Category Archives: 5.3 Towards abstraction

5.3.2 Abstract painting from man made form

Here is the last version of my painting for the exercise.

 

With no definitive plan in mind at the outset, I followed my intuition. During the process of making, the painting developed organically.  This was quite unusual for me and somewhat scary – I usually have a vision in mind, a concept, or an idea, which directs my decision making and tells me more or less when I’ve finished.  

The painting above is not as bold or dramatic as the A4 colour sketches below;  but the point of the exercise has been achieved, and I’m happy with how it went overall.

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I chose a pair of old fashioned bronze kitchen scales, inherited from my mother in law. The metal is dull and dusty, but the machined forms are intriguing.  After drawing the scales, with their weights, I isolated each part and made individual realistic line studies in coloured fine pens.

    

So far so good, but other than knowing I liked the quirky isolated shapes of the parts I wasn’t sure where to go with this exercise.  I tried taking photos of the scales to see if that pointed to an interesting interpretation.

The afternoon wearing on, the light wasn’t particularlay good in the studio, so I put the scales on an ink spattered white board and placed them outside on a wall.  The setting sun created some long, complex and striking cast shadows, and I took many images, mainly from above, placing the individual pieces in different arrangements.

Inspired, I made a couple of quick A4 experiments  using ink, tinted charcoal, acrylic paint, just exploring shapes and compositions.  I even included the ink spatters on the board the scales were placed on in my studies, they add drama and interest.

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The second one is quite abstract – an intuitive response to shapes and angles, blocks of tone; the first one assigns semi realistic colours to objects and shadows, the parts of the scales being disassociated, placed according to my feel for a composition; the third is a more realistic interpretation, lining up the elements of the scales in their proper places, alluding to form and three dimensions. I like these strong, semi abstract compositions, but now have to decide how to translate the ideas to a larger painting.

The long portrait format gives space for the subject and its shadows to be explored, so I decided to stay with that, and selected a 66 x 39 cm piece of mixed media paper.  This was gessoed, painted with an initial background (buff titanium, white, violet), spattered with black ink, then I drew lines representing parts  of the scales with a rigger brush and black ink. Drawing the bowl at top left, the heel of my hand resting on the paper smudged some ink lines, thus echoing its curve on another part of the paper. 

 

This reminded me of a study I made earlier in the course of a birds eye view of a still life arrangement on a table; I’d liked it very much for its multiple tryout lines, overlapping of objects, and transparent layers.

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My next step was to scrape roughly overall with a credit card a deeper mix of yellow ochre, buff titanium and white mixed with gel medium.  The ink hadn’t completely dried, and several areas were smudged, others partly mixed with the paint.  Another happy accident, to weave into the process!  Since I don’t have a pre-determined outcome, or even a process plan at this stage, I feel relaxed about changing direction.

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I decided to create background blocks of colours like my tabletop study, following hinted lines in this painting, and to paint the bowl a rich shade of red.  With each layer of paint application I’m adding gel medium, for added transparency.

   

 The red bowl balances the strong black lines contrasted with white, bottom right; these dynamics will alter as I continue to strengthen the lines of the scale parts again.  I want to try and retain some pure white areas, and also some dark passages (missing at the moment).

  

To me this is looking good, it could be finished…there are overlapping shapes, transparent layers, the colour palette is successful, the marks are interesting, the tonal values create a satisfying composition.  Without losing any of that I want to add some texture to one or more of the shapes; revisiting my tryouts in the exercise ‘mixing materials into paint’ I fetched some chilli pepper seeds and some loose tea, mixed them into acrylic medium and applied them to the surface. After leaving to dry, I dry-brushed colours, including a metallic bronze, on top.  The final version is at the top of the post.

 

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5.3.1 abstraction from study of natural forms

Here’s my final painting for this exercise.  It’s an abstract representation of honeysuckle growing through wrought iron.  This is a brand new direction for me, and I had fun doing it.  I could have made 20 equally striking images from the close up photos I took, and developed through sketchbook work.  The subject became more and more appealing as I worked, and discovered its potential  I’m pleased with the outcome, although I would have liked elements of my initial paper collage to have shown through in  the final painting.  I’m not sure if the green leaf is a distraction, though I liked the addition of this colour to the palette in the sketchbook.

 

 

I wandered around my garden taking photos of various flowers very close up.  Back in the studio I looked at them all critically, for a subject that especially appealed to me.  The one that stood out above the more exotic flowers was the honeysuckle.  Apart from the interesting shapes of the flowers, I liked the creamy white buttery yellow colours contrasted against grey background, bright green leaf, and black shapes from the wrought iron fence.  The combination of colours, tones, shapes and lines was striking.

Starting to explore possibilities I made some A6 sketchbook studies in pencil, ink, watercolour and gouache.


 
 

The dramatic swathes of simple black shapes reminded me of the paintings of Franz Kline, seen here  He projected some of his drawings on the wall and found they gained abstraction and expression when magnified,many continued to work in his way.  His use of media is also exciting; some are done in black ink on cut and pasted telephone book pages mounted on paper then mounted on board.

But first I wanted to study the honeysuckle more carefully, and I looked closely and took some more photos and did some more investigatory sketches.

The flowers are attached to the stalk in tours of four, two on each side.  New flowers at the tip of each stalk are creamy white; the older ones, those further back, buttery yellow.  Each flower is accompanied by a pair of smaller leaves (sepals) as well as one larger leaf (I noticed there were sky-blue reflections on the wet leaves, in the rain).  Each flower has 4 semi-joined parallel petals curling away from its leaves, and a single long petal curling towards the leaves.  There are 5 stamens and one pistil (my failed A level biology coming back to me here!).  Observing this closely reveals patterns and textural details which could be incorporated into a painting. Some of the photos are so magnified tiny ‘hairs’ can be seen along the edges of petals, variations in colour, spots and marks become apparent on the leaves.

The last sketch above uses ink and gouache resist; the second to last cut and pasted magazine print, gesso, ink, gouache and acrylic. I wondered whether there small sketchbook paintings would satisfy this exercise, but I think it’s all about scaling up – reproducing a drawing on a much larger scale as a means of abstracting, as Kline did.

Painting. Collage (cut and paste) magazine pages onto paper or board. 

  

Realised I’d arranged them landscape way up, but decided it would add to the abstract nature to have the text on its side.

White Gesso added

Background now too light, flowers won’t contrast, so washed with dilute black ink.

Select composition. From my sketches I know I want to start with thick black marks, like Kline’s, in my background, inspired by the wrought iron.  I know I love the combination of grey-black-white with white & yellow honeysuckle, and that the bright leaf-green plays a major part in the palett I want.  I want simplicity of design, good contrast, strong negative shapes, not over-detailed crowdedness.  By a process of elimination based on these criteria I decided to develop the sketch with curled black marks, echoing the curl of honeysuckle petals.

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 Black shapes added with acrylic paint instead of ink (first drawn roughly with charcoal) – in earlier exercise tryouts I discovered this gave me my blackest black.  Scratched textural marks into it with the edge of a credit card. 

 

Flowers sketched in, stamens added squeezing diluted pva glue through a nozzle.

 

Strengthen the flower colour, paint the yellow anthers and green stigma, add a green leaf shape.  I felt there wasn’t enough contrast between the petals and grey background, so added a wash of ink to darken the grey, then scattered salt to absorb pigment creating texture in the background.  By now my magazine print has all but disappeared, which is a shame as some of the pieces were specially chosen for their textual content and graphic interest.

 

Finally I softened the yellow colour in the petals, removed the salt, drew some white marks and spatters in the black areas, added small touches of red.

 

References

MOMA.org