Create your own print inspired by the Monochromatic Fields series by Dean Kessmann.
Time: 30–45 minutes
Skill Level: Intermediate
Look closely. What do you see? Notice the color and texture.
You may notice that one of these works is almost entirely yellow and the other almost entirely pink. There are some white spaces where the color was not applied. When an artist makes a work in one color, it’s called monochrome. Mono means “one” and chrome means “color,” from the Greek monokhrōmos. When a work has more than one color, it’s polychromatic.
These works are by the artist Dean Kessmann. The one on the left is called Curry (from Monochrome Fields Series). Curry is a spice used in cooking, and it often has a yellow color. The one on the right is called Blossom (from Monochrome Fields Series), like the color of new petals on a flower.
In the artist’s own words, here’s how the Monochrome Fields Series was made.
For over one hundred years, artists have been making monochromatic works of art—artworks that are one single color. The choice of color is often chosen for emotional reasons that make the viewer feel happy or sad. However, I did not select the colors in Monochrome Fields for this reason, in fact, I didn’t really select the colors. Instead, I purchased a pile of colored paper, so you could say that I went shopping for these colors. The titles of the prints are the names that the store gave to each different color of paper.
Each of the prints in Monochrome Fields was made using a single piece of colored paper. While we usually think that all pieces of paper are the same, I discovered that every single sheet of paper is unique, that is, they have something like a “fingerprint” that makes each one of them different from all of the others. But these “fingerprints” are hidden unless you know where to look. Here is the secret: If you take two sheets of the same kind of paper and hold them up to a bright light, you will see how they are different. The backlighting will magically reveal their unique “fingerprints,” or what is actually the unique fiber structure of each sheet of paper.
I also think about these prints as showing the inside of a piece of paper. Most people do not think that paper has an inside or outside, but paper is like most objects in the world in that it has a thickness even if it is very thin. Once again, the paper is like us, it has an inside and outside. Sometimes being an artist allows older people to look at the world like children do (like you do!) in order to find wonder and beauty within something as ordinary as a piece of colored paper.
Dean Kessmann (American, b. 1965) lives and works in Washington, DC. His artworks focus on prints and photography. He likes making art in new ways, and enjoys doing some things intentionally while leaving open the possibility for surprises. His willingness to let some things happen accidentally in his work has taught him to trust his intuition when experimenting with new materials. Kessmann is a professor at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, George Washington University, where he challenges his students to experiment, step out of their comfort zones, and be confident trusting their feelings and instincts.
For this project, we take inspiration from Curry (from Monochrome Fields Series) and Blossom (from Monochrome Fields Series by Dean Kessmann to create our own prints using kitchen items such as curry powder and berries. Rummage through your pantry or fridge, make your own set of “paints,” and get printing!
- Gather your Materials. For this project you’ll need:
- A surface to use as a canvas, such as paper or fabric
- Produce nets (potatoes, avocados, onions, and oranges often come in these nets)
- Scissors and tape
- From your kitchen: a mixing bowl, whisk, fork, and colander
- A paint roller (if you don’t have a paint roller, a heavy rolling pin or can will work)
- Paint ingredients (see next step)
- Make your own Paint with pantry items. You can use dry items (like spices) or wet items (like berries or fruit juice) to make your own paint. You’ll need:
- ½ cup of flour
- ½ cup of liquid
- Color: 1 tablespoon of spice powder OR 1 tablespoon of berry juice (you can control the color saturation by adding less or more, just be sure to adjust the liquid to be only ½ cup total).
To make our own custom “curry” color, we added a pinch of turmeric, cumin, and pepper to our curry powder.
For our “blossom” color, we combined pink flower petals and pokeweed berries from our neighborhood with our blueberry puree.
What would you use for your recipe? We suggest: paprika, crushed berries, mustard, annatto, coffee grounds, mushed leaves, flower petals, cherries, lemon zest, pomegranate seeds, and even sand!
** Spices may smell delicious, but remember to keep them away from your eyes and not to inhale them too deeply to avoid irritation. Likewise, some berries (like pokeweed) can be poisonous if eaten, so keep away from your mouth and wash your hands very well after handling them.
- For the spices. Combine your dry spices in a bowl.
- For paint using berries. Place a colander on top of a bowl, and firmly crush your ingredients with a fork so their juice will fall into the bowl. It may not look like much, but the color is very strong!
- Make your own paint. Add the liquid to your dry ingredients to increase their quantity and thicken it by mixing in the flour.
- Consistency. Using a whisk or fork, mix your ingredients until you get a smooth creamy pigment. Sometimes it’s tricky: if it’s too runny, add a little more flour! If it’s too doughy or thick, add a little more water!
- Pick and cut. Think about which pattern you’d prefer: tight or loose net? Choose your net and cut it so it unfolds into one big open piece. Experiment! What happens if you use more than one size?
- Prepare your canvas. Place your canvas on a work surface and cover it completely with the net. If you’d like to secure your paper, you can tape it down (tape is optional, but will help prevent the paper from sliding around).
- Add the paint. Pour some paint at the bottom of your canvas to start the paint transfer process.
- Rock and Roll. Roll back and forth, spreading the paint all over your canvas. If you prefer, you can wear gloves, but we don’t mind getting a little messy.
- Rest. Let your print dry for a few minutes. It will smell delicious!
- Unveil. Carefully remove the net to reveal the pattern on your print.
- You did it! You’ve created a one of a kind print. Like Dean Kessmann, you can compare how your piece looks on a solid surface and with light passing through it. Try placing your print on a window, or shining a flashlight against it. Experiment with other mesh patterns, colors, and layers and create your own series of original monochromatic prints.