When I was little, I loved comic books. This was probably because my older brother had a massive collection of them that I wasn’t allowed to touch. Like any good little sis, I had a goal of sneakily reading every one of them.
Maybe that’s why I love the art of Roy Lichtenstein. It just feels fun, like being able to step back into childhood.
Along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein helped define the art of the 1960s. His iconic comic book-style graphics are easily recognizable today, even by those who don’t know his name.
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Although Warhol and Lichtenstein were founders of the same movement, they had very different backgrounds. Lichtenstein grew up in New York City, where he spent a lot of time at the American Museum of Natural History. He also loved building models and listening to science fiction.
Roy enjoyed drawing as a teen and, after high school, received formal art training at Parsons. He went on to become a commercial illustrator, and later became a professional artist. Lichtenstein was also a professor of art for several years.
He was trained in both classical and modern art forms and included aspects of both in his work. His most famous works are those inspired by comic book graphics. He used both hand-drawn and mechanical techniques to make them, but he reformatted them to bring out specific details.
Comic Book Art
Roy Lichtenstein’s art steadily progressed through the years. In the early 1960s, he developed a new style of print that mimicked comic book frames.
Interesting fact: Lichtenstein’s success with his comic book art really annoyed Andy Warhol, who had been experimenting with the same thing! Lichtenstein’s pieces were picked up by a well-known gallery and exhibited first, which caused Warhol to look elsewhere for inspiration. This is how he came to make his wildly successful Campbell Soup Cans prints!
Lichtenstein drew heavily on DC Comics for his art work. In making it, he cropped and reformatted frames and reworked various elements. He made extensive use of Ben-Day dots, which are used for shading in comic book graphics.
His most famous works from this series include his first graphic, Whaam! (1962) and Drowning Girl (1963).
Something that Lichtenstein felt strongly about was the fact that both art and language communicate through types of codes. With the use of mechanical procedures and the coding of different shapes in his art, he was able to portray this.
Modern Art Pieces
Lichtenstein was also well-versed in Modern Art, which uses abstract elements to portray an object or idea. His signature use of Ben-Day dots and coded shapes often made their way into his Modern pieces as well. These pieces used different types of media to portray things like city landscapes, the use of mirrors in everyday life, and more.
Lichtenstein lived during roughly the same time as Andy Warhol; they were born and died within a decade of each other. They also both worked in the same city and industry, so they experienced many of the same things.
Warhol and Lichtenstein made very different choices, though. While Warhol became involved with the eclectic, avant garde art world of the 1960s and 1970s, Lichtenstein chose the more academic route. Except for the time he spent in the military during World War II, much of his time was spent in professional illustrating or as a university professor.
His work served to bridge the gap between the “high” classic art and the “low” art of popular culture.
Be sure to record Roy Lichtenstein on your timeline. (If you haven’t downloaded your art history timeline yet, you can do so here!) He lived from 1923 to 1997.
Hands-On Activity: Comic Book Graphics!
Roy Lichtenstein’s use of comic book graphics was pretty revolutionary for his time because it caused people to see popular culture as art. It is also really fun and easy to try, though!
This project can be done on any kind of surface, but I recommend either watercolor paper or a canvas. They’re just easier to work with and can stand up well to either markers or paint. Either can be used for this project, but I found that markers are easier to get sharp, controlled graphics with. This is where my multi-pack of Sharpies comes in really handy!
You’ll want to start from the outside and work your way in. Using a pencil, draw your outside “frame.” I drew a star-type shape, but you can also use a square or rectangle, a cloud, an oval, or anything you like.
With your pencil, sketch another shape as an inside “frame.” For this one, I chose a cloud to contrast the sharp lines of the outside star.
Then, draw a word that you might see in a comic book. Wham! Pow! Boof! Bang! Bam! You can also use encouraging words. Great job! Hooray! Yay! Terrific!
Feel free to stretch these out, to make it seem like a really powerful shot. Block or balloon letters work best for this.
When you’ve got everything sketched out, fill in the shapes and letters. To keep a clean, graphic look, use one color for each shape. (If you want to add more colors though, you can – it’s your piece of art!)
Outline each element in black to give it definition. Choose one element to add shading dots to, like Lichtenstein did. I chose the outside star frame. These dots should be fairly spaced out – they’re meant to be pretty obvious.
When you’re done, display your art!
Roy Lichtenstein Coloring Book – This just looks like so much fun! Try out your skills by coloring in some of Lichtenstein’s masterpieces.
WHAAM! The Art and Life of Roy Lichtenstein – a really fun picture book telling about Lichtenstein’s life and works!
Khan Academy Lessons on Roy Lichtenstein
Share Your Masterpiece!
I love to hear from my readers, and I’m excited to hear about what your kids create. Comment below and let me know!
And as an added bonus, I’ve designed a 20-page set of art history notebooking pages. These are great for elementary through early high school and contain lots of room for your kids to get creative!
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Frank Kupka and Cubism
Edgar Degas (+ free art visual set!)