Handstamping Art

Russell Powell of San Jose, California, stamps his art onto paper after carefully painting his palms.

One day, while teaching art at an elementary school, he began painting on his hands. Fast-forward two and half years later, and he’s created his own art form. A completely self-taught artist, he has refined the process by continuously experimenting. By manipulating his hand—and the way he paints—many different ways, he can carefully control the proportions of figures left by his hands.

Powell has painted an array of subjects, ranging from historical figures and music artists to indigenous peoples and exotic animals. To start, he decides whether he wants the finished product to be in black-and-white or in color. Sometimes he’ll even mix the two styles for a more striking effect.

The hardest part, he says, is incorporating highly detailed features. His painting surface is limited by the size of his hand, and he also has to work around his fingers and palm. He also has to consider how fast the paint will dry once he’s started. Since it has to be ready to adhere to a second surface, he’s had to develop various techniques for the perfect transfer. Though it may be a difficult medium to paint on, his handprint is what gives him such a personal connection to each piece he creates. His fingerprints are literally visible on each piece.

When he wants to expand the size of a handstamp painting, he can stamp various paintings on his hand together on one canvas. He’ll even fill in details and background with partial handprints. Creating expansive landscapes can be difficult, however, as each handprint has to be painted as a mirror image before being stamped.

“There are a lot of causes that need attention, so I try to donate my work and include certain subjects as part of my work to shine a light on issues people need to think about.  Hopefully, it can help move the conversation forward and provoke people to talk about some of the things happening around all of us.”—Artist Russell Powell

Powell continues to create art drawing, inspiration from his students. We’ll continue watching his work on Instagram, but you can check out his work along with our growing collection of exceptional artists in our new book, Odd Is Art.

From paintings by an artist with no arms or legs to sculptures made entirely of salt, you’ll find some of the most fascinating and unbelievable pieces of art from the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! collection. Designed as an elegant art book meets the eclectic one-of-a-kind Ripley’s archives and exhibits, Odd Is Art is a visually stunning book that will delight and amaze art lovers and Ripley fans alike.