Beyond the Brush: Inventive Use of Media for Painting

This article outlines unusual painting and drawing techniques that are useful for creating exciting sketchbook pages, grounds, textural layers and adding tone and colour to an artwork. While mastery of traditional painting techniques can be all that is needed in a high school art project, sometimes combining traditional methods with wild and inventive approaches is advantageous!

Dip paper directly into paint / ink

Splashing liquid paint or dye onto a surface is one of the most unpredictable and exciting means of applying colour. Take turns at the classroom sink, dipping whole sheets of paper into watered down acrylic, splashing and flicking water across your work: holding paper, canvas or other painting surfaces in the air and letting the paint run down. Once an appealing wash of colour has been achieved, placed the artwork flat to dry, so the paint or ink pools and dries in naturally occurring swirls.

Paint using Drips

Gravity can be a superb painting tool. Working with thicker, yet still runny paint (the consistency of house paint is ideal) long splashes and drips of paint can be controlled through tipping and altering the direction of a canvas, or through flicking paint wildly at a work in the style of Jackson Pollock (photographed by Hans Namuth) below.

There was complete silence … Pollock looked at the painting. Then, unexpectedly, he picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas. It was as if he suddenly realised the painting was not finished. His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white, and rust colored paint onto the canvas – Hans Namuth.

Painting with feet by Kazuo Shiraga

Draw using utensils tied to a stick

Just as removing the boundary between the maker and the creation can result in exciting outcomes, so too can exaggerating the gap between the artist and the work.

Smear paint with a rag

Most students will wipe paint off their work at some point – usually when fearing they have made an error. Michael Shapcott does this with a magical beauty: using a rag to spread paint across his canvas until the right intensity is achieved.

Apply paint with card

An alternative to applying paint with a palette knife is to use the flat edge of a piece of cardboard. This is a cheaper and much more accessible strategy for a high school art student. Able to be cut, bent or folded as required, card is a great material for applying flat areas of colour to a work.

Paint with a roller

Most students have used a roller to apply printing ink; fewer experiment with using a roller as tool to apply colour to their paintings. Although acrylic paint doesn’t roll out as well as printing ink (it doesn’t spread easily and covers surfaces in an irregular, unpredictable fashion) it is nonetheless a great way of achieving layers of flat tone in an artwork.

Paint with a sponge

Sponges of all kinds make excellent painting accessories. Whether you use specialist artist sponges, cleaning sponges or naturally occurring sea sponges (able to be purchased from most art shops), sponges can be used to apply beautiful textural mark-making to a painting.

Flick paint-covered string

Construction workers flick taught string covered with chalk to mark straight lines in buildings. A similar principle can be used to create painted lines, using string laden with paint.

Paint with a mop

Sometimes a mere change of scale can be enough to invigorate and inspire a student.

While most students do not have access to enormous brushes like those used by contemporary painter Fabienne Verdier, there are plenty of other substitutes that might make do: old kitchen mops, brooms, branches off trees, large house paint brushes.