Abstract Choices

Cactus Flower by Frank Krause / Final Abstract Study by Jaya King 24″ x 36″

So you’re inspired by a realistic image be it a portrait, landscape, flower, bowl of fruit, your grandmothers shitzu, whatever.  How do you go about abstracting something realistic?  Last month I was inspired by a photograph that a friend of mine took of a cactus flower.  I knew immediately that I wanted to “abstract” this image.  After my “Wax With Whimsy” workshop at Wax Works West earlier this month I was inspired to explore an abstract workshop idea.  It’s still in formulation but I thought that using my friend’s photo reference would be a perfect example of this process.  After the hustle and bustle of the holidays I found a window of time to do my walk-through so I plugged in my hot plates and turned on my space heater.

In my mind there are 2 essential components to a successful abstract and I think of these before even picking up the brush…

1materials.  Color:  LIMIT YOURSELF!  I am wholeheartedly a fan of the limited color palette.  Before buying every color under the sun it is imperative to learn how to work with a simple palette of colors.  This will teach you color mixing and harmony, two key ingredients to strengthening your artistic sensibility.  I ask myself, “Can I simplify my color choice further?  What can I do without?”  I leave the rest of the colors in the drawer.

2.  Composition: Vertical, horizontal or square?  You do not need to match the composition of your reference photo.  In fact, it is an interesting exercise if you play with cropping.  How would you turn a horizontal into a vertical or visa versa?  What I look at even before I begin painting is “where is my negative space?”  Negative space is where the eye rests.  I consider negative space to be just as important as the subject matter itself.  Where is your focal point going to be?

Put it together:  In the case of this demonstration I selected a mix of malachite green, quinacridone magenta, titanium white, pthalo blue, indian yellow, cadmium yellow light, mars yellow light and Mile’s Conrad’s sunset orange.  I decided to keep the horizontal format and have my cactus flower “burst” towards the left of the painting.  This way I can demonstrate an apples-to-apples abstract so you can see creative process side-by-side with the reference photo.

abstract process(1)  I tone my background with transparent colors that I’ve diluted with wax medium.  The piece begins as a sad homage to 80’s spatter paint, oh 90210 where have you gone?  It’s pretty messy in this first stage:  drips and disjointed brushstrokes layering together in a vague semblance of my reference photo.  I continue layering in this fashion, periodically sealing in color with an isolation coat of wax medium, until I see a solid composition form around my focal point.  The colors are fun to move around with the torch but I keep in mind that most of these initial layers are going to be lost.

(2)  When I want to reign in those crazy disjointed colors I begin block in my negative space and reassert my focal point.  In this second photo you can see how I’m using the purples and greens to fill in the gaps.  I am using more opaque colors to add body.  It is also important to consider your brushstrokes.  Notice how my strokes have direction to create movement?  An out of place brush stroke can awkwardly draw the eye off course.  Would a blog post on brushstrokes just be way too technical?  Perhaps not as technical on my future post of how Green Gold differs from brand to brand…ahhh, the color nerd in me.

(3)  Compared to abstract painting I usually fall into the “realist” category.  When you look at my paintings you can see – that is a person, that is a cow, that is a house.  For me, abstracts are a way of flipping a real object inside out.  It is an exercise out of my comfort zone.  In this step I was able to catch myself veering off into realist territory.  I started to get a little more “literal” with my cactus flower and buds at this point so I remind myself that I’m painting an abstract.   I use my torch to release some control.  The flowers melt into themselves and become more of a color suggestion of flowers.  Phew!

(4)  I still feel a lot of busy-ness happening so I tone down my malachite green and make a commitment to my negative space.  You’ll notice that a lot of my initial layers have been covered.  I cannot express enough that art, especially abstract art, is a process.  You’ll create something, you’ll sacrifice it.  In this case I sacrificed some background color.  Remember, it’s all for the greater good!

incision(5)  One of the joys of the encaustic process is carving, or “incising, into your painting.  This reveals hidden layers and creates effects that you can’t get if you’re just applying paint.  There is a delightful sculptural appearance that is easy to get lost in.  I could paint a layer then scrape it away until the cows come home.  This is a close up image of the first incisions.  They create an even stronger sense of movement and there is an interesting contrast between the sharp lines and bold background strokes.  I finish this step by painting color inside the incisions and scrape away the excess.  Now my lines are a multicolored textural element.

Encaustic is a process that can move quickly because the wax cools so fast.  You can immediately layer upon layer because you are not waiting for paint to dry.  Encaustic and abstracts go hand-in-hand which is probably why you see so many of them.  To stand out in the crowd it is important to have your own artistic voice.  To strengthen your abstracts I suggest practicing realistic techniques.  To strengthen your realistic painting I suggest practicing abstracts.  Go figure!  When you sit down to a blank canvas and you plan on painting an abstract, the best advice that I can offer is to release whatever preconceived image you have floating around in your head.  It’s ok to have a plan, be more ok with letting go of it.


Artistic Process: The Wedding Present

Part 2

To re-cap from my last post “So You Think You Want to Start a Painting?” – My cousin is getting married next week and for a wedding present I decided against a gravy boat and figured I would create a painting.  I am using her and her fiancé’s favorite colors (deep fuchsia and black) as the color palette.  Today’s post is a step-by-step walkthrough of my artistic process .  Here I’ll share with you my thoughts as well as more technical information on how I created this painting.  The materials I used are highlighted in fuchsia in honor of my cousin.  Buckle your seatbelts…

I start with light collage and tone the canvas with Quinacridone Magenta & Quinacridone Burnt Orange. While the canvas is drying I prep my collage papers.

Before I lay down any paint the question I ask myself is “Where do I want to lead the eye?” I throw down some loose brush strokes with Titanium White  in an S-shape composition.  I play with the positioning of the collage papers then glue them in place with Matte Medium.  Without the following glaze the white lines and paper look garish.  With the glaze they recess into the background.

I hear suspicious noises coming from the horse’s stall. Peeking over the fence I see Rommel playing with his water bucket.  Perfect timing to allow my canvas to “rest”.  I go and change the horse’s water and apply scratches where necessary.

Elayne present - 3 detailI mix a fair amount of Quin. Burnt Orange into my favorite black (Mars black) and follow my S-shape composition. I counter with more Titanium White and begin layering in the background colors again.  This gives me the clean white pinstripes.  I start to think about the next layers and what kind of depth I want to achieve.  I know that if I jump into my gel or pouring mediums now I will need to retire this piece until another day to give it time to dry.  Nope, not ready to call it a day yet…

I know that I’m still avoiding the “blackness” so I re-assert it back into the piece and add some black & gold origami paper. Better.  I switch over the laundry, check on the animals, and have a snack.  While munching on some chips I look at my piece and think of the various directions it could go from here.  I debate leaving the background as is or lightening it.  I decide I should play with the gold leaf before going further with the background, that way the gold will peek through.  Maybe the gold leaf will tell me what to do…

Elayne present - mistake dotsHa!  So a good topic comes up during the gold leafing process: How does one “fix” a painting?  I don’t know about everybody else but once in a while I mess up.  The first step in this process is to stop looking up gravy boats.  After an initial panic I take a breath and assess the situation.  I didn’t like how my gold leaf dots turned out – I felt they were a little “static” and for some reason I was reminded of the 80’s.  This just wouldn’t do so I ripped them off, and with them, the paint and collage paper beneath.   Breathe.  I’ll need to get that background color back in so I re-mix my Quin. Magenta, Quin. Burnt Orange and just a hint of Titanium White (I need that covering power).  I re-apply the background color in full brush strokes over the dots.  To make it look seamless I know I also need to cover some of the undamaged painting.  This made the painting darker in these particular areas.  Not to worry.  Once this layer dried I went back in with some of my white to regain my pinstripes.  I threw in a little more collage paper for good measure.

Needing to clear my head after the slight argument with my painting I do some horse chores. Nothing like a little stall mucking while you’re waiting for paint to dry.  Manure dumped, horses fed, time to head back.

With the sun setting I’m about ready to call it a day. I heavily apply Extra Heavy Gloss Gel Gloss all over the piece with my palette knife.  I want there to be some fun surface texture and by tomorrow this will be ready to begin the final steps.

Elayne present - pouring mediumPouring Medium is something I don’t work with too often so I thought it would be fun to incorporate it into this piece. I have some pre-mixed pouring medium/color combo’s ready to go and drip them on the canvas.  I do this before I head off to work and by the time I get home my medium has set.

Elayne present - finishA week passes and I think about the direction of the painting. I have a pretty good idea where it needs to go but it’s a dangerous road.  Since “The Fearless Painter” is the title of my blog I decided to man-up.  No turning back now!  I layer in Titanium White with glazes of Yellow Ochre to create a visual “bang”.  Phew!  Now that THAT’S over with I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For the final touches I add more of the Extra Heavy Gloss Gel and the Pouring Medium. Bringing those textures back to the fore-front is the icing on the cake.

This was an exciting exercise out of my color comfort zone and I learned how to make an impact using black and red as the predominant colors. Throughout the painting process I thought fondly of my cousin and her upcoming wedding.  You know, marriage can be a challenging balance and both parties must learn how to integrate their lives together, just like 2 wild colors on a canvas.  Congratulations Elayne and Jason!