Abstract Painting Classes

January – May 2017

Abstract Classes

I had the chance to join in weekly abstract classes here on the island. There was a core group of three students who attended regularly, with others jumping in for various weeks depending on their stays in Lanzarote. This in itself is interesting as abstract painting is so subjective, it was fascinating to witness how different the students’ interpretations of similar themes were to one another. Two of the other students had been attending the classes for a couple of months before me and had come to grips with certain aspects, whereas I was a total novice. My only foray into this genre was a couple of projects in the Practice of Painting course, however, these were very basic.

Initially, we looked at various abstract artists’ work in books to see what sort of things appealed to us. I was drawn to colour, especially red, and more loosely worked paintings. Some of the many artists we looked at over the weeks were Frank Stella, Sonia Delaunay, David Hockney, Frank Marc and Vasily Kandinsky.

Action shots taken and kindly allowed to be reproduced her by photographer and tutor Betty Rawson.

Mindlessness

I was so out of my comfort zone it was almost frightening – I had to forget everything I relied on – observation, sketching, planning – and let my mind go. I found I didn’t trust my colour sense anymore and, to be honest, began to think I never had any! Our first lesson was drawing random shapes and adding colour. I really struggled, I didn’t know what I was doing – I didn’t have an end result in my mind to work towards… but there was no going back!

The next week promised to be more fun. Our initial class of five dropped to four, our two experienced students and another novice and myself. We had been warned that we would be outside in a field so to come prepared . This was January in Lanzarote, so although warm enough, it was windy and we had previously had some rain so trainers, jeans, fleeces and aprons/coveralls were the order of the day. We advanced, armed with rolls of paper, brushes, pots of water, water-soluble paints and canvases, everything had to be weighed down with stones and insects had to be discouraged from landed in the paint.

We began with a long roll of paper between two and just splashed, dribbled, splattered and daubed to our hearts content for the first hour. We then set up our canvases and with a little more thought, began to make our paintings.

Field work for abstract course - experimental mark making and beginning my first canvas

Field work for abstract course – experimental mark making and beginning my first canvas

The painting on the canvas above was worked on over a few sessions…

Third session on the Squares and Circles canvas

Third session on the Squares and Circles canvas

A bit more work was done on this, along with some glazing with a dilute PVA substitute tinted with various colours.

Squares and Circles - maybe finished, maybe overworked - still not sure which way up I prefer it. Interesting start though.

Squares and Circles – maybe finished, maybe overworked – still not sure which way up I prefer it. Interesting start though.

Time to move on – we had another experimental session with a small piece of work made with sticking coloured shapes. Some shapes were cut from paper we’d painted and some from patterned paper and magazines. Again, I floundered – my fellow student below was doing so well as her colour sense was developing beautifully – in the beginning, it always took me until 20 minutes before the end of the class for me to “get it”.

Cutting, colouring and sticking shapes onto small card to make small abstracts as reference for a painting.

Cutting, colouring and sticking shapes onto small card to make small abstracts as reference for a painting.

Following our planning and experimental stage we took reference from this to begin our next painting…

I called this Wash Day in the end as it reminded me of clothes being blown about on washing line.

I called this Wash Day in the end as it reminded me of clothes being blown about on washing line.

We always had a little critique at the end of a session and regarding the above, we all thought that the dark shape in the middle was trying to dominate. This, however, was not necessarily a bad thing as a little challenge in an image can work – we nicknamed this challenge the “Party Pooper” as it’s trying to suck the joy out of the rest of the painting.

The weather was lovely so another outside session for us today. We started with a warm up by using brushes on the end of sticks and made marks paint on paper. The sticks were heavy and it was more like sword fighting at times. In fact my brush broke and had to be taped back together at one point. It certainly loosened us up for our canvas though.

Extended brush painting, outside. This was fun and bordered on dangerous at times but a good warm up exercise!

Extended brush painting, outside. This was fun and bordered on dangerous at times but a good warm up exercise!

Using the garden around us as inspiration, not to mention the fabulous view of the mountain in the distance, we began our main event canvas. This was worked on for a few weeks worth of classes and has a little more to be done for improvement. Many methods of mark making were employed in it, from wiggling a paint laden brush in a semi-uncontrolled way across the entire canvas, to drips and runs being blown and guided by turning the canvas this way and that. It has been glazed with dilute PVA with an orange tint several times. The shape and size of the canvas gave the painting a little more scope for experimentation.

This has had many interpretations in the class, what started out as a garden/bougainvillea inspired piece of work has become darker with wicked forest, to horses galloping across it carrying knights...

This has had many interpretations in the class, what started out as a garden/Bougainvillea inspired piece of work has become darker with wicked forest, to horses galloping across it carrying knights…

I was going to give this another heading, however, it still does come under Mindlessness.  In this week’s class, we were to bring a piece of music that made us feel something. We had a pretty full class for this one, five of us at our work stations with ear phones listening to different music and just painting – making marks that we felt came from our music. Nobody knew what the other was listening to. We worked on our canvases for most of the class and at the end, we looked at each other’s work, listening to the music that inspired it. It was fascinating as we were in a larger class than usual, yet we were completely absorbed in our own world of music and paint.

I titled this after the music I was listening to - Titanium. The track I chose was Titanium by David Guetta featuring Sia.

I titled this after the music I was listening to – Titanium. The track I chose was Titanium by David Guetta featuring Sia.

I felt that it was about overcoming outside negative influences, being independent and pushing yourself upwards and onwards – never giving up.

The range of music was vast, from my dance track, to a gentle classic piece, to an African uplifting beat and vocal, to an oriental and mystical composition. We could all see the influences from each in our paintings, although we would never have guessed what they were.

Themes and Where to Start

This week we were down to two of us – I think everyone else knew how tough this would be! Our challenge – whether we chose to accept it or not, was to make a self-portrait – not only abstract but in 3-D. Back to square one then! After looking at each other blankly for a few minutes, we started looking through magazines, patterned papers and other bits and pieces for images, textures, colours that appealed to us and that may be descriptive of us. Even this was really difficult for me. I started cutting and ripping things out and gathered a pile of samples of stuff! We made a base, which we could either paint or cover in other papers. We then began building our self-portrait. This was really tricky, the only things I could fixate on were colours I liked and chocolate! Anyway, this is what I came up with – not very impressive I know…

3-D Self Portrait - is what it's meant to be, but even though I made it and it's about me - I don't get it!

3-D Self Portrait – is what it’s meant to be, but even though I made it and it’s about me – I don’t get it!

This week, I was allowed some comfort back. We were allowed to draw a still life!!! My turn to be happy and for my lovely classmates to groan :0)

Betty had set up a still life of an orchid, with a starfish, a lantern and a few knickknacks. It was actually quite complicated as we had a few minutes to draw it from one angle, and then move around to capture others. Fairly straightforward, but the first few were to be without lifting the pencil, charcoal, pastel or whatever from the paper. (Even more groans from the back – my revenge was complete!)

The last drawing was to be done without looking at the paper – and just to make sure – we had to use white oil pastel! Once this was done, we took our white on white drawings to the table and, using watercolour paint, we were to put down whichever colours we liked, wherever we liked on the drawing. The point being that the paint would be repelled by the oil pastel wherever it met. Unfortunately, I got carried away and decided I wanted a wet in wet effect. The paper was dampened with water and paint added. It seemed that the extra water didn’t allow the oil pastel to resist the paint so well, so my first attempt was a fail…

Overly dampened paper with watercolour on oil pastel

Overly dampened paper with watercolour on oil pastel

 

So, much to the consternation of my fellow classmate, who had done the same, we had to redraw in white oil pastel and start again.

This time, I ensured that the pastel was thicker, although I couldn’t look at it, and did not pre-dampen the paper.

Watercolour was added randomly at first and the resist from the oil pastel was much more successful. I then swapped to a finer brush and traced some of the lines left from the resist. This was very therapeutic and satisfying, and illustrated how something representational could be used to create an abstract work.

 

 

Still Life Orchid in white oil pastel to resist watercolour

Still Life Orchid in white oil pastel to resist watercolour (with a surprise dolphin!)

More drawing this week! We had a plate of peppers plus some other edible items that I can not remember – and as they were abstracted, the drawings don’t help!!

Our method of beginning an abstract painting this time, was to draw the shapes we saw, no particular detail and no tone, just shapes. We made three large thumbnails on a piece of paper and working in shades of black, white and grey, roughly filled in shapes that we had drawn or added.

Monotone shapes drawn from still life - peppers etc

Monotone shapes drawn from still life – peppers etc

I felt that no one of my drawings was what I wanted, so amalgamated all three into something more pleasing to me as below:

Amalgamation of thumbnail sketches

Amalgamation of thumbnail sketches

The drawing was transferred onto some gesso coated hardboard 62 x 45 cm and then painted in acrylic, again with shades of black, white and grey. This is not yet finished but I’m looking forward to working on it again.

Large painting from thumbnail sketch

Large painting from thumbnail sketch

In our final lesson of the term, our last method of starting an abstract painting was to use colour. We had to think of an occasion or event that had a big impact on our lives. With that in mind, we had to relate that to a colour. We then mixed some tones of that colour and made a swatch of those tones on a piece of paper. When we had done that, we needed a contrast colour with mixed tones to add to the paper as below:

My swatch of emotive colour tones with its contrasting colour tones.

My swatch of emotive colour tones with its contrasting colour tones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, I had not brought a canvas with me, so had to use a spare one of Betty’s which was only 20cm square. Although, I probably wouldn’t have finished anything bigger in one session. The event that had a dramatic impact on me was related to water. Specifically, my first experience of a water slide into a pool when I was about ten years old. Prior to this, I was a complete “water baby”, and couldn’t wait to have a go. Not really knowing what to expect, I got in line with everyone else and was soon skidding down towards the water. The complete, all-encompassing wave of water that engulfed me, took me completely by surprise and I barely managed to surface and recover. I still like swimming but have a fear of being out of my depth and overly choppy water, be it in a pool or sea.

Water Shock

Water Shock

That’s all for this term but I am looking forward to the next one.

What I’ve taken away from this is that, I need to let go of the controlled way of working sometimes and go with what I feel rather than what I see in front of me. Art is an emotive and subjective form of expression and if it’s not created with feeling then I can not expect it to be viewed with feeling.

 

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