Warhol’s French Look

The French Look, blotted line drawing by Andy Warhol, 1950


The French Look is one of many shoe illustrations Andy Warhol created using a special type of line drawing known as the blotted line technique. Warhol first experimented with blotted line while still a college student at Carnegie Institute of Technology. When asked in 1978 how he got the idea, he responded, “Well, it was just that I didn’t like the way I drew. I guess we had to do an ink blot or something, and then I realized you can do an ink blot and do that kind of look, and then it would look printed somehow.” Warhol continued to craft this technique in his commercial work in New York City throughout the 1950s. Blotted line enabled him to create a variety of illustrations along a similar theme. This type of production allowed him to bring multiple ideas to clients and increase the odds one of his drawings would be chosen for the final advertisement.

Blotted line combines drawing with very basic printmaking. Warhol began by copying a line drawing on a piece of non-absorbent paper, such as tracing paper. Next he hinged this piece of paper to a second sheet of more absorbent paper by taping their edges together on one side. With an old fountain pen, Warhol inked over a small section of the drawn lines then transferred the ink onto the second sheet by folding along the hinge and lightly pressing or “blotting” the two papers together. Larger drawings were made in sections. Completing a large blotted line drawing could take quite a bit of time and multiple pressings. The process resulted in the dotted, broken, and delicate lines that are characteristic of Warhol’s illustrations. Warhol often colored his blotted line drawings with watercolor dyes or applied gold leaf.

Vito Giallo, who was hired as Warhol’s first commercial art assistant in 1953, later described how Warhol achieved the blotted line effect.

Vito Giallo:
“I was working in an advertising agency where they used his [Warhol’s] work and everybody in the studio, and it was a very good studio, couldn’t figure out how he did the blotted line… So not until I worked for him did I discover [how he did it] – and it was extremely simple – he just took a piece of Strathmore paper and folded it in half and on the left he would do the pencil drawing and then take pen and ink – india ink – and then slowly go over the line and blot it over and then go back and forth to get a perfect register. And so, in the end, we would have the copy more or less and then the original we would tear off and throw away.”