sort will work–ketchup or mustard, shampoo, glue…one for each color is preferable, but you can always rinse it out between colors if you don’t have that many
  • Paper or cardboard for painting on
  • A board of some sort to support your surface
  • Tape
  • Newspaper, a tarp, or butcher paper to protect your table

First, prepare your paper. Treat your first painting as practice so you can experiment and find the method that works for you. Either: tape a piece of paper across the top to a board, or paint directly on a stiffer piece of cardboard. Place something behind it to prop it up on your covered work surface, or put it on an easel if you have one! I used a paint bottle to prop mine.

Now prepare your paints: add some paint into a squeeze bottle, mixing colors if you wish, and add water to thin it out, a little at a time. To mix, just close the lid securely and shake it up. The thinner your paint, the faster it drips and the skinnier the line! Slightly thicker paint is easier to control but slower to drip. You may want to thin different colors to different thicknesses to vary the width of your lines!

Now, try a drip: keep your bottle upright until it’s close to the paper, point the nozzle where you want to start the drip, then tip it over and squeeze gently. It takes less paint than you think! Be patient and give the paint some time to work its way down the paper before adding more to the top of the drip if needed.

There are really two “rules” to this technique:

  1. Start each dripped line on the tape or at the very top of your board so that we don’t see it on the front of the finished work.
  2. After the paint leaves the bottle, don’t touch it. You can only manipulate it by tilting the surface, or if needed, adding more paint to the top.

You’ll also want to test the angle at which your board and paper are propped. Adjust so that it’s slightly flatter and less tilted, then drip some paint. Then, tilt it so that it’s almost vertical and try again. What happens?

Once you’ve prepared your paint and your canvas, keep dripping, switching colors as desired.

The beginning stages of a drip painting.

Observe how the paint behaves as you drip. You may notice that if you drip too close to another drip that’s still wet, they merge! Or, maybe you want to drip on top of another color on purpose to let the colors blend. If your paper is thin, small ripples might develop from the wet paint. How does this affect the lines?

I decided to pause and let my paint dry at this stage, because I wanted to get my drips closer together without them running into each other.

After drying, I found that the drips still wanted to merge, but that’s up to them!

Francisco Valverde, Mexican, b. 1972. X. Pigmented resin on panel, 2019. Courtesy of the artist. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Dumire.

How do the lines in Valverde’s paintings stay so straight? Because he uses layers of resin, a plastic material that dries totally flat (and super shiny!), there are no ripples or imperfections to interrupt the stripes.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of dripping, create another artwork, this time dripping your lines on top of another drawing or painting to obscure it, like Francisco Valverde’s Hidden Truths. You may choose, like him, to make your underpainting abstract or symbolic (like the work X, below), or create something realistic and representational to hide behind the colorful stripes. Remember that any surface texture in your painting or drawing will affect how the paint drips.

I decided to use one of my veggie prints from a few weeks ago. Let’s see what happens!

Watch this clip to see how Alyssa sets up her drips.

Here is my painting with its inspiration!

Francisco Valverde, Mexican, b. 1972. Cartoptromancy. Pigmented resin on panel, 2019. Courtesy of the artist. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Dumire.
Francisco Valverde, Mexican, b. 1972. X. Pigmented resin on panel, 2019. Courtesy of the artist. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Dumire.

Hidden Truths is on display now through August 30! Come check it out, or view our video or virtual tour, and create your own stripy drip painting inspired by it. Please share with us if you do: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

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