Helen Frankenthaler's Soak-Stain Art Technique

Helen Frankenthaler isn't one of the "big names" in art history that you hear all the time... but it should be!

She was revolutionary thinker and an amazing painter. Introduce your kids to her art and watch their eyes light up when you invite them to try out her SUPER fun soak-stain painting technique!

 

Famous artists for kids. Learn about Helen Frankenthaler, and try out her soak-stain painting technique with your kids.

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This is Helen Frankenthaler...

Famous artists for kids. Learn about Helen Frankenthaler, and try out her soak-stain painting technique with your kids.

She was an American artist who lived from 1928-2011. She developed a signature painting method called the soak-stain technique where she poured thinned down oil paint directly onto a canvas she laid flat on the floor.

Famous artists for kids. Learn about Helen Frankenthaler, and try out her soak-stain painting technique with your kids.
Famous artists for kids. Learn about Helen Frankenthaler, and try out her soak-stain painting technique with your kids.
Famous artists for kids. Learn about Helen Frankenthaler, and try out her soak-stain painting technique with your kids.
There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.
— Helen Frankenthaler

And her art looks like this...

Mountains and Sea, 1952

Mountains and Sea, 1952

Summerscene Provincetown, 1961

Summerscene Provincetown, 1961

Desert Pass, 1976

Desert Pass, 1976

Try it at home!

We recently experimented with a kid friendly version of this painting technique, and came up with a really great solution. If you'd like to try it with your kids, you'll need:

  • Canvas board (see below for the one we used)
  • Liquid watercolors (see below for the set we used)
  • Small plastic cups or dixie cups
  • A spray bottle with water
  • A drop cloth, or something else to catch the run-off paint

How to create your own soak stain paintings:

  1. Introduce your kids to Helen Frankenthaler and show them her paintings. What do they think?
  2. Review the basics of color mixing. If your pour red next to green, you may end up with some brown where the paints mix. On the other hand, if you put red next to blue, they'll mix to make purple. There are no right or wrong colors to use, just ask your kids to think ahead a little and be aware of the properties of color mixing as they create their art.
  3. Lay the canvas board on a flat surface. This is a great project to do outside. Make sure to put something under your canvas to catch the excess paint.
  4. Lightly spray the canvas board with water. You don't want it to be wet, but it needs to just be a little damp. Three or four sprays should be just right.
  5. Ask your kids what colors they'd like, and squirt a little bit into dixie cups for them to pour from. (If you have older kids, they can do this part themselves.)
  6. Watch as your kids have a blast pouring paint and creating masterpieces.
  7. Make sure to leave them flat until they dry.

A couple of notes:

  1. If their paintings have areas of pooling, don't worry. With time it will soak in.
  2. If they want to use their hands to move the paint around, that might be fun. Or they could carefully lift their canvas board and slightly tip it from sides to side to get the paint moving.
  3. Don't dilute the liquid watercolors. Trust me. The paintings will end up too washed out.
  4. Even though these paints are supposed to be washable, the red doesn't always wash out completely. 
  5. Here are the products we used...

Don't forget your free download!

Sign up for access to the Learning Library, and get this great handout to go along with your Helen Frankenthaler art study!

Let's connect!

Be sure to hop into the Facebook group to chat about how your kids responded to this technique, and post their art on Instagram with our hashtag #arthistorykids