Monday, August 16, 2010

Painting an Abstract

One night at a party, someone asked me, “How do you know how to paint an abstract painting?” It was an overwhelming question for me, but this week I thought I might try to answer it from my own humble experience....

The elements and principles of design are important in any kind of artwork, whether it is two or three dimensional, abstract or realistic, because they organize the composition. But in an abstract work, the elements and principles and the visual idea are all that the artist has. If there is anything recognizable, it is altered--abstracted--until it may be simply a suggestion of reality. So, the success or failure of the piece depends heavily on the merits of its composition.

The elements of design include: line, shape, size (scale), texture (surface quality), color and value (darkness and lightness). The principles of design are the ways in which the elements are organized and include: balance, repetition, rhythm, contrast, harmony, movement and unity. Some folks might add or subtract a term or two or perhaps use somewhat different terms but these are the basics. In truth, how well the elements and principles of design are utilized in communicating the feeling or message of the work, determines how successful any piece of art will be.

When I begin an abstract painting, I have in mind a visual idea I want to play around with--it might be the chaos of a nebula...

Eagle Nebula #2

or the feeling of being drawn toward the light of morning...

Land of Light

I am very aware of the elements and principles as I organize the painting. Using thick, thin and directional lines and repeated shapes, I try to create a sense of rhythmic movement. I choose appropriate textures and think about patterns of contrasting darks and lights and how they balance. I decide where to locate the focal point and how relatively large and small shapes will be. The color palette I choose will add or detract from the harmony and unity of the piece. There's a lot of thinking and intuiting going on in this process, and it is both absorbing and challenging. Each choice made is an attempt to move the work closer to the little imaginary, abstract place I want to create. It takes a lot of time and practice to become fluent enough to move easily through this visual world. But it never gets old and it never stops being a fascinating challenge.

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