Archive for category Subject: Abstract

Abstract Nature || Waltraud Nawratil

Open this and the first thing that’s going to strike you are the blocks of frankly garish colour behind some of the text. It’s a shame, as they tend to overshadow the illustrations, which are similarly bright. It’s worth mentioning at the outset and you shouldn’t let it put you off what is an excellent and useful guide.

If you’re interested in abstraction but unsure of where and how to get started, this is a very good jumping-off point. Each demonstration occupies only 2 or 4 pages and is very straightforward, with a finished result, an enlarged detail, a materials list and a short series of simple steps. There is guidance in the introductory section on basic techniques and what to look for.

In truth, this isn’t pure abstraction, and every example is easily recognisable. Rather, it’s more an exploration of the limits of representation, and it’s none the worse for that. Abstraction itself is the culmination of a journey of which this is a part and you should be able to take further steps yourself once you’ve mastered the basics.

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Beginner’s Guide to Abstract Art || Laura Reiter

This was originally published as Painting Accessible Abstracts, but has been reissued in paperback.

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Abstracts: Techniques and Textures || Rolina van Vliet

Show me an abstract book and I’ll bang on about how the style is as much about a state of mind as it is about techniques. I’ll also say that the skills you need are mostly the ones you already have. Am I about to contradict myself, then?

Well, no. Paint is paint, brushes are brushes and they all do what they do. However, there is a certain shorthand that can help in the ultimate aim of abstract painting, which is to make your viewer feel the same as you do about what you saw. This means that shapes and colours become pre-eminent, but you can also use textures to emphasise them and draw the viewer into and around the image in a particular way.

The contents list includes terms like Negative Line, Textile Texture and Sketching Using Liquid Paint. Telling you this tells you the facts, but it doesn’t tell you how it all works and you really have to see it to get the idea. The book itself is arranged as a series of studies (being neither demonstrations nor deconstructions) which include several illustrations, notes and a work sequence. I’m not sure you’d necessarily want to follow one through, or that you’re meant to.

If you’re already a fan of abstraction, then this is the next logical step.

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Wabi-Sabi Art Workshop || Serena Barton

OK so, yes, I had to look this up too. Let’s go with Serena’s definition, since that’s how she’s applying it. It comes from two Japanese words and “refers to that which is imperfect, aged, humble and authentic.” It’s “an aesthetic that values the passing of time, the seasoning of time and the elements, the handmade and the simple.” It is also a state of mind which is expressed in haiku poetry. OK, so a bit-new age, a bit mystical and a bit of the Arts & Crafts movement. I think. Maybe the subtitle is more help, “Mixed media techniques for embracing imperfection and celebrating happy accidents”, which I’m not sure is the same thing.

At this point, you may have got the impression that I’m a little irritated by the whole thing. At least, I hope you have!

However, delving into the book, my mind is changed completely. This is a book about abstraction, but about achieving it by finding rather than creating. Oh dear, that’s about as clear as mud, but it turns out that what sounded like a woolly-headed idea is actually completely clear in Serena’s head and she presents it well. There are projects, techniques and ways of working that bring your materials to the fore and allow them to decide how the result will go. And there it is again, that new-agey thing. But the thing is that it’s all so convincingly presented, with neatly-formed chapters and plenty of illustrations. I’d defy you not to buy into the whole ethic. OK, you’re probably not going to start filling your studio with wind chimes and dressing entirely in cheesecloth, but there are some genuinely good ideas here that are worth following up.

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Journeys to Abstraction || Sue St John

Subtitled “100 contemporary paintings and their secrets revealed”, this isn’t so much a how-to as a why-to and therefore a welcome development in the growing literature on abstract painting.

Sue St John has assembled an impressive collection of works and artists, each of whom explains for themselves the processes behind their work. These can be methods, inspirations, philosophies or, indeed, anything else that might be relevant. Most don’t attempt to explain the work illustrated – and certainly not in any detail. Abstraction is as much a state of mind as a technical process and what the viewer sees is just as valid as what the artist saw, although a successful work should provide at least a small window into its creator’s mind, or state of mind.

If you’re looking for a manual on how to paint abstracts, this isn’t it. However, if you’re looking for an insight into the creative process, you’ve found it.


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Abstracts – 50 Inspirational Projects || Rolina Van Vliet

This is a nice change of direction in the literature of abstract painting. When it comes to abstracts, it’s the ideas behind the work that mainly count and it’s difficult to come up with a strictly instructional approach because you’re not simply representing a subject but interpreting it and, if you don’t have something to say, there’s not really any point in even getting started.

However, there are various muscles you can develop and working from a set of ideas and exercises based on what other artists have done will help you get the idea of where you’re supposed to be going and how you might get there. Rolina has come up with a good range of approaches such as the interplay of lines, monochrome working, even painting from photographs and to music. This latter is something that’s cropped up before and is an intriguing idea – you use a favourite piece to put yourself in a specific frame of mind and then simply (well, I say, “simply”) transfer that creativity to paper.

As well as the projects, Rolina has some useful comments on where you might look for sources of inspiration and, in her conclusion, a list of do’s and don’ts that every artist should have taped to their studio wall.

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Abstracts in Acrylics (Ready to Paint) || Dani Humberstone

Dani Humberstone has already given us a rather excellent introduction to abstract painting in Search Press’s How to Paint series and now she’s pulled off the rather more tricky task of transferring this to the Ready to Paint series with its pre-drawn tracings.

Abstraction is a way of telling your viewer how you feel about your subject rather than simply portraying it realistically. The whole idea is to provoke an emotional response by using colours and shapes that recreate what you saw rather than what the viewer sees. It should, therefore, not be possible to produce a book that essentially allows you to copy another artist’s work – the objection is that you’re reproducing their view, not creating one of your own.

So far, so nitpicking. The thing about abstraction is that it requires a completely different technical approach. Shapes are not necessarily organic and colours don’t always blend into each other; it’s often the stark contrast and the hard, even jarring, edges that make the point. All this is technical stuff and this is what Dani has been teaching in both her books. We already know that the Ready to Paint approach works superbly for other subjects, so it comes as both a shock and yet no surprise that it works for abstracts too.

No, this book won’t tell you about the intellectual approach to abstraction, but it will help you with the methods of getting paint onto paper and, if you’re full of ideas but not sure how to get them down, rush out and buy this now so that it can come to your rescue. It also helps that the paintings featured are genuinely abstract and really rather good. I think Dani has an altogether bigger and more advanced book in her that could be quite exciting.

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