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Ever wondered how Frank Bowling creates dazzling, dripping compositions of colour? Find out with our step by step guide

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A bit of background

Frank Bowling is an abstract painter. His paintings use a variety of bright acrylic paint colours and embedded objects that create an unusual, but mesmerising composition. Some of his most famous paintings include Spreadout Ron Kitaj and Sasha Jason Guyana Dreams. Both of these paintings show how Bowling layers paint to create a deeply textured feel to his paintings.

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Are you ready to paint a Bowling-inspired artwork?

Using our step by step guide you can learn how to paint like Bowling. Bowling’s Studio Assistant, Spencer A. Richards, and his grandson Frederick Bowling tell us some of the techniques Bowling uses in his work.

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Frank uses an ever changing list of materials depending on what is available or new things he wants to experiment with. Here are some of the most common elements in his work.

  • Canvas
  • Acrylic paint in bright shades
  • Objects to embed
  • Acrylic gel to hold the objects
  • Water spray
  • Spatula
  • Palette Knife
  • Brushes
  • Buckets and jars
  • String
  • Chalk and a file
  • Glitter and a salt shaker
  • Ammonia - Warning: Ammonia is corrosive. Please use gloves and masks and other protective wear
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Things you'll need
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Firstly, soak the canvas in water. This saturates the canvas and makes it easier for the paint to be absorbed. Then, brush a choice of colour onto the canvas. It’s helpful to have a second canvas underneath to collect any drips. This can then be used a later stage.

Once your canvas is completely covered in colour, try adding different colours to the composition. Mix the colours with gel to change the viscosity. Ammonia will also help break down the paint and gel so the colours can bleed into each other.

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Step 1: Preparing the Canvas
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Bowling likes to use shapes in his artworks. Take a bucket or jar and use chalk to trace its shape onto the canvas.

Bowling likes to create semi-circles in his work. Using some string (and a friend to help) pin the string to a section of the canvas and draw an even circle using some chalk.

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Step 2: Geometry
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Keep applying new layers of paint. Apply it different ways and experiment with how the paint can flow across the canvas. Use a palette knife, a water spray, gel or pick up the canvas and let the paint drip. See what works best.


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Step 3: Experimentation
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Embed found objects onto the canvas using gel. Try different combinations of things and see how they could create a dialogue with the paint colours. You can use seashells, napkins, toy vehicles and anything else you no longer need.

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Step 4: Found Objects
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Add some finishing touches, such as glitter and grated chalk to the canvas. These can add another layer of depth and texture. Bowling sometimes flicks paint onto the canvas to create punctuation. All you need to do is go for it!

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Step 5: Final Touches
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More about Bowling and Abstraction
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Be inspired by abstract paintings
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