Art Challenge: Create a spray paint masterpiece in the style of Rashid Johnson

Art Challenge: Create a spray paint masterpiece in the style of Rashid Johnson

Welcome to the New Year. If you’re the resolution-making type, or if you just like arts and crafts, we have a few suggestions on how to infuse a little creativity into the coming days. You can find all of our Art Challenge projects here.

How do you feel about getting a little messy? For our next at-home art challenge, we’re taking a leaf out of the recently released book “Open Studio: Do-It-Yourself Art Projects by Contemporary Artists” to create a spray-paint masterpiece in the style of artist Rashid Johnson’s “Love in Outer Space.”

Co-authored by Sharon Coplan Hurowitz and Amanda Benchley, “Open Studio” takes a peek into the work spaces of 17 contemporary artists, who each offer up step-by-step instructions for readers to make an art project of their own. Inside, you’ll find guides for a paint-by-number watercolor from George Condo, a meditative rice counting project from Marina Abramović, a DIY potato print from Julie Mehretu and more. To go deeper into the project, Ballerina Book Club’s Connor Holloway spoke with Hurowitz, who shared tips on how to complete Johnson’s DIY contribution featured in the book.

Born in Chicago in 1977, Johnson’s practice utilizes a variety of mediums (photography, film, mixed media and sculpture) to create art infused with symbolism and personal history. “I really like the action of making a thing,” he says in the book. “I like how the thing challenges and confuses me.”

Rashid Johnson: Love in Outer Space (Step by Step). Artwork (c) the artist / Photography (c) Casey Kelbaugh (page 18, image 13).
Rashid Johnson: Love in Outer Space (Step by Step). Artwork (c) the artist / Photography (c) Casey Kelbaugh (page 18, image 13).

To begin Johnson’s “Love in Outer Space” DIY project, you’ll need to gather some supplies: heavy watercolor paper, painter’s tape, a variety of dry legumes and grains, a face mask (for protection), spray paint, a paintbrush, pencil, scissors, a bowl and gloves.

Hurowitz advised finding a ventilated area and papering the floor and tabletop for protection from the spray paint (you’ll also definitely want to wear a mask, especially if doing this project indoors). She also recommended following Johnson’s lead and choosing a variety of sizes of legumes and grains to create a more dynamic final image. In his demonstration, Johnson uses black-eyed peas in a nod to his mother’s ever-filled jar of the legumes she kept in the kitchen. He mixes these peas with quinoa and lentils, which his wife often cooks. For the paper, you’re going to want to find heavy weight watercolor paper for your canvas (Hurowitz suggested the brand Arches, which you can purchase at your local art store) and something lightweight to cover the borders (more to come on that).

Once you’re all situated, you’ll want to prep your paper for the legume-and-grain mixture and the spray paint. Take your tape and create a border. You can follow Johnson and leave a larger blank space on top or make all of your margins the same size, but whatever you do, don’t skimp on this step.

What we’re aiming for (inspiration courtesy of Sharon Copland Hurowitz):

Sharon Copland Hurowitz's completed Rashid Johnson "Love in Outer Space" project.
Sharon Copland Hurowitz’s completed Rashid Johnson “Love in Outer Space” project.

“I think the success of the project is in preparation,” Hurowitz told Ballerina Book Club, likening the tip to ballet. “You want to make sure that you create clean, well-taped borders for a beautiful margin on all four sides.” After you decide on a border, you’ll want to take your lighter weight paper and tape it over the edges so that they don’t get messy in the spray paint process.

Next, mix your legumes well and spread them across your paper canvas. Take your time and really swirl the beans around until you’re satisfied. Think of it as an all-body experience and let the fluid motion pull you along.

Now you’re ready to don your mask and spray your paint over the mixture. Be sure to coat the entirety of your canvas until it’s wet. This may take a few coats. After the canvas is saturated, we wait.

“It will take time to dry,” Hurowitz said. “So anticipate that you will need at least 20-30 minutes of downtime for the drying process.”

After it dries (you can test it by touching the paint to see how it feels), you’re ready to start chipping away the mixture with a brush or a gloved hand. You’ll want to make sure all of the legumes are removed, exposing the paper underneath. Once you’re pretty sure you’ve pried all of the mixture off, sweep your hand across the paper to check for stragglers. Then, carefully remove your border tape to reveal your margins, sign your name with a pencil (Johnson utilizes the lower right-hand corner), and you’ve got a piece of art!

Rashid Johnson: Love in Outer Space (Step by Step: The Finale). Artwork (c) the artist / Photography (c) Casey Kelbaugh (page 19, bottom right).
Rashid Johnson: Love in Outer Space (Step by Step: The Finale). Artwork (c) the artist / Photography (c) Casey Kelbaugh (page 19, bottom right).

Good luck! And many thanks to Sharon Copland Hurowitz for the insider tips.

Learn more about “Open Studios: Do-It-Yourself Art Projects by Contemporary Artistshere.