Palette with paint, a brush, cotton swabs, and two paint bottles sit between two finished abstract paintings on paper

Can you paint a dot? Now, can you paint a million dots? Create a painting inspired by Yayoi Kusama’s use of seemingly infinite dots.

We want to see your creations! Share on social media @hirshhorn with #HirshhornInsideOut.

Time: 30–45 minutes
Skill Level: Intermediate
Topic: Repetition

Gold shimmers in the middle of a dark field of color. There are dark blue ribbons of triangles that float across the wavy gold shapes. Small bright green green circular shapes pop out from the gold and navy blue.

Yayoi Kusama, The Hill, 1953 A (No. 30), 1953. Courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Museum Purchase, 1996.

LOOK CLOSELY

What do you see? Let your eye wander around the artwork. Describe colors, shapes, and patterns.

What do you think this is a painting of? Why?

This painting is called The Hill, 1953 A (No. 30). Yayoi Kusama painted it early in her career as an artist. At that time, she was beginning to explore how she could visualize infinity. Infinity is the idea that our Universe goes on and on without end. In The Hill, Kusama placed repetitive patterns of small bright dots on a dark night-like color, the dots scattering across the paper. Toothlike lines of triangles also repeat across the paper.

The artist wears a pink and black polka dotted dress. She is sitting on a bench that matches the pattern of her dress. There are large square paintings on the walls around her. The paintings are full of brightly colored shapes.

Yayoi Kusama with recent works in Tokyo, 2016. Photo by Tomoaki Makino. Courtesy of the artist © YAYOI KUSAMA.

Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in Japan, and began making art when she was a kid—she still makes art every day! For seven decades, Kusama has been exploring the idea of infinity in many ways: through paintings, mirror rooms, sculptures, and mixed media artworks. Her works often feature repeated patterns of dots, like in The Hill. Yayoi Kusama once said, A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm…. Polka dots are a way to infinity.”

MAKE IT

Paintbrushes, a cotton swab, a sliced carrot, and bottles of paint lie on a large piece of paper outlined with painter’s tape Hand using a sliced carrot to paint yellow dots on a black background Hand reaches into frame to finger-paint black dots onto the piece of paperPalette filled with paint and jar filled with dirty water rest on a piece of paper, hand uses a cotton swab to apply paint to the paper

In the painting The Hill, Yayoi Kusama uses many small, highly repetitive gestures. For this project, you’ll make your own painting using lots of repetition!

  1. Gather your materials: You’ll need paper and paint; Q-tips, a paint brush, or another tool that makes dots (a carrot works great!); and tape to secure your paper (optional). To keep yourself and your work area clean, you may also want a smock (or old shirt) and a newspaper or a work mat.
  2. Choose your colors. Choose a few colors to work with. You may want to choose a darker background color and bright contrasting colors for your dots, like Kusama used in The Hill. If you do choose a You might also simply select colors you like, and that’s okay, too! Note: If you chose to paint a background color, you may want to let it dry before adding your dots.
  3. Paint and repeat. Yayoi Kusama makes many repetitive gestures in her paintings, often very small dots. Use a Q-tip or a paint brush to make lots of dots on your paper. If you want a larger circle or a tool that’s easier for a young child to grasp, try a cut carrot or potato.
  4. Use your fingers! Your fingers can also make dots. If you don’t mind a little mess, try walking your fingers across the canvas. Note: Children have very different reactions to the feeling of paint. Some children won’t want to touch it, and that’s perfectly fine. Other children will want to paint their bodies, and that’s up to the adult in charge!
  5. Repeat to infinity (or until you feel your painting is complete.) Adults, get some stress out and paint alongside your child! We did and it was a blast. Can you tell whose is whose?