Building a visual rhythm in a painting often has to do with ease of movement as you layer color and texture. A lot of artists call this different things: intuitive, gestural, or freedom. But it all comes down to shutting the mind off — going on creative autopilot — so that the thinking mind does not interfere with the acting hand. Exploring abstract painting can reward you with major gains in this area because free-flowing movement is what it is all about.
At first painting this way can seem awkward. But that’s the unfamiliarity of it. Explore the layering techniques of four skilled abstract painters whose approaches make clear that abstract painting is a gateway for satisfying artistic expression because it entails working with color, form, and texture — all the things that artists hold dear.
- Work on the floor. Outside or inside — it doesn’t matter, but I have to have enough room to move around the piece.
- Warm up for about an hour with drawing, which helps me loosen up, reach that degree of careless confidence and get in the zone.
- Work on up to five pieces, one at a time, with the one in the middle usually being the best of the bunch.
- Start with a theme and build out radically when abstract painting. For this work I started with a simple figure and then came an explosion of layering abstract shapes and lines.
- I get creative ideas while working, and I explore my creative hunches when they come my way.
- Inspirations: AbEx movement, the color works of Franz Kline.
- Choose a color in an instant. Don’t second guess. Then choose another and another, layering and blending in an intuitive way.
- Use a representational touchstone. My abstracts usually reflect an image that can be seen as a possible landscape.
- Give the work a story. Bring your experiences to what you paint. For this painting, it was about the sense of weather and temperature — early morning and sense of awakening to a new day.
- Let color be the driver.
- Artists and movements I love: Tonalist painters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; William Turner, George Inness, Camille Corot, James McNeill Whistler.
- Paint without a plan. Sometimes the theme finds you.
- Combining materials and letting them guide me is essential. I brought together ink and pastels in this painting. Started with the inks, only using water under it. Let it run by changing the position of the paper. While the ink was wet, I used a wooden stick like a drawing tool and the ink ran into those carved lines, giving a graphic effect. Then I brought in pastels for the negative space.
- All the work doesn’t happen when you are working. I recommend long walks in the woods or along the seashore.
- I don’t trust artificial light when choosing color.
- If you want to get active with your layering, choose a strong surface. I paint in oils on linen with a palette. The linen is strong and takes a lot of scraping and slathering.
- It can’t be. Blending and texturing are a little bit out of control — you learn to observe what happens and let go of what you think you want to happen.
- Inspirations: Hudson River Valley School artists. JMW Turner’s late work. Richard Diebenkorn’s early paintings.