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Make Simple and Pretty Rothko-Inspired Cardboard Art

I recently made some really inexpensive DIY Rothko-inspired cardboard art, using cardboard instead of canvases and reusing old wooden frames.  Seriously, these pretty DIY paintings cost only a couple of bucks to make, but they look so cute!  These cardboard masterpieces would be fun to make with kids – and you’ll save a bunch of money on art supplies too!  Plus you can use any color combos – even leftover wall paint – to create art to complement your decor perfectly. 

Rothko-Inspired Art in Minutes

Remember in this post I suggested stocking up on cheap frames at yard sales?  Well, I finally made something out of three, solid wood frames I picked up for 50 cents (in total!) this summer:

 First, I gave each frame a coat of primer:

Paint vintage wood frames mint

Then I applied two, thin coats of leftover pale turquoise paint, using a paintbrush.  I like how the wood grain still peaks through but the frame looks refreshed and modern now:

Vintage wood frame painted mint green

When it came time for the art, I was a total penny-pincher.  I had blogged about Rothko-inspired art on cardboard ages ago and figured I’d give it a try!  I snagged some very stiff (and clean) cardboard from Costco during a grocery trip (nobody even looked twice at me dragging around a huge 4 foot square sheet of cardboard).  I used acrylic paints I had on hand from other projects. But you can even use leftover latex paint from home improvement projects.   For brushes, I used a variety (the dollar store is perfect for finding inexpensive brushes) to create bigger and smaller swaths of color.  I use an old metal tray from a yard sale as a palette – I’m very cheap when it comes to my art supplies, haha. 

Use an old metal tray as a painter's palette

Hubby cut my cardboard to fit the frames, and then I applied a base layer of paint.  I mixed up a pale pink for the larger one and a pale emerald green for the smaller pair.  I set them aside to dry.

Easy DIY abstract art

Next, I added a few bands of colour to each, keeping my brush strokes moving horizontally and rather loose (no measuring or taping!):

Step by step photos and instructions for DIY art

I thought I was done, but they looked a little too bland – a little too pastel.  So I added a bright cranberry stripe to the largest one and some rich ochre to the other two.  Much better!  Contrast is key here.  And letting the first layer dry creates a nice crisp look – as opposed to letting the colored blur together.   You can make your artwork as layered or as minimalist as you prefer – there are no rules. 

How to paint a Rothko-Inspired painting

To put them in the frames, we positioned them in place and then stapled into the frame, parallel to the cardboard, so instead of piercing the cardboard, each staple runs alongside it, holding it in place.  We used this technique for my framed bakelite brooches also.

I am totally surprised by how much I love these.  I thought they would look cheesy, but they are actually quite cute.  The matte texture and neutral colour of the cardboard really makes the pale colours POP – more than they seem to on white canvas.   This cardboard art would be such a cute project for a kid’s room or family gallery wall!

How to paint a Rothko-Inspired paintingHow to paint a Rothko-Inspired painting

Here’s a closer view of the cardboard art:

Paint on cardboard // DIY artPaint on cardboard to make cheap art

P.S. Need I mention that Mark Rothko‘s work was groundbreaking, revolutionary and completely stunning?  The simplicity, the scale, the colours . . . all perfection.  None of us can really copy his work and there is way more to it than just painting on wonky stripes and making cardboard art, like I did.  But I’m a firm believer in the importance of amateurs and hobbyists creating art for the pleasure of it – and I think it’s okay to look at a great painter and be inspired to create something fun. 

DIY cardboard art project for kids



  1. Kucorgó anyámkája
    September 7, 2012 / 10:36 am

    Egyszerű de nagyszerű! Jók a színek! És Isten hozott Magyarországon! :))

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      September 7, 2012 / 7:14 pm

      Köszönöm.Igen, itt vagyok! A gyönyörű Magyarországon!

  2. Carrie Waller
    September 7, 2012 / 1:47 pm

    Rothko is my all-time favorite artist =) I'm so glad you did a nice little shout out to him and his work at the bottom of your post…I think I would feel a little emotionally weird to DIY his painting style, but I LOVE how yours turned out! BRAVO!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      September 7, 2012 / 6:09 pm

      I DID feel a bit weird at first. A bit too big for my britches, if you know what I mean. As if, next I'll do a post about my DIY Mona Lisa, lol. But I seriously love his work and wanted to try. When I took art classes, we always took a stab at copying our favorite pieces – as assignments – so I think of it as part of the learning process. Glad you like!

  3. Mandy Pellegrin
    September 7, 2012 / 2:00 pm

    These are so great! I too love Rothko. Yours is such a fun, playful take on it. It's obviously inspired by his, but the colors are so sweet and the lines so 'pop'. I love it!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      September 7, 2012 / 6:10 pm

      Thanks! So glad you like them. I definitely did try to put my own "spin" on them. It was so much fun to do!

  4. The Thrifty Picker - Rachael
    September 7, 2012 / 3:48 pm

    Super idea! Pinning it 🙂

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      September 7, 2012 / 6:13 pm

      Awwww, I'm blushing! If you try your own version, let us see!!

  5. Dana@Mid2Mod
    September 7, 2012 / 4:11 pm

    Rothko is one of my favorite painters, and I've done a few take-offs on his work too. I have a print of one of his pictures in my dining room, in fact. The colors you chose are so you! :)Are you and your mom all settled in? How long have you been there?

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      September 7, 2012 / 6:13 pm

      I knew you liked Rothko because you recommend the Rothko Chapel (we loved it!) but I didn't know you'd try a few take-offs too! I am having a hard time deviating from these colours. I need to step out of my comfort zone more, ha ha ha.We have been here since Sunday evening (late) and are settling in nicely. A bit exhausted, but settling. I promise some photos and funny stories soon!

  6. Kathleen
    September 7, 2012 / 5:44 pm

    I'm painting a Rothko inspired piece this weekend for my son's room! I'm heading to the art supply store in a little bit to pick up some paint. I'm going for a black, gray, white, shades of cobolt blue piece. It's a big canvas 36"x48" (I got the canvas for free at an estate sale!). I covered the old painting with white ceiling paint to get the canvas ready for my Rothko. I love the colors you used on your paintings! Turquoise and pink are my favorite colors. That bit of cranberry really makes the painting.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      September 7, 2012 / 6:12 pm

      Thanks, Kathleen.Yours sounds amazing!! I'm so jealous of the size (and the free-ness, what a score). Good luck and please send me photos 🙂

  7. InteriorGroupie
    September 8, 2012 / 10:48 am

    Looks fantastic! Another great addition to the townhouse!

  8. How2home
    September 10, 2012 / 3:54 pm

    Love it! It looks so adorable and simple to do 😉 Great stuff Tanya! Hope you're doing well in Hungary!

  9. Amelia @ House Pretty
    September 11, 2012 / 2:06 am

    Love this idea and I think it looks even better in the turqoise frames! Can't wait to hear more from Hungary – glad you made it safely!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      September 12, 2012 / 6:01 pm

      Awww, thanks! I promise a fun mix of townhouse projects and Hungary updates in the next few months. And maybe a few surprises!

  10. Tanya Anurag
    September 12, 2012 / 4:25 am

    Like it.. pinned it!! 🙂

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      September 12, 2012 / 6:00 pm

      Thanks Tanya! I appreciate it, and love your name 😉

  11. Jacquie Waldman
    September 12, 2012 / 6:29 am

    THANK YOU SO MUCH. I love Rothko & I just adore this project!!

  12. Al@PolkaDotsandPaisley
    February 13, 2013 / 7:57 pm

    I think these are fantastic. I especially love the large middle one. You inspired me to make some of my own and they'll be on my blog tomorrow morning (with a link giving your credit) if you'd like to check them out.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      February 14, 2013 / 3:10 am

      I'm so excited to see!! Thanks for letting me know (and for the link love).

  13. Tiffany Thompson
    March 15, 2014 / 10:01 pm

    How did you achieve that beautiful cranberry color?

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      March 16, 2014 / 5:17 pm

      That is such a good question! I am, quite honestly, a terrible colour mixer and much of it is by chance. I found this good article about it, as I'm trying to learn: of my paints have been purchased at Michael's and although their beginner/intermediate brands have limited colours, their professional acrylic paints have a lot of beautiful pre-mixed colours. Sometimes I work right out of the tube if I've found a perfect colour already, and I think for that cranberry I did. I think it's actually in the photo with my paint supplies – Golden brand, I might have just added a smidge of white to it. I'm not sure of the colour name and it's long been used up. But try Michael's – you'll likely spot it! Sorry to not be of more help.

  14. Lili
    August 28, 2020 / 9:16 am

    Hi you know which resin Rotko is using, and in which way and with which colors?

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