Archive for category Subject: Abstract

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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Creative and Abstract Painting Techniques || Brian Ryder

First, a word of caution: if you already have Brian’s first book, Beyond Realism, this is the same thing, but in paperback and with a new title and cover illustration. I’ve trawled the blurb and the copyright page and I can find no mention of this and that’s naughty.

Beyond Realism first appeared in 2001 and was the first really effective book on non-representational painting. One or two had appeared before (one from the same publisher actually managed to reproduce the back-cover illustration upside down, thus confirming the perpetual joke about abstraction), but they were never really aimed at the practical end of the market assuming, along with most of us, that abstracts weren’t something that were going to interest the amateur painter.

And weren’t we all wrong? Demand was huge and the first edition sold out quickly and paved the way for a regular supply of books on the subject, with sales remaining refreshingly buoyant. So has this one stood the test of time? Well, it’s all there and Brian provides demonstrations of a variety of landscapes and waterscapes that move from distorted reality to pure abstraction and he explains both the theoretical approach and the practical techniques you need. If the book has a weakness, it’s the page design which doesn’t always make the demonstrations easy to follow, but this is something you’ll overcome after a short while and the book remains one of the best introductions to this style of painting.

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Realistic Abstracts || Kees van Aalst

Say what? If the title isn’t a contradiction in terms, then I haven’t seen one before!

But wait: it’s the perfect title, because this is, indeed, a book about painting in a style that falls between impressionism and abstraction while carefully not managing at the same time to fall between two stools. In all the many paintings here, mostly landscapes and townscapes, but with a few natural subjects as well, it’s easy to see what the subject is. From here, though the author has produced extensions of reality in a variety of ways that add to the viewer’s understanding. I’ve said before that abstraction is about telling the viewer how you, the artist, felt about your subject. In pure abstraction, colour and shape are used to create an intellectual and emotional response on their own. Here, the original subject remains in view but seen through a filter.

If pure abstraction isn’t for you but you fancy the idea of getting away from simple representation, then this book is packed with ideas and technical advice. Some of the illustrations, especially in the earlier sections, are somewhat on the small side, but they fill the page when it gets to the meat of the demonstrations, so it’s not a serious problem.

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Painting Accessible Abstracts || Laura Reiter

It was Laura’s previous book, Learn to Paint Abstracts, that started the current trend for books that go beyond representation and also proved that the concept of abstract painting, as well as some of the practicalities, can be taught.

In this much longer book, she has the chance to expand and to look at how far you might want to travel from reality (How Abstract Do You Want To Go?), the use of composition within abstraction, sources of inspiration and also ways of putting paint on paper or canvas.

Abstraction is much more than just painting random shapes (even if, sometimes, it’s hard to tell that!) and all the usual rules of composition, colour and perspective apply – indeed, they are often more important than in representational painting because the viewer’s normal sources of reference (a recognisable subject) are missing. It’s in this area that this book is particularly strong because Laura combines both the philosophical aspects of abstraction and the practical matter of using materials that applies to any painting. This is very much a book for the practising artist and deals with the concerns that will affect you, rather than dealing with just the concepts of abstraction which are as much the realm of the viewer. In short, it’s a book about how to paint abstracts rather than one about how to understand them.

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Abstracts: How to Paint || Dani Humberstone

At first sight, the idea of including abstracts in a basic series that’s mainly aimed at the beginner with little or no previous experience seems a bit optimistic, to put it mildly. However, with previous books on abstraction concentrating more on the creative and philosophical aspects of the style, it’s rather good to find something that deals with the actual process of getting ideas down onto your surface. The author’s mixed media approach means that you’re not tied to one particular style and she’s absolutely sound on the techniques you need. As well as the basic introduction, there are also four demonstrations showing how the final results are built up.

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The Art of Abstract Painting || Rolina Van Vliet

This is Rolina Van Vliet’s second book and pretty much picks up where Painting Abstracts left off. The subtitle, A Guide to Creativity and Free Expression slightly begs a question, but emphasises that this is very much a series about the creative aspects of abstract painting rather than the practical matter of getting paint onto paper or canvas.

This, it seems to me, is a very reasonable approach and it’s unlikely that you’re going to tackle the non-representational route if you’re not reasonably comfortable with your materials. Indeed, it’s probably not to be recommended at all. The matter of begging the question is simply, can you teach creativity? On balance, I’d have to give that a qualified yes. Abstraction is very much about ways of seeing and it’s really not unreasonable to say that you can introduce the ideas of a different vision just as you can explain that, in a straightforward landscape, you need to decide which elements of the picture you’re going to concentrate on, which are going to be just suggested and which you’ll probably leave out altogether. In a word: composition.

All painting could be said to be chiefly about shapes, colour and balance and the basic principle of abstraction is that this is all you give yourself to work with: the normal points of relativity, the recognisable forms, are removed so that the viewer can only work with what you give them. As such, they have to find your point of view and abandon their own and it’s this, as much as anything else, that makes abstract art “difficult” and frequently uncomfortable.

Working backwards from a wide variety of finished paintings, Rolina takes you through the techniques that are available, from visual cues to colour, texture and composition, giving a very practical approach to what is, well, an abstract subject.

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