Scratch it Out

Charles Henry Alston created this family portrait in bold blocks of color and lines that he carved into the paint with a palette knife—a tool with a blunt steel blade that artists often use for mixing or applying paint. 

Explore how parts of the figures seem to blend in with the space they occupy. Notice where everyone’s hands are. What do you think the child is holding?

Make your own scratch art family portrait! Use wax crayons or oil pastels to cover a sheet of thick paper with color. Make sure no paper is showing! Mix a tiny bit of soap into black, water-based paint and cover the sheet of paper entirely, so all you see is black. When the paint has dried, use a toothpick or a paperclip to scratch away the paint, revealing the colors below.

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Charles Henry Alston, The Family, 1955. Oil on canvas, 48 3/16 × 35 13/16 in. (122.4 × 91 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; purchase, with funds from the Artists and Students Assistance Fund 55.47

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