How to Paint Like Willem De Kooning: Watch Visual Primers from the Museum of Modern Art

Before you learn how to paint like Dutch American Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning, you might ask, why should you paint like Willem De Kooning? Shouldn’t every artist have his or her own inimitable personal style? We might ask, why learn to play piano like Nina Simone or write prose like William Faulkner? If you stop at mere imitation, there may be no good reason to mimic the masters.

But if you take their techniques and make them yours—steal, if you will, their best parts for your work—then, with enough talent and persistence, you might be on your way toward an inimitable personal style of your own. Or, you could simply watch these videos on how to paint like De Kooning to get a vivid, live-action demonstration of how the artist himself did it.

You need never have held a paintbrush to appreciate the Museum of Modern Art’s “How to Paint Like” series, featuring videos of MoMA educator and conservator Cory D’Augustine, who shows us how to imitate the methods of not only of De Kooning, but also Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Agnes Martin. All of these tutorials come from D’Augustine’s Coursera class “In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting.”

And as his other videos, here D’Augustine offers a comprehensive overview of the artist’s tools and techniques: low-viscosity oil paint held in large quantities in bowls, rather than small blobs of paint on a palette; the big powerful full-body gestures to achieve “action painting.” If you are trying this at home, be advised, D’Augustine moves fast, assuming a lot of prior experience and a serious artist’s collection of supplies.  Think more Bob Vila than Bob Ross—you will need a good set of tools. But if you're aspiring to paint like De Kooning, odds are you've got it covered.

D’Augustine has also been responsive to critics in the comments, releasing the follow up Part 2 video, above, to address the absurdity of actually “doing a De Kooning-esque painting in a day.” Additionally, as he notes above, De Kooning “reinvented himself again and again and again,” meaning “there certainly isn’t one way, there certainly aren’t a hundred ways, to make a De Kooning since he was relentlessly inventive.”

That is to say, we're seeing a curated selection of De Kooning’s materials and application techniques, which still may be quite enough to influence a budding painter on the way to a unique technique of her own—or to inform De Kooning fans who do not paint, but who have stood before his fearfully, brutally energetic canvases and wondered how they came to be.

Related Content:

The MoMA Teaches You How to Paint Like Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning & Other Abstract Painters

Jackson Pollock 51: Short Film Captures the Painter Creating Abstract Expressionist Art

How the CIA Secretly Funded Abstract Expressionism During the Cold War

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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