Andy Warhol Painting Techniques

by Nora Zavalczki

"Debbie Harry" canvas made using the silk-screening technique.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In the 1950s during the beginning of his artistic career, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) experimented with drawing and painting techniques but soon developed the blotted line printing technique. In the 1960s Warhol started to focus on painting and produced the "Campbell Soup" canvases, the world-famous Coke cans and dollar bills, as well as the Elvis, Marylin and Jackie series. The techniques in Warhol's work were not as important as the concepts behind the paintings, and the artist was an ardent supporter of the idea that trivial and vulgar things could be the objects of art.

Watercolor Painting

In the early stages of his career, Andy Warhol made blotted line prints. This technique involved pressing an ink drawing onto an absorbent sheet of paper so that the ink drawing would transfer onto the absorbent paper. In some cases Warhol would paint the prints using watercolors. This is a straightforward technique that involves using water-based colors made with pigments and water. The piece titled "Happy Butterfly Day" is an illustration of watercolor painting, in which Warhol made the outline of the butterflies using the blotted line technique.

Acrylic Painting Technique

Warhol rarely used traditional painting techniques without mixing them with other techniques. Warhol sometimes used acrylic paint prior to the process of silk-screening, to apply color to the photo negative that followed to be silk-screened. The American writer Bob Colacello observed the artist at work and describes the painting technique with fascination. The writer observed that the artist uses industrial paint rather than art supplies and large brushes, applying the paint on raw canvas. Warhol would also use his fingers instead of paintbrushes to mix colors and add textures.


Warhol is best known for his soup can and celebrity paintings, made using the silk-screening technique. He chose to make everyday consumer items into the subjects of his work. He said in an interview that he wanted to paint "the essence of nothing" in the soup series. The paintings were made on canvas, but the technique is different from traditional techniques used on canvas. Warhol started with an over-sized photograph, which he cut into a stencil. He would glue the stencil onto the silk screen. Next, he would place the silk over the canvas, apply ink and roll a rubber squeegee over the silk and the stencil. The ink would penetrate the silk but not the portions with glue. This technique allowed Warhol to replicate the same image several times. Warhol describes the technique as "quick, simple and chancy."

"Oxidation Paintings"

Warhol returned to painting with a series of shocking paintings, made using an original technique. The "Oxidation Paintings," less formally known as the "Piss Paintings," were created by Warhol after he was shot in 1968. He used urine and acrylic colors on linen to create these abstract paintings. The artist covered the canvases with copper glaze, which reacted with the uric acid, creating visually pleasing effects on the dark backgrounds. Warhol described the melting drips in his paintings as being "holy pictures that cry all the time."

Photo Credits

  • Oli Scarff/Getty Images News/Getty Images