My Top Three Rules for Abstract Painting

My Top Three Rules For Abstract Painting

Ananda 4, Acrylic and Water on Paper, 2017. ©Tesia Blackburn

Ananda 4, Acrylic and Water on Paper, 2017. ©Tesia Blackburn

When I'm painting, I have one goal in mind - to create an experience for the viewer. By the way, the viewer is me first and everyone else second.  I'm basically painting to make myself happy. If everyone else likes it, cool, but my first goal is to paint for myself.   So before I ever start a painting, I decide what my intention is - what I want the painting to "say."  Now this may seem like so much new age gobbly gook but it's not. It's an actual, action-oriented way of painting that narrows down my focus so I don't get distracted. I stay focused, the painting stays focused and I can accomplish something.

I often hear students say, when I ask them why they did something in the painting "I don't know, it just happened." This really irritates me.  First of all, unless you have magic painting fairies in your pocket YOU painted this. Take responsibility for it.  Take responsibility for the good and the bad. It's your painting. You did it.

So the first rule is - own it.

Next, even if you are a beginner, have a point of view.  Be able to answer the question, "what do I want the painting to say?" Can you describe the feeling you want to create in one or two words? No? Then you will have a heck of a time getting anywhere because you will have no focus.  Do you want an energetic painting? Somber? Funny? All of these words are descriptive and there are hard and fast design rules about what is and isn't funny, or moody, or heavenly.  

Look at El Greco. Are his paintings funny? No. Why not? Explain a painting or two to yourself using words like color, shape and texture and you will soon see that you know the answer. (Hint: it has a lot to do with dark colors).

Look at Mark Rothko.  Are his paintings moody? Why or why not?  Spend some time with artists you like and want to emulate. Reverse engineer their paintings in your head. You'll soon discover that you know what you want in a painting. Start with a particular point of view and paint a few paintings with that in mind. You can always move on later to anther topic.  But at first, one topic will do.

So the second rule is - have a point of view.

And that brings me to my third and probably most important rule. Keep it simple. I am continually amazed by the plethora of ideas that artists bring to class.  One good idea will keep you working for years.  Look at Sean Scully. One great idea, hundreds of great paintings.  

Or Joan Mitchell.  Laser focus. One great idea. Many, many great paintings.  It may take some time to find your one great idea, but hang in there. Try out a few ideas, but don't get crazy! Stay focused and give yourself some limits. Of course you can paint one thing one day and something else the next day, but you'll never know the joy of digging deep into a topic, an idea, and creating a relationship with an idea that will last for years.  It's like a great love affair. The longer you are with that one person, the greater the love becomes.

The third rule? - Keep it simple.

So those are the three big ones for me. What's your take on it?

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