ArtLEDge Paint & Take: Abstract Painting Techniques

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In preparation for the ArtLEDge Paint and Take Workshop taking place Tuesday 2/8 12-3pm @ The Wheatgrass Gallery in downtown Glasgow, MT. I would like to extend some helpful tips to get you thinking in the abstract painting “groove”.

Abstract painting can be an experience that some find freeing, and others find confining.  Freeing in the sense that you are not attempting to render from a primary source; for many people, this takes the pressure off. It allows them to focus on what the materials themselves do rather than what they, as painters, are trying to do. But confining, in the sense that for some people, trying to work with only material, and no imagery, can leave them with a sense of “unfulfilled purpose”. In many of our day-to-day actions we are goal-orientated; and the goals we attempt to accomplish typically have several specific steps along the way. For some, being told to make a painting, without being told what they will make a painting of, can be very unnerving.

In my experience, participants are able to engage in the abstract painting process and gain a rich experience when they are given specific instructional steps that help them to focus on the process rather than the product.

These steps can be technically driven, as in “You will use the chalk pastel to create some geometric shapes in the lower third of the canvas; be sure to manipulate the tool from different angles to experiment with the types of line you can produce.” They can also be content driven, as in “Recall a very strong emotion that you felt recently, and think of a color that you would associate with this emotion. Then make a mark in the upper right corner of the surface that you feel conveys this emotion.”

The important thing with abstract painting is to deviate from the intent to produce imagery, and to use both technical and content-driven tools to focus on the process, rather than the product. Completion of the experience with a product that is satisfactory will be engendered by authentic follow-through when focusing on the process and maintaining an awareness of the overall piece throughout the process. This takes place when you “step back” or “step away” momentarily.

Abstract painting has a tendency to take place quickly once the piece has been started. A piece can easily slip away from the painter, especially if you do not force yourself to check in and shift your view. Stepping away from the piece allows you to take in the whole work, rather than looking at specific elements. Often when working abstractly, I will have 2 or more pieces that I’m working on simultaneously. When I get to the point of uncertainty and find myself wondering “What next?” I will switch to a different piece, and put the original aside for a day or so. This break can be enough time to allow me to notice elements that didn’t jive well, but that I might have missed after spending too long looking at the same thing. It can also help me avoid over working a piece. Sometimes, the piece is resolved and there isn’t much of anything else that needs doing. Another trick that can be useful is holding the piece up to a mirror. Sometimes seeing the visual elements in the mirror can shift the perspective of your gaze enough that certain elements which might not have been resolved (but were hard to pin down) “pop-out”.

All tools that we will use in tomorrow’s Paint and Take Class. Looking forward to seeing you then!

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