Decalcomania Painting

posted in: Painting | 3

Earlier in the 20th century, before surrealists like Max Ernst discovered the magical effects of decalcomania other artists from as early as the 1500’s had tested its possibilities. At its core, decalcomania begins as a type of transfer or monoprint. The artist spreads his pigment over a surface then presses paper, stone, or canvas on to it.  The resulting textures can resemble the effects of a frosted window pain.

The variety of effects depend upon the media (watercolor, ink, acrylic or oil) and, in the case of oil paint, the effects depend upon the thickness of the paint, the viscosity of the oil paint, and the pressure applied (pressure can be applied directly in the transfer or by pressing and simultaneously sliding the top sheet over the bottom sheet of canvas, copper, panel, paper etc).

After the pressing artists like Ernst would fill in selected areas of the decalcomania effects. Ernst filled such areas with flat fields like sky to isolate and feature the decalcomania effects.  (See examples 1 and 2)

Example 1, Max Ernst, 1942, full image,

Example 2. Max Ernst, detail from full image,

I will walk you through the decalcomania process beginning with the photo I used as my original inspiration (example 3, photo).  This photo is the result of combining two different photos. I wanted to create a visual field that would not anchor me to tightly representational information.

The next step was to cover a sheet of dibond aluminum with pigments that were a loose interpolation of my photographic resource (example 4).  I then pressed the dibond face down onto another sheet of similarly sized dibond.  I then pried them apart.  The resulting image was then carried over to my easel where I worked into the paint (example 5).

Example 3, source material, photo assemblage,

Example 4, Painting before pressed transfer process,

Example 5. Image after later reworking.

Within example 5 you should be able to discern areas resembling frosted window effects that were the consequence of the transfer pressing.

I omitted illustrating a critical step in the process with the previous examples 3 through 5.  Here is another step by step sequence including the omitted step.  The first step is the preparing a sheet or plate for the transfer process (example 6). The second step represents the image as it appears after the transfer process without reworking with other tools and paint (example 7). The third step represents the image after reworking (example 8).

Example 6. The panel as prepared before the transfer pressing,

Example 7. The effects of the transfer pressing,

Example 8. The later working into the image.

Finally, I moved to larger decalcomania works. The first images were 12×12. These last images are 24×24. They each represent unfinished states. If I do not want to completely erase or obscure the transfer effects I must wait for the paint to dry before applying other layers. They are represented as examples 9 and 10.

Example 9,  Autumn Meadow, present state,

Example 10, Shoreline Flora, present state.

I invite you to join me on Sunday March 5th, 2017 for a lecture on Color: Its Meanings and Uses across Time and Cultures at the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan, Ct. 203 966 6668 ext2.


3 Responses

  1. Eilidh Benedetti

    Dear David,
    I was very happy to find such a detailed example of your exploration into decalcomania.
    I am sure it will help me immensely with my next project!
    Thank you,

  2. Otto Rapp

    Ernst used sheets of glass in his technique. Besides that, I also use crumpled newspaper, mylar, plastic wrap, rubber gloves, balloons etc. in the decalcomania work I create. With some, I had actually also dropped leafs, grass and strings onto the canvas bevor covering it with mylar or glass.

  3. Harm

    55 years ago i used plastic and pieces of fabric and metal things out of machines. Greetings from the Netherlands.

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