Roy Lichtenstein : BLAM

Overview Artist Biography Planning Ahead Materials & Setup Class Discussion Project Directions Reflections Downloads & Resources Docent Forum


1962, oil on canvas, 68 in. x 80 in. (172.7 cm. x 203.2 cm.)
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, USA
© Yale University Art Gallery / Art Resource, New York, NY

In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze Lichtenstein’s BLAM and learn about his use of graphic design in the printing process;
  • Describe how Pop Artists show depth and motion with flat areas of color;
  • Identify Benday dots and action lines;
  • Draw impact words and illustrate their meanings using speech balloons;
  • Create balanced compositions using graphic images with implied movement.

Lesson Teaching Notes

A document of summary pages on the lesson’s Key Concepts, Vocabulary, Discussion Questions, Artist Points, and Project Directions.

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Materials and Setup

Materials List
  • sketchbooks: 12×18 construction paper, 9×12 sketch paper
  • 12×18 white paper
  • shading pencils
  • Sharpies: black
  • conical-tip markers
  • erasers
Setup Directions
  • Set out sketchbooks, shading pencils, and erasers.
  • Have ready 12×18 white paper, Sharpies, and markers.
  • Use handouts of fonts rather than having the students create their own.
  • To simplify project for younger students: List several impact words and suggest pictures to illustrate them. Place speech bubble in a consistent position, such as top right, and vary only the shape of the bubble and the style of the writing. Place the illustration in the center left of the picture. Fill one space with Benday dots.
  • To extend project for older students: Choose a cartoon image and reinterpret it in the style of Lichtenstein. Use Benday dots in several parts of the illustration, to show shading.

Photos of Setup

Class Discussion

How does Lichtenstein’s Pop Art style show impact?
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Style - Pop Art/Onomatopoeia

A body ejects from a burning fighter plane, surrounded by explosions of fire and smoke. Lichtenstein’s Pop Art style illustrates the explosive impact of these objects by using graphics, simple lines, and bright colors. BLAM was inspired by a cartoon image from a comic book, All American Men of War #89, by Russ Heath. He painted this picture using oils on canvas in a style that mimics the printing process.

Lichtenstein’s impact words use onomatopoeia, or the sound of the word itself, like BLAM, to convey the sound of the action. Words such as pop, tick tock, zip, and clunk use onomatopoeia. Animal noises like meow and oink, and machine sounds such as whirr, bang, and beep are examples of onomatopoeia.

How do the bright, flat colors add excitement to this story?
Play Video From Here
Color - Flat/Intensity/Value/Contrast

Areas of bright, flat color in the flames have no shading, so they do not appear 3-D. The intensity of flat colors is more important in this story than describing the flames realistically.

The bright red, yellow and blue are intense, pure colors. The same intense red is used in the word, the nose cone, and the explosion. The intense blue contrasts with the dull gray background.

The light values of red, yellow, and white contrast with the darker values of the blue shadows, thick black lines of smoke, and the dark figure of the pilot.

Bright primary colors contrast with the dull blue background and the white underside of the plane. The contrast of the red letters overlapping the yellow, fiery explosion draws our attention to the impact.

How does Lichtenstein move the action around the painting?
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Design - Movement/Emphasis/Balance

Diagonal lines in the plane, wings, pilot, and flames explode from the yellow ball of fire, giving a feeling of movement in all directions. The strong diagonal created by the body of the fighter plane divides the composition in half diagonally. It is opposed by the opposite diagonal of the fire and pilot. This implied X of diagonals is the strongest action design an artist can use. Repeated round shapes in the nose of the plane, the pilot, and the puffs of yellow fire and black smoke form a circle of shapes around the composition.

The action is emphasized by the bright colors, diagonal lines, contrasting straight and curved shapes, and reversed foreground and background. The cut off image of the fighter plane emphasizes the instant of the impact.

The large, red impact word, BLAM, balances the dark black-and-blue shape of the ejected pilot. Balance gives harmony even to this active composition. The large white areas on the plane and in the background balance the intensity of the bright colors. The nose cone and star balance the red letters.

Where do lines imply motion?
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Line - Diagonal/Orthogonal/Jagged/Outlines

The diagonal lines of the red and yellow streaks of fire, the blue airplane, and the black figure create dynamic action lines, like vibrations, which show the force of the explosion.

Orthogonal lines of the plane, pilot, and flames radiate out from the plane from the central explosion, drawing our attention both to the outward force of the explosion, and to the central impact on the plane. Some of the orthogonal, or implied view lines, appear to project out of the picture at us. The plane itself moves on an orthogonal line toward the viewer.

The jagged angles of the explosion and the word BLAM imply danger. The curving outlines of the yellow-and-black smoke contrast with the jagged lines that define the explosion.

Thick black outlines connect the shapes of the plane, flames, pilot and the word BLAM. Thick lines of the yellow streaks and red letters emphasize the strength and noise of the explosion. Parallel thin blue lines show an area of lighter shadows.

How does shape combined with flat color give form to the plane?
Play Video From Here
Shape/Form - Curvilinear/Flat

The curvilinear shapes of the plane and pilot imply heavy rounded forms falling through space. The curved outlines give form, even though the colors are flat. Their curving outlines contrast with the ruler-straight lines of the yellow flame. We feel their mass pushing toward us as they fall through the sky.

The flat blue color on the plane is bordered by a lighter blue on one side and black on the other, giving the appearance of shading, although the colors are not mixed. Streaks of white imply highlights on the figure and plane’s nose. Because these flat colors fill curving shapes, they add to the 3-D appearance of the plane. The flat shapes of the word BLAM, the stars, the number 3, and the pilot contrast with the 3-D impact of the explosion.

How did Lichtenstein show depth?
Play Video From Here
Space - Project/Recede/Static/Dynamic/Negative

The white body of the plane appears to project forward toward us. The dynamic yellow streaks of fire project into space. The cockpit glass appears rounded because the white center appears to project, and the gray shading appears to recede.

Dark cool colors on the blue and black shadows on the plane make them seem to recede. The deep, dark space in the plane’s nose recedes into the interior of the plane.

A static, or lifeless background gives no indication of space. Areas of cool blue and white in the foreground are more static than the bright colors behind them.

Dynamic flames bursting in every direction imply the depth of space. The force of the explosion pushes the plane through the space of the painting and into our space.

The dull background represents the negative space of the sky, providing room for the explosion. The large, black negative shape in the nose of the plane implies space inside the plane.

How does the texture of the surfaces add realism?
Play Video From Here
Texture - Stippling (Benday Dots)/Visual

The stippling, or shading of the dots creates the effect of shading around the cockpit. They are a mechanical technique of darkening an area with dots rather than solid shades of gray. Benday dots, used to add shading to printed images such as newspaper illustrations, were first used by Ben Day. He used a screen or template with small, uniform holes. Benday dots are one of Lichtenstein’s trademarks. Lichtenstein painted with a roller over a metal screen filled with uniform holes.

The sharp lines of the exploding fire give rough visual texture, in contrast with the smooth solid texture of the plane’s surface.

Download Discussion Questions
Download Key Concepts


Project Directions



Warm up and Brainstorm

  • Talk about impact words and images. Think of both sudden impacts, such as something being hit or breaking, and gentle impacts, such as something oozing or tearing.
  • Talk about fonts and how they illustrate ideas. List impact words suggested by students. Talk about corresponding images that would illustrate the words. Use only nonviolent impact words. Think of words that describe motion, such as bounce, wham, or whoosh. Think of words that represent sounds, such as pop, crack, splat, bang, slam, pow, or snap. Be creative in selecting an illustration for a sound. For example, the word pop could be illustrated by popcorn, bubbles, gum, or balloons. The word crack could be illustrated by a broken egg or a bat hitting a ball. Think of an image that can be clearly illustrated by a simple picture.
  • Talk about how collaboration or working on a team broadens the creative process. Have students brainstorm an aspect of present-day life inspired by or related to the lesson and discuss ways in which they might use a contemporary practice of art or design to present or express this aspect.
  • Talk about reasons people or museums promote an exhibition or collection of art. In many cases, they are trying to influence ideas, beliefs, and experiences for the viewer. Imagine what messages an exhibition of the artist studied in this lesson might reveal. Do you think the artist and the curator of an exhibition have the same messages or different ones?
  • Talk about positive aspects or conditions of group identity such as celebrating diversity, increasing bonds among people, and building empathy. Ask students to name other positive outcomes of collaborating meaningfully with others. Discuss ways this lesson could be collaborative by reflecting on and reinforcing positive aspects of group identity.
  • Discuss the need to be aware of best practices, issues, and ethics of appropriation as they apply to creating works of art and design in reference to the following:Fair use is defined as a “legal doctrine that portions of copyrighted materials may be used without permission of the copyright owner provided the use is fair and reasonable, does not substantially impair the value of the materials, and does not curtail the profits reasonably expected by the owner.” Ask students to give examples of music, art, or images that might be shared via social networks.Copyright is the “exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.” Discuss how copyright protects the owner of the artwork and the appropriate use of copyrighted materials.

    An open source model refers to “software whose source code is available free of charge to the public to use, copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute.” Discuss the benefits (collaboration, sharing ideas, etc.) and the drawbacks (stealing, misuse, etc.)

    Creative Commons refers to a license that “lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation.” Ask students how they would feel about being able to do this to other’s work and how they would feel if others did this to their work.

Project Directions

  1. Draw impact word on final 12 x 18 paper referring to sketch in an easy-to-read size and shape. Think about rhythm or motion font shows. Diagonal lines may show speed, vertical lines march with rhythm. Circular lines roll smoothly and horizontal lines look lazy. Draw letters of impact word diagonally or vertically, to emphasize the sound the word makes. Vary size of letters, use upper and lower case.
  2. Draw action frame around word. How will the frame connect to the impact word and image? Surround the word with a frame that illustrates the sound.
  3. Draw object or scene that illustrates impact word. Draw a simple picture illustrating the instant of impact when a noise is made. Images should be large. Connect the image with the impact word and frame.
  4. Outline word and illustration. Use sharpie to draw contours. Thicken lines where necessary to make them stand out.
  5. Plan and color graphic design. Choose either impact word or image as the focal point.
  6. Color areas of image and word. Select a few colors that reflect impact, such as red and orange for loud sounds, blue or purple for heavy noises, or pink, green or yellow for lighter impacts. Decide which areas will be left white as negative space.
  7. Draw Benday dots in one part of image, word or background.
  8. Use dots to fill a space or add shading. Benday dots can fill an interior shape or spread across an empty background. Vary size and number of dots, making them more dense in some areas or gradually go from large to small to show shading.
  9. Evaluate for balance. Add dynamic action lines or repeated thin, parallel lines to draw attention to focal point.
  • Draw more than one illustration and share ideas before settling on final image.
  • Vary size and spacing of the Benday dots to emphasize shading and form.
  • Use handouts of fonts rather than having the students create their own.
  • To simplify project for younger students: List several impact words and suggest pictures to illustrate them. Place speech bubble in a consistent position, such as top right, and vary only the shape of the bubble and the style of the writing. Place the illustration in the center left of the picture. Fill one space with Benday dots.
  • To extend project for older students: Choose a cartoon image and reinterpret it in the style of Lichtenstein. Use Benday dots in several parts of the illustration, to show shading.


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Student Gallery


  • Look for examples of images that clearly express the sound of the impact word.
  • Find examples of Benday dots with varied spacing that simulate shading.
  • Find examples of action frames that add to the expression of impact.
  • Look for action lines that enhance the feeling of movement.
  • Identify examples of colors that are balanced and that add to the feel of the impact.
  • Analyze and justify how artistic choices contribute to the expressive quality of your own artwork.
  • Describe something you like about your artwork and something that needs changing.

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