Decalcomania: The Unpredictable Surrealist Technique

Abstract, Otherworldly, and Organic: The Magic of Decalcomania Art

Decalcomania is a surrealist technique that involves creating abstract patterns by pressing wet paint or ink between two surfaces and then separating them to reveal unique, organic designs. This method was popularized by Max Ernst, a German artist who pioneered the technique in the early 20th century.

In this article, we will explore the history of decalcomania, how it was used by surrealist artists, step-by-step instructions to create your own decalcomania art, and a showcase of some of the most famous and intricate works of decalcomania art.

History of Decalcomania

The history of decalcomania can be traced back to the 18th century when it was used to decorate ceramics and glassware. However, it was not until the 20th century that it was adapted as an art form by Max Ernst.

Ernst discovered the technique in 1925 while experimenting with frottage, a technique that involves rubbing a pencil over a textured surface to create patterns. Ernst used decalcomania to create unpredictable and organic patterns, which he would then incorporate into his surrealist paintings.

Decalcomania in Surrealist Art

Decalcomania became a popular technique among surrealist artists, who embraced the unpredictable and random nature of the method. The technique allowed artists to create abstract, otherworldly landscapes and creatures that challenged traditional notions of representation and reality.

Some of the most notable artists who used decalcomania in their work include Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, and Oscar Dominguez. Their works showcased the versatility of the technique, from Ernst's haunting landscapes to Dali's surreal creatures.

Creating Your Own Decalcomania Art

Creating your own decalcomania art is a fun and easy process that requires minimal materials. Here is a step-by-step guide to get you started:

  1. Start by preparing your work surface. Cover it with a layer of plastic or wax paper to protect it from the wet paint.
  2. Choose your paints. Acrylic paints work well for this technique, but you can experiment with other types of paint.
  3. Apply a layer of paint to one surface. You can use a paintbrush or palette knife to apply the paint. Make sure the layer is thick enough to create a pattern but not so thick that it will take a long time to dry.
  4. Press another surface onto the painted surface. You can use a piece of paper, canvas, or even another object like a leaf or a piece of fabric.
  5. Press down firmly and then lift the top surface away to reveal the pattern created by the paint.
  6. Repeat the process with different colors and surfaces until you are satisfied with the final result.

Famous Decalcomania Artworks

Decalcomania has been used to create some of the most intricate and awe-inspiring artworks in the history of art. Here are some examples of famous decalcomania artworks:

"The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Max Ernst

Max Ernst's "The Garden of Earthly Delights" is a stunning example of decalcomania art. The painting features a series of organic and abstract patterns that blend together to create an otherworldly landscape.

"Metamorphosis of Narcissus" by Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali's "Metamorphosis of Narcissus" is a surrealist masterpiece that features a decalcomania landscape in the foreground. The landscape is made up of intricate, web-like patterns that evoke a sense of mystery and intrigue.

"Femme Couchée" by Oscar Dominguez

Oscar Dominguez's "Femme Couchée" is a haunting depiction of a woman lying down. The painting features a decalcomania background made up of dark, swirling patterns that add to the eerie and unsettling atmosphere of the artwork.


Decalcomania is a fascinating and unpredictable surrealist technique that has inspired artists for decades. The organic and abstract patterns created by the method challenge traditional notions of representation and reality, allowing artists to create otherworldly landscapes and creatures that evoke a sense of mystery and intrigue.

Whether you are a seasoned artist or just starting, decalcomania is a fun and easy technique to try out. With a few basic materials and a willingness to experiment, you can create your own unique and unpredictable patterns that reflect your creativity and vision.


1. Can decalcomania be used with any type of paint?

Yes, decalcomania can be used with any type of paint, but acrylic paints are the most commonly used.

2. Is decalcomania a messy technique?

Decalcomania can be a messy technique, but covering your work surface with plastic or wax paper can help protect it from the wet paint.

3. Can decalcomania be used to create representational art?

Decalcomania is more commonly used to create abstract art, but it can be adapted to create representational art as well.

4. How long does it take for decalcomania paint to dry?

The drying time for decalcomania paint can vary depending on the thickness of the paint and the humidity of the room. It usually takes between 10-20 minutes.

5. What other surrealist techniques can I experiment with?

Other surrealist techniques you can experiment with include frottage, automatic drawing, and collage.