Creating abstractions

by pamneely on November 20, 2010

Nobody can create anything visual like a picture without prior visual experience. You cannot get something from nothing. Something visual must start you off. And it follows that it must come from nature. However imaginative our ideas are, they must have visual expression if we wish to paint them and so it is to nature that we must apply for the colors and forms we shall need.

It still boils down to the fact that we have to rely on nature for either our inspiration or for the means of expressing our ideas. All we need to remember is that as we cannot dominate nature and as nature does not wish to dominate us, we are free to use her as and when we wish. We are not her slaves and neither is she ours. There is so much more to art than a wish merely to record nature. You cannot do it so why try, and if this is remembered when you look at pictures, you will gain more pleasure and understanding.


What are the qualities we can use in the study of nature and how can we use them? This is the crux of the whole problem.

Nature consists, visually, of movement, weight, mass, solidity, light, color, texture, pattern and space. We have a rectangular canvas, a few brushes and some colors. The first thing is to consider our canvas: the rectangle.

A painter’s world consists of a rectangle. Everything he does must conform and relate to it. Nature, on the other hand, has no such restrictions placed upon her. Consequently she can be more free, less restricted and much more able to do things a painter cannot do. A painter, therefore, is forced to select those shapes and those tones that will best express his idea or vision. It would seem that because he has so great a choice that this selection might be difficult. It need not be once you have accepted the problem in its entirety. You will then see that to express an idea to the best advantage a simple approach will be more successful than a complicated one.

For instance, movement can be expressed by the use of
flowing lines and shapes across the canvas (Fig. 33), by how you direct the eyes across your shapes. Weight, solidity and mass can be stressed by simplifying the shapes and eliminating detail or by accentuating the planes round a form (Fig. 34).

Space can be expressed by perspective, by color and by relating large shapes to smaller ones (Fig. 35). Color can be controlled in such a way that with the use of few, carefully selected colors, they will give a more splendid effect than all the colors on your palette.

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