Today I would like to show an example of the type of thinking I do when creating an abstract piece. When deciding to create a non-abstract work, the most important question I can ask myself is “what am I trying to convey?” It is only after answering this question that I can delve into the other choices an artist must make:
- What medium do I use?
- What size do I make this piece?
- Is color important?
- Is texture important?
- What mood must I be in to make this piece?
- How representative does the piece need to be of the subject?
This list of questions is almost endless, and typically making these decisions takes quite a bit of time. However, for an abstract piece, I find that the key is to simplify my life by choosing and answering just one of these secondary questions without figuring out what I am trying to convey, and letting the answers to the other questions come about naturally through the painting process.
Let’s take the following painting as a guide:
This is a piece I completed about two years ago when I was mostly interested in color interactions. Here I asked myself “is color important,” and I decided that yes, I wanted this piece to be about color interaction. Therefore I made the very deliberate decision to paint this painting using just violet, yellow, and white. Everything else fell into place after I made this choice. I didn’t make textures because it didn’t add to importance of color. I made all the shapes rectangular because I believed the simplicity would highlight the color relationships, and I made the painting fairly small because the less time my eyes spend moving around the canvas, the more time I have to focus on the colors. These secondary decisions were made while I was making the painting, not before.
Then, yesterday morning, I spent a good bit of time looking at this painting and I realized that although I created the painting based on my color decisions, that wasn’t what this painting was trying to convey. Instead, I realized that this painting was about depth. It was about the interplay of positive and negative space. Are the dark violet rectangles the positive space, or the negative space?
Therefore, I asked myself another question: how can I distill the meaning of this painting? After some thought, I realized that what I needed to focus on next was texture. This was the basis for the following painting that I completed yesterday:
Here, I chose to paint solely with a painting knife to maximize texture, and all of the resulting decisions came about because I was only thinking about texture. I first started with the bottom panel, but then decided to add two more because I wanted to see how splitting the piece into three parts would affect a viewer’s perception of depth. Then, I wondered what could change if I left some parts blank, so I did just that. The result is a painting that explores the materiality of undiluted oil paint.
Backwards thinking of this kind is what leads to my most effective abstract pieces, and I encourage everyone to try making a piece in this manner. Let go of all but one decision and explore freely, and you’re bound to make plenty of interesting discoveries.
Until next time,