Sam Gillam, Abacus Sliding, 1977

Layers of Resist

Sam Gillam, Abacus Sliding, 1977

Sam Gilliam, Abacus Sliding, 1977. Paint. 90 in. X 118 in. Denver Art Museum; Funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the United Bank of Denver, 1978.10

Ideas for the Art Center:

  • Add pre-cut paper shapes in various sizes.
  • Painters tape
  • Rollers with ink or paint
  • Paper


  1. Encourage young artists to tape pre-cut paper shapes or torn pieces to their background paper.
  2. Roll ink on top of the taped pieces on the paper.
  3. After the ink has dried, prompt children to peel the taped paper pieces away to reveal shapes and patterns on their paper.
  4. The art can be a finished product or they can continue to repeat this process over and over to create a layered effect using different shapes or ink colors.

Guiding Questions:

  • What do you notice when you peel the paper pieces away?
  • What do you notice in the white spaces on your paper? How does layering more than one shape change what’s left when you peel the paper away?
  • What happens when different paint colors overlap?

TIP: Use construction paper or cardstock for durability and reusability.

Gather materials for the exploration.
Young artists can use tape to attach the shapes of their choice to the blank piece of paper.
Young artists can use a foam roller to apply paint over the paper and shapes.
Young artists will discover the negative space of the shapes they chose by removing them once the paint is dry.
Continue the same process to create different layers of shapes and overlap.
Young artists will roll another layer of paint over the new shapes.
Artists can remove the shapes once the paint is dry and reveal layered shapes.
Continue to repeat the steps and even try using a different color for each layer.
The design and composition will change each time new shapes are added and removed.
Prompt young artists to think about the creative process with questions like: why are some shapes darker and some shapes lighter?
Supplies laid out- tempera paint, foam roller, cut out shapes, tape, and blank paper.
Tape is used to attach a variety of shapes to the blank sheet of paper.
Green tempera paint is applied to the paper using a foam roller.
Cut out shapes are removed from the paper and reveal negative space.
More shapes are taped onto the surface and layered on the negative space.
Green paint is rolled over the second layer of taped down shapes.
Overlapping green and white shapes are created on the paper.
More shapes are taped onto the surface and layered on the negative space.
Shapes are removed to reveal layered shapes and pattern.
Final green and white layered shapes artwork.

Related Creative Activities

Kerry James Marshall, Better Homes, Better Gardens, 1994. Acrylic paint and paper collage on canvas. Funds from Polly and Mark Addison, the Alliance for Contemporary Art, Caroline Morgan, and Colorado Contemporary Collectors: Suzanne Farver, Linda and Ken
Creative Practice

Ten Times Two

This close looking game can be used with any visual art object and will provide an opportunity for children to look into the detail of the artwork. This activity will reinforce math skills, build vocabulary and introduce descriptive language.
Thomas Hudson, The Radcliffe Family, about 1742. 126 in. x 174 in. Long-term loan from the Berger Collection, TL-17968.
Creative Practice

Make a Pose!

Follow these steps to create a tableau, or "frozen picture," in your classroom or home! This is an effective tool for encouraging children to notice details, which is an important reading and pre-writing skill.