2: Abstraction Artists Inspiration Random abstract

Helen Frankenthaler experiments

Studies for Project 2.2 Random Abstract Prints

Issues for printmaking technique:

  • Use water-based Schminke inks because they can be very dilute and mix beautifully on the paper.
  • Do a painting on the plate using different thicknesses of pigment and leave to dry fully.
  • Then selectively spray with water, and use gravity to move the pigment around, to produce the final painting.
  • Hand print on damp paper.
  • Many print variations can be made on the same inking plate through adding pigment and respraying.

About Helen Frankenthaler

Website of Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) was eminent among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters and is widely credited for playing a pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting.

Through her invention of the soak-stain technique, she expanded the possibilities of abstract painting, while at times referencing figuration and landscape in unique ways. Her 1952 Mountains and Sea, was a seminal, breakthrough painting of American abstraction. Pioneering the “stain” painting technique, she poured thinned paint directly onto raw, unprimed canvas laid on the studio floor, working from all sides to create floating fields of translucent color. Mountains and Sea was immediately influential for the artists who formed the Color Field school of painting, notable among them Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.

Helen Frankenthaler painting: HFF website

Some of the most impactful for the mixing of pigments on the surface are her watercolours.

Helen Frankenthaler watercolours: Google images

In addition to unique paintings on canvas and paper, she worked in a wide range of media, including ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and especially printmaking. As a significant voice in the mid-century “print renaissance” among American abstract painters, she is particularly renowned for her woodcuts.

Helen Frankenthaler print: HFF website

Stain painting techniques

2: Abstraction Random abstract

Clyfford Still experiments

!!for further exploration and development
lifelines and energy fields.

Life and death merging in fearful union

If you look at my paintings with unfettered eyes, you may find forces in yourself you did not know existed

Experiments so far – flashes and cracks of vertical colour like fate striking out of the blue. It would be very interesting to revisit some of my other abstracts that lack impact eg Project 2.1 Formal Abstracts  and some of my life abstracts and develop them further using mark-making and colour contrasts that express the energy and turmoil of Clyfford Still’s paintings.

Issues for my printmaking:

  • Importance of verticality
  • Use of palette knife
  • Monoprint: contrast between thick impasto textured areas and thin ‘lifeline’ streaks. Can use different ink.
  • Collagraph: can use large shapes that are heavily textured, with small delicate rivulets of colour in between
  • Linocut: again can texture the linocut and overprint with similar colours to create depth over thin incised lines


‘Energies, forces, feelings all those things that are embodied with being alive’
interest in vertical and horizontal and what is means to being in the world. ‘verticality expresses a sort of life force. When we are alive we move through the world vertically, when we die we become horizontal. Things grow vertically, when they die they fall over.’

Techniques: interest in gesture. most distinctive feature is use of palette knife. roughness and skins contrast with delicate ‘lifelines’. Paintings take weeks or months of construction.

Museum in Denver Colorado


Anfam, D. (ed.) (2017) Abstract Expressionism, London: Royal Academy of the Arts.

2: Abstraction Random abstract

Jackson Pollock experiments

Experiments so far: I could make nice plates. But they splurged out when printing. I need to put some stiffening ink in Akua. And also experiment with Holbein Duo. I have problems using solvents, so that is not an option for me.

Issues for printmaking:
– layering – when to overlay, when to marble, when to print in layers?
– texture gets flattened by the press – how do I get depth?
– can I use viscosity printing.
– paint flat or vertically?

Use Holbein duo oil-based inks. But need to be careful about consistency.

Painting with lines not shapes. All-overness. Not blocks of colour. Drawing in the air and does not touch the painting. Uses sticks and many other types of implement. Get different gestural marks.

Blue poles. Painted on nlack. Also uses gravity by putting vertically. Then back on floor. Uses a plank on its side to do the poles, and scrapes it back into the paint.


Anfam, D. (ed.) (2017) Abstract Expressionism, London: Royal Academy of the Arts.

2: Abstraction Formal abstract Random abstract

Mark Rothko experiments

Rothko is one of the artists studied in Project 2.2: Random Abstract Prints. It is possible to simulate some of the power of Rothko paintings using very thin overlays of transparent oil-based ink using a roller. Then overlaying thicker inks like Akua inks and impasto paying attention to the edges. This can be done in two passes – separating the thin transparent ink from the color-field overlays. But there is a tendency for inks to blend depending on the dampness of the paper in the first layer, and for the more textural overlay to squash. Thus losing the textural feel of painting. Much depends on the pressure from the press in the second printing.

My experiments so far – small A5 prints. Would be interesting to do some larger ones at some time.

Issues for printmaking:

  • can get at least some of the depth through using very transparent layers of oil-based ink applied with a small roller (Rothko used very small brushes to get the subtle vibrations and detail).
  • overlays of water-based Schminke or Akua ink can be added with a brush or other applicator to drip or merge in the creases and cracks between the fields. this gives interesting difference in texture and luminance.
  • best to prepare the whole plate and print in one go so that the image hangs together as one layer.
  • Print on etching press and damp paper to get full depth of colour fields, but experiment with pressure to avoid disturbing the overlaid streaks too much.

About Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was prominent in the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York, best known for his large ‘color-field’ paintings. These go beyond pure abstraction, aiming to express the essence of universal human drama ‘tragic experience is the only source book for art’. The feelings expressed in his paintings are grounded in his early experiences of growing up as a Russian Jew through the pogroms and massacres following the failed 1905 Revolution. His early paintings were figurative and surrealist before he went on to paint ‘multi-field’ abstract works that evolved into the later color-field paintings.

Rothko early paintings: Google images

Rothko watercolour painting: Google images

Rothko color-field painting: Google images

He always resisted attempts to interpret his paintings. Instead aiming to draw the viewer in to make their own interpretation as an active relationship ‘a consummated experience between picture and onlooker. Nothing should stand between my painting and the viewer’ (quoted Ball-Teshuva 2017 p.7)

Videos of exhibitions

Overview of Rothko’s art and work by Simon Schama.

Rothko painting techniques

Rothko never wrote about or revealed details of his technique. Most of his color-field paintings are in oil, sometimes mixed with egg. The essence of Rothko technique is the background staining of the canvas in multiple layers of colour to give the painting depth and translucency. He then paid attention to the subtlety of the edges between and around the fields.


For a more detailed discussion see:

In the Studio: Materials & Techniques of Mark Rothko. MoMA

For a practical experimental approach see:



Galleries and Exhibitions

Tate Modern: Rothko  (26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009) and permanent exhibition