my Rothko-inspired painting

the artist

Mark Rothko was a 20th Century painter who was most well known for his “multiform” paintings: large vertical paintings with large blocks of saturated color. A few months ago, I got the abstract expressionist stamps at the post office (highbrow, I know!), and I couldn’t use them on bills because they were too cool! Instead, I have the stamps hanging on a bulletin board where I can enjoy them. There’s a Rothko painting (Orange and Yellow, 1956) included on the sheet of stamps and it’s so inspiring, I wanted a slightly larger reminder of the painting. As we all know, I DIY for a living, so I decided to make my own homage to Rothko’s painting.

USPS' Abstract Expressionist Stamps

If you want to be very true to Rothko’s intentions with his painting, you will get a very large canvas! I just used what I had on hand, which was a 10×20″ piece of wood. You can also use a dollar store canvas, or paint a mural directly onto a wall (wouldn’t that be awesome?)

The inspiration painting, "Orange and Yellow" by Mark Rothko

The inspiration painting is part of a collection in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY.

Project Materials:

  • Canvas or piece of wood, $1
  • Acrylic paints in 3 colors, on hand
  • Flat-surfaced palette of some sort (glass is great – use a pane from a dollar store frame), on hand
  • Paintbrush and brayer, on hand

Total: $1

Making my version of the painting is fairly straightforward.

1. Paint canvas with undercoat of your background color. I used orange. Allow it to dry.

2. With brayer, apply second color. You will want to spread the paint out on your smooth surface (the glass) to get the best coverage on your brayer. If you don’t have a brayer or a flat surface, just make it work with whatever you have! A paintbrush and paper plate is also fine! Or, try using a flat instrument (like a pastry scraper or a flat piece of cardboard with a sharply cut edge) as a squeegee to drag paint across the canvas neatly and evenly.

Apply color to top third of painting, leaving a border around the top and sides.

3. Wash the brayer and apply third color in the same way, but to the bottom tw0-thirds of canvas.

4. If you use a piece of wood like I did, hammer two small nails into the back, near the top, and tie a cord from one nail to the other to make a convenient way to hang.

I didn’t refer to Rothko’s work when I created my own, but there are obviously some major differences in the way his looks and the way mine looks! You can’t touch the master with acrylic craft paints and 20 minutes of painting. His was made on a very large canvas with oil paints, and he was a genius. I still enjoy my little painting, which is now hanging in our spare bedroom.

I hope you enjoy making your own Rothko-inspired painting too! Here are a few other Rothkos to inspire you:

Love the shades of blue and maroon-burgundy.

Bold reds

Bright color – high contrast

A more elaborate color placement