How to Paint Pop Art

By Ryn Gargulinski
Pop art

Pop art started in 1950s Britain, and Americans embraced it and ran. Americans are still running with the movement, which is based on things found in popular culture. You can paint pop art with a few simple tools and a good imagination.

Pick a pop subject. You want something instantly recognizable, mainstream and highly American. Think fast food, pink flamingos and other stuff that pops up all over the country’s culture.

Go for vivid paints. Watercolors are too wishy-washy for pop art. Acrylics are your best bet because of their pasty thickness. Oils are a possibility, but don’t use too many wispy, subtle details.

Use bold colors. You’re not going to find a lot of shades of grey in pop art unless, of course, they are offset by neon green, hot pink and blasting blue. Pick an array of colors that scream. While you want to strategically use several, don’t use so many that they are competing with each other.

Stay simple. Too many subjects and too much detail will deter from the overall effect. Imagine you are reproducing a Polaroid photo of the subject, not a high-quality 35 mm zoom shot.

Give the background a punch. Not a literal punch, as it might mar the canvas, but a bold punch of color or texture. Blank white backgrounds are a no-no when it comes to pop art. Fill in space with big, fat polka dots, colorful swirls or a fine punch of brilliant yellow. Sponges work well to texturize backgrounds. Dip them in paint and sponge randomly around the canvas.

Tip

An easy way to paint pop art is to pick a single subject that gets reproduced at least four times in a grid on the painting. Each grid has a different color background. It’s a good start though quite cliché. Pop art paintings look fab with some collage items mixed in. Glue on some clippings from magazines or three-dimensional items like feathers or eyeglasses. Pop art doesn’t have to be limited to the canvas. You can paint debris to resemble mainstream American items, like the pink flamingo.

Warning

Don’t paint a Campbell’s soup can. It's been done. Many times.