Bringing Art Home: Josef Albers Pillows


Sometimes, the best way to overcome the gloom of the season is to inject a bit of color into your life. Whether it’s with a pair of brightly colored mittens, some fresh cut flowers or a coat of new paint, a jolt of color can help bring the mind out of its sluggish, midwinter haze. Although it was probably not the artist’s intention, the work of Josef Albers, with its wide swaths of uninterrupted pure color, does the trick nicely.

Born in Germany in 1888, Josef Albers began his career not as an artist but as a schoolteacher. Although Albers is probably most well known for his art, education was one of the primary vocations of his life. In 1922, after two years as a student there, Albers was hired as a faculty member at the legendary Bauhaus school in Weimar. There he taught courses in stained glass and handicraft principles to such talents as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. When the Nazi party forced the Bauhaus school to close in 1933, Albers moved to the United States and became one of the founding members of Black Mountain College, a short-lived but wildly influential art school in North Carolina. Under Albers’ tutelage, artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Ray Johnson learned the basics of painting and color theory.

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: Glow, 1966, from the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum

The prototype for the modern art school professor, Albers often claimed that “when you’re in school, you’re not an artist, you’re a student.” As a teacher at Black Mountain College, he championed the idea of understanding the nuances of form and color before applying it to self-expression. Albers’ own art, most notably his Homage to the Square series, reflects this idea perfectly. The series, which consists of hundreds of paintings and prints, is a sprawling exploration of chromatic interaction. It’s a collection that reads almost like a series of scientific specimens; each work is completed with mathematical exactitude, a study of how pure colors relate to each other and play with the eye. Usually painted on masonite, an industrially produced hardboard, the colors in Albers’ works were applied directly from the tube to the substrate and spread with a palette knife. This “post-painterly” approach did away with preconceived notions of what painting should be and allowed the viewer to interact solely with color.

Today, Albers’ paintings can be found in museums around the world and immortalized in the pages of art history textbooks. Their market value might be prohibitively expensive to the average art enthusiast, but that shouldn’t stop you from bringing your own Albers-esque pops of color into your home. Our simple Albers-inspired throw pillows are easy to make and perfect for brightening up these cold winter months. — Max

Full instructions after the jump . . .


  • large tubes of acrylic paint in red and yellow
  • canvas drop cloth, available at hardware or paint stores
  • painter’s tape
  • house painting brush
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
  • pillow (we used a 22-inch pillow from IKEA)
  • paper plate or an artist’s palette
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • right angle



1. Fold your canvas drop cloth in half so that there are two layers, one on top of the other. Lay it flat on the floor or on a large surface.

2. Using your ruler as a guide, cut two sets of four equally sized pieces of painter’s tape. The first set should be about the same width as your pillow. We used a 22-inch IKEA pillow, so our first set of painter’s tape was 22 inches. The second set of four strips should be about three inches shorter.

3. Using your ruler and a right angle tool, place your first set of painter’s tape strips on the canvas drop cloth so that each piece is one side of a square. Do the same with the smaller pieces of tape so that you end up with two concentric squares, one inside the other. This will be your first box of color.

4. Using your paintbrush, cover the space between the two tape squares with yellow paint. To avoid paint seeping underneath the paint, brush over the painter’s tape inwards toward the center of the color band. Don’t brush toward the painter’s tape, as this can lift the tape and get paint underneath it. Allow the paint to dry.

5. Once your first band of paint is dry, remove the painter’s tape and repeat steps 2–4 with another square of color within the outer square. Your outer tape border should cover the inner edge of the previous yellow square. Paint the interior of this next square with an orange mixture of your yellow and red paints. Red paint can tend to overpower yellow, so you’ll have to use significantly more yellow than red to achieve a good orange.

6. Once your middle orange square has dried, remove the painter’s tape and apply one more square of tape to the inner edge of your orange square. Fill this central area with red paint. Allow to dry.

7. Once all of your paint is dry, remove any remaining tape. With your ruler, trace a one-inch border around the perimeter of your entire design with a pencil. Cut around this border through both layers of canvas.

8. Flip your layers of canvas so that the design is facing the inside and pin the edges together.

9. With your sewing machine, sew a border around the entire outer edge of the canvas, allowing a small space at the bottom in which you’ll insert your pillow.

10. Turn the pillowcase inside out, insert your pillow and sew the remaining hole closed.

11. Presto! A super simple Josef Albers-inspired pillow to brighten up your winter!



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