Ed Ruscha and the Art of Words

Ed Ruscha doesn't make it into too many art lessons for kids... but he should!

Who is Edward Ruscha?

   Portrait of Ed Ruscha by  Timothy Greenfield‐Sanders , 1987


Portrait of Ed Ruscha by Timothy Greenfield‐Sanders, 1987

Ruscha (pronounced roo-shay) is a pop art painter who branched out into photography and other styles, but it best know for his paintings of words. 

Art has to be something that makes you scratch your head.
— Ed Ruscha

He took a word and painted it. He chose a typeface to compliment or contrast the meaning of the word, and used solid fields of color. Sometimes he would repurpose an old canvas, so you could see that he was working on recycled materials... adding another layer of depth and meaning to his art. Sometimes there would be some other twist that would make you wonder. 

This is a really fun exercise to do with kids who are just learning to read (with a little more help from you), and can lead to great discussions with older kids who are ready for some advanced thinking about language, meaning and art!

A look at Ruscha's work

Sometimes Ed Ruscha painted words alone. Sometimes he painted logos as they appear on packaging, or comic books. Sometimes he painted (or drew) famous landmark signage like Seattle's public market and the Hollywood sign. In each of his works, there's always more than meets the eye. His art is so simple, that the interpretation is open ended, and the meaning becomes complex. 

Here he paints the logo from the comic book Annie, but he paints it as if it's made of maple syrup. Invite your kids to wonder why he might have done it that way...

Ed Ruscha, Annie, Poured from Maple Syrup,  1966

Ed Ruscha, Annie, Poured from Maple Syrup, 1966

He also painted the recognizable exterior of Norm's Restaurant... but with a twist. Can your kids see the weird thing about this painting? 

Ed Ruscha , Norm's, La Cienega, on Fire, 1964

Ed Ruscha, Norm's, La Cienega, on Fire, 1964

And here's a painting called Actual Size showing the Spam logo in huge letters, with a comet-like can of spam (which happens to be painted the actual size of a real can) flying across the canvas below.

Ed Ruscha, Actual Size, 1962

Ed Ruscha, Actual Size, 1962

He etched and painted some recognizable signage from Seattle and Los Angeles...

Ed Ruscha , Public Market, 2006

Ed Ruscha, Public Market, 2006

    Ed Ruscha .  Back of Hollywood,  1977  Courtesy Collection of Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon 


Ed RuschaBack of Hollywood, 1977

Courtesy Collection of Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon 

And sometimes he just paints words... Here is my son in front of his favorite Ruscha.

Edward Ruscha,  Hurting the Word Radio #2 , 1964  Collection of Joan and Jack Quinn, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Edward Ruscha, Hurting the Word Radio #2, 1964

Collection of Joan and Jack Quinn, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Heavy Industry , Ed Ruscha, 1962

Heavy Industry, Ed Ruscha, 1962

Inviting your kids to do their own Ruscha inspired art

With younger kids, you can introduce the idea of painting a word, and thinking about the meaning behind the word when you choose a typeface, colors, and create your composition.

Older kids can dive deeper into interesting juxtapositions, hidden meanings, and more thoughtful symbolism.

Words are powerful. Even a single word, or short phrase can conjure up emotions and ideas. Exploring language with your kids, and thinking about the nuances of typestyle, color, and placement will open up an exciting new area where sometimes what isn't said (or what is implied rather than stated) is the most important and most powerful thing. 

Let's Connect

What did you kids think of this project? Join our private Facebook group to share images of your kids work, and chat with other artsy moms like yourself!