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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