Finger-Friendly Creations with FingerSmear in Lambertville

Aspiring artists connect with their inner child to craft remarkable works of art.

Artist Kelly Sullivan's FingerSmears lets people create together by fingerpainting over an outline she draws, as in "A Spring Bouquet," pictured.
Artist Kelly Sullivan's FingerSmears lets people create together by fingerpainting over an outline she draws, as in "A Spring Bouquet," pictured.
Photo by Paul S. Bartholomew

The Rolling Stones did it. So have roughly 100,000 others, including Bruce Springsteen, Carol Burnett and a group of orphaned girls in India. It only took each of them a finger and some paint to make art—with help from Jersey-bred artist Kelly Sullivan.

Sullivan’s gallery/studio in downtown Lambertville, two floors up from the People’s Antique Store, reveals the dichotomy of her life’s work. Three walls are covered in her traditional oil paintings—landscapes, portraits, still lifes.

And then there’s the FingerSmear section.

You can’t miss the 7-foot-tall painting of the Rolling Stones (executed in part by members of the group), or the 4-foot sunflower bursting with vivid greens, yellows and blues. Look closer and you’ll see the hundreds—sometimes thousands—of tiny signatures around each image. They’re the people who helped create the paintings, one smear of paint at a time.

Sullivan began smearing in the early 1990s after moving from Spring Lake to San Francisco to pursue a career as an artist. She launched an interactive arts festival and wanted to offer a hands-on painting experience. She went with fingers-on instead, presenting the first iteration of FingerSmears—a way to make collaborative paintings with a single canvas and no brushes.

Sullivan still leads collaborative smears. She develops an outline, picks a color palette and invites people to approach the canvas and make their marks.

“They walk away happy every time,” Sullivan says of her smearers. “Even the ones that are sort of curmudgeonly; as soon as their finger hits the paint, they let out this little Ah! It’s wet and it’s cold and they haven’t stuck their fingers in paint since they were five.”

Sullivan recently introduced Paint.Team, billing it as an online “finger-painting party.” The smears are done with a trackpad, mouse or finger on a touchscreen. “It’s like coloring with no mess,” says Sullivan, “and the fact that it’s collaborative is pretty cool.”

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