Paint Abstract Hearts in the Style of Jim Dine

Painting of hearts inspired by Jim Dine by Lisa Marder
Painting of hearts inspired by Jim Dine, by Lisa Marder, acrylic and oil stick on paper, 11" x 14". © Lisa Marder

Jim Dine (b. 1935), a modern American painter, sculptor, photographer, printmaker, and poet, is known for finding a subject that is important to him and repeating it many times over. He has said, "I always need to find some theme, some tangible subject matter besides the paint itself, otherwise I would have been an abstract artist. I need that hook ... Something to hang my landscape on."(1) Closely identified with the Pop Art style, he maintains that whereas Pop Art was outward-looking and impersonal, his work is inward-looking and personal, even autobiographical.

Why Hearts?

The heart is one of Dine's favorite motifs. He found in the shape of the heart a subject that has sustained him for many years and that he has painted millions of times. "Once the artist identifies with an object, he makes it is own and uses it over and over. As the bathrobe is a symbol for the artist, hearts have come to represent his wife." (2) Dine painted the heart once, and kept painting it. He said, "When I first used the heart, I didn't know it would become an abiding theme."(3)

Dine's artworks are much more complex than the seemingly simple heart shape. The shape has been the vehicle for Dine to explore the unending ways that paint can be applied to a surface, the nuances of texture, the infinite variations of line and color, and the vast range of feelings and emotion. "Of the heart, ...Dine said, “ [It is] a sign that one can care, that there is a constant presence of feeling." (4)

By virtue of the fact that Dine has painted, drawn, printed, and sculpted the heart so much for so many years, Dine has made the heart shape his own. He said “I choose an image and make it mine. I’m a different person when I come back to it twenty years later, but it’s still mine.” (5) Although the heart is a popular image in the common lexicon of visual language, Dine has succeeded in transforming it into his own personal symbol. 

Examples of Dine's Heart Paintings

Jim Dine Paintings, Feb. 11, 2011 - March 12, 2011, Pace Gallery

Jim Dine Hearts of Stone, May 29-June 24, 2015, Wetterling Gallery

Four Hearts, 1969, screenprint on paper, 324 x 318 mm, Tate Gallery

Dine's Painting Method and Characteristics

  • Dine makes constant corrections and changes in his work, reworking the forms and surfaces. He paints and wipes away, or removes layers of paint through sanding or other means of abrasion, leaving traces of previous layers. He has said, "My method has always been to correct, ... either by putting things on top of or by removing through abrasion." (6)
  • Dine has always had an interest in mark-making. He has said, "There's nothing as pleasurable for me as making marks, you know, of drawing, using your hands. The hand has some kind of memory."(7)
  • Dine creates different textural areas in his paintings through his different forms of mark-making. Particularly in his larger paintings he intersperses and balances areas of textural detail with areas of thick impasto color. 
  • His draughtsmanship is precise but his drawing and painting are loose and experimental. Some edges are soft (or lost), some edges are hard (or found), with colors bleeding from the heart into the background. He has a very painterly and intuitive approach to applying the material to the surface.
  • Dine uses a lot of bright, saturated color, often placing complementary colors side by side. Often the surface is broken up into multiple areas of different colors, and layers of colors. (Read Understanding Color and Color Mixing)
  • The surface is very active, both the positive space - the heart-shape - and the negative space - the background. There are active gestural marks unifying the positive and negative spaces.
  • Dine sometimes paints one single heart, and sometimes paints several hearts together in a pattern.
  • In his more recent paintings of hearts, done in acrylic rather than oil, (Rosecrucian Interior Scene, with Lemons, 2010) he was inspired by his artist's paint palette in his application of paint and has also mixed in different materials such as charcoal, sand, and wood. 
  • "His heavily impasto method of painting allies him with Abstract Expressionism, but his gestural prints and drawings focus on the importance of sound draftsmanship. His work is stylistically difficult to define because of the way it changes depending on his medium. In juxtaposing forceful, energized marks with soft, atmospheric background texture, Dine creates a powerful response to personal modern experience."(8)

Tips for Painting Your Own Abstract Hearts

Painting a heart or multiple hearts in the style of Jim Dine is an excellent place to start experimenting with abstract painting techniques, particularly if you have a fear of abstract painting. The heart shape provides a simple structure that defines the composition while allowing the freedom to fill the painting surface in a multitude of different ways and to try new creative approaches, just as Jim Dine has done. This approach to abstract painting is appropriate for all ages.

  • Start with a simple outline of a heart. Either draw a heart or several hearts free-hand or use a stencil. You can use a soft pencil, charcoal, or use your brush and fluid paint.
  • You have many options for color. You can choose any color palette and in fact, might want to create your own series as you work through different color palettes. You can start by doing some monochromatic heart studies, just choosing one color, plus black and white. You can do hearts that use warm colors only, or cool colors only. You can create paintings that have a mostly complementary color scheme. Or you can choose five or six of your favorite colors and work with those, painting them randomly all over the canvas or paper. The color choices are endless, but regardless of which color palette you choose, the general process will be the same as you intuitively respond to each mark you make on the painting surface, with each mark and color informing the next.
  • Create different textural effects in your painting using different tools. Besides using your painting knife there are many things you might already have around the house that you can use to create different textures - i.e. netting, combs, corks, credit cards, bubble wrap, saran wrap, to name just a few.  
  • Apply your paint both thickly with your palette knife and thinly. Use impasto and drips. Scrape back into your paint and wipe it off. Leave the pentimento (the trace of painting left beneath the layer you remove) for subtle and complex effects.
  • Incorporate drawing. Try drawing on top of watercolor or acrylic. Remember you can paint or draw with oil over acrylic but not vice versa. Oil paint sticks (Buy from Amazon) are wonderful to draw with over both acrylic and oil paintings, as I did in my painting shown above. 
  • Used mixed media and collage. Combine different mediums in one painting. Tear up old paintings or painted pieces of paper, or pictures from magazines and apply them to the painting (acrylic paint works as an adhesive); or build them into the initial layer of gesso for textural effects. You might also add sand or sawdust to the gesso for texture. 
  • Remember to focus as much attention on the negative space as you do on the heart itself. Both spaces should be active with interesting marks and colors and surface treatment. 
  • Try painting hearts in different sizes. The size and scale of your heart will influence the gesture and marks you make. 
  • Have fun and experiment. Don't copy Jim Dine, but try to make these hearts your own by putting your own emotions into them and trying new techniques.

Further Reading

Vincent Katz, At the Crux: Jim Dine's New Hearts, 2011



1. Jim Dine: Five Themes, 1984, Jim Dine: Hearts from New York, Goettingen, and New Delhi,,-Goettingen,-and-New-Delhi

2. Jim Dine, Activating Negative Space, Scholastic Art Magazine, Feb. 2008, Vol. 38, No. 4, p. 5,

3. Ibid. p. 4

4. How Artists See: Feelings: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Love, by Colleen Carroll, p. 42,

5. Jim Dine, Activating Negative Space, Scholastic Art Magazine, Feb. 2008, Vol. 38, No. 4, p. 6,

6. At The Crux: Jim Dine's New Hearts, Vincent Katz, Jim Dine: Paintings, Pace Gallery, 2011,

7. Jim Dine’s Poet Singing (The Flowering Sheet): A Documentary (7:50),'s-poet-singing-the-flowering-sheets:-a-documentary/

8. Jim Dine (b. 1935) Tools and Dreams, Avampato Online Gallery