In the 1950s and 1960s, artists in Washington, D.C. experimented not only with color, but with the traditional practices of painting often taken for granted. While the invention of abstraction broke the rules of form and subject, at the time many abstract artists were still following the conventional procedure of stretching a canvas, priming it, and painting on it with visible brushstrokes.
Inspired by Helen Frankenthaler, the first Washington Color School artists adopted the technique of staining unprimed, unsized canvas with thinned acrylic paint. By thinning paint and using new techniques of application, such as pouring, rolling, and blotting, the paint soaked into the unprimed canvas and the Color School artists were able to disguise signs of the artist's hand. Diluted acrylic paint allowed for experimentation with transparency for artists like Paul Reed, who often overlapped and layered color in his compositions. Gene Davis and Howard Mehring became known for their hard edge painting. With acrylic paint's versatility on unprimed canvas, Davis and Mehring achieved fluid yet defined forms of vibrant, solid color. Cynthia Bickley-Green and Kenneth Young continued the early Washington Color School practices, but updated them with their own philosophies and motifs.
The use of rough, unprepared canvas allowed Washington Color School artists to not only experiment with new possibilities for perceiving color, but shake up the rules of painting itself. Raw, unprimed canvas resulted in new visual effects and also allowed the artists to reconsider the bounds of their creativity.