Class Notes: Abstracting the Set-up

The last couple of weeks in class we have focused on "abstract" painting because it presents very unique challenges and forces students to look at things a little differently.
In the last post and in the past (see:Class notes: Abstract Painting) we have approached abstract painting from a purely compositional point of view, developing work with a specific compositional theme and color agenda.
This week in class, we are talking about "Representational Abstract" painting;
think Picasso and Georgia O'Keefe.
We started with a still life which I set up in a rather casual way and left on the table for about 10 minutes. This is enough time for students to see and be influenced by colors and shapes,
and work out a rough sketch from the first quick impressions.
Once the still life is removed we are free to focus on shapes in developing the composition. This may mean turning the paintings sideways, or upside down as we are look for interesting shapes, deleting some, redrawing others. We do what ever it takes to help the "items" disappear and the shapes take over.
I have a fascination with outlines (and a life long love of coloring books) so I used them to create, resolve and dissolve shapes. Some artists have a natural tendency to see everything as a landscape. Other artists see the landscape as a really big still life.
No matter how you work,  or what your style is - the very act of putting brush to canvas is an act of abstraction. The difference between the "abstract painter" and the "realist painter" is the level of abstraction. How far do you push the envelope to communicate your idea?
Abstract work has a way of revealing an artist's strengths, weaknesses and natural tendencies because composition, shape and color take precedent over subject matter.


Class Notes: Journey into the ABSTRACT

My Thursday Painting class recently requested some instruction in ABSTRACT painting. Every couple of years I specifically address the subject but it can bring out strong opinions in my class painters. Some love it- some hate it.
I love abstract work - of all kinds - and it is an area worthy of study; one that we could spend years on -BUT- I might loose a few students. So, we are taking a couple of weeks to touch lightly on the subject.
Week one we looked at ABSTRACT art that is NON-representational. That means it does not refer directly to a "thing" or view. That rules out Picasso;  think Rothko or Kandinsky.
Kandinsky was one of my major influences as a kid, and the first real art I was exposed to that made me sit up and take notice. Kandinsky believed that art should communicate on an intuitive level.  Hmmm. . . There's a rabbit to chase. 
In class we help the "intuitive eye" connect with the work through the use of composition and color.

My general guidelines for nonrepresentational work:
1. Start with a dynamic compositional theme.  We chose here the CROSS composition.
2. Look at a color wheel or create your own; see the one we created in the photo.
- Choose a color that you want to dominate the work;
- choose a second color that will contrast or complement the first.
- choose 2 more colors to add excitement but with the intention of using them sparingly.
3. Establish your center of interest and work with color and shape to reinforce your compositional idea.
4. Use colors as shapes. Place then to interact with each other, varying the size and shape of the masses. Think about patterns, repeating patterns, theme and variation.
5. Don't over work the paint or you will lose the visual strength and energy you are trying to create.
Note: if you are working with acrylic, don't be afraid to pour, fling, wipe, drip and dribble with paint to: cover areas, build up or allow some areas to come forward
while other areas recede or become submerged for the sake of compositional strength.
This is not random paint dancing, this is intentional, non-representation work with color and compositional ideas behind it.
Abstract work is not a walk in the park. The best work has depth and a driving concept.
Nice things often happen by "happy accident" -  BUT,  great abstract painting is anything but accidental - it is always intentional.