Without a solid plan, without a sketch to paper, I broke out my paintbrushes to experiment with a few different abstract techniques. I am still trying to discover my flavor as an artist in the abstract realm.
Anything can be used to apply paint to a canvas. It can be a blessing that glorifies your painting or some huge mistake that ruins your work. Using unconventional tools isn’t a rule made specific for abstract art; it can be used throughout every style of art and painting.
I didn’t get too crazy this time around, but I did use my hands as the primary tool for most of the following paintings. Utilizing traditional techniques helps create a solid branch to stand on when experimenting with new techniques.
Imagination can be an artist’s greatest weapon, but sometimes your hands don’t always do what your brain tells them to do…
There were a couple of paintings in this group that started out with a different end result in mind. They didn’t look ANYTHING like what I had imagined, but when I started to make mistakes, I kept going, I kept adding, and the results were so much more entertaining than what I had started with. Sometimes, making mistakes is a good thing. Sometimes, when you are trying to execute a solid idea, and it doesn’t come out right, and that is okay! Just paint over the canvas and start from scratch. This happened for me a few weeks ago, when I painted Envy, in the Seven Deadly Sins collection. Sometimes, you just want to keep going to see what will happen. Regardless of what happens, the artist should always keep these things in mind when diving into abstract art: balance, color coordination, and purposeful execution.
I NEED TO ASK A FAVOR FROM ALL OF YOU:Let me know what grabs your attention. Let me know what colors you like/hate, and give suggestions for alternative colors, if you want. Any and all feedback is appreciated, so much! I have a thick skin, so if you hate it, tell me. If you love it, tell me. If you think it is “just alright”, tell me. I don’t take it personal. Art is subjective, anyways.
My sister-in-law, Lizzie, asked me to paint something for her that was “Big!” and “Gold and Black!” and she wanted “Glitter!” In my last collection “The Seven Deadly Sins” there was one painting that many people gravitated toward and that was “Greed”. Lizzie wanted something that looked like “Greed” but without the yellow and white. She just wanted gold…and glitter.
I am not unfamiliar with large painting projects. In 2011, my dear friend, Nes, and I were commissioned to paint the set of “Cabaret”, which was made up of many gargantuan rolling set pieces. They were more like walls on wheels.
It was quite fabulous playing around with perspective and house paints. Nes owns his own photography company, Fragoso Photography, in the San Jose Bay Area. (You should really check out his work! He does head shots, special events, holidays, and even product shots! He is excellent!)
The canvas that Lizzie picked out was the largest one I had on hand, at 40 inches by 60 inches. I prepped it with black gesso.
Here is the finished painting! “Lizzie”. What looks like black paint on the canvas, in the complete composition, is actually very dark purple. Using subtle hints of complimentary colors works very well in this type of artwork. It isn’t something that most people would be able to see, but if I had used flat black and just gold, the painting would have looked like it was missing something.
When looking at this composition straight on, you can’t really see the small speckles of different shades of gold paint. The glitter almost hides the “speckle” effect.
I was a little hesitant to add the glitter. I was afraid that it would take away from the natural speckle effect of the painting, and a part of me still feels that way, but the glitter is a very fun effect. I might try it out with some other pieces in the future.
With speckling comes a mess, and another ruined shirt, but it is welcome! Sometimes artwork can be messy, which is why it should be done outside. The natural light that you get from being outside in the sun (not direct sunlight, but overcast light or in the shade of a tree) really helps with color blending and the color choices that you make. There are light bulbs that you can purchase that help with indoor painting. But, many lights have a yellow tinge, or aren’t strong enough to project enough light throughout the room to reflect the true colors that you are painting with. So, if you are picky about colors, make sure your work space is flooded with enough natural light…or just go outside and enjoy the air!
A week ago, I was convinced that my “Seven Deadly Sins” collection was painted on fairly large canvases that measured 24 inches by 36 inches. They were large, but the canvas that I used for “Lizzie” was HUGE! It really put size into perspective. I found out that I really like painting abstract art on a grand scale. Truly, it makes me want to re-paint the “Seven Deadly Sins” collection on these large canvases so that they engulf the viewer. I’ll think about it…
I am about 5 feet 9 inches tall. Here I am standing next to this monster! And I feel like it should be even bigger!
The only requirement of an abstract artist is to make people feel. An artist might touch a white canvas with shades of misty purple and powder blue to invoke the feeling of calm, or the thought of peace, or emptiness. These critiques are welcome and subjective. At this point, the artist has done his job: their work is “good enough” to absorb into the public eye, so that they may “feel”.
If “White Fox in a Snow Bank” is deemed the title for the same piece then the interpretation changes. The free-floating composition that was once left to graze the mind is placed in the artist’s mental gate. It is a part of the experience that the artist wants to guide you though. There are large debates in the art community in regards to titling works of art, and it is even more relevant in the abstract world. I think that titling artwork has its place. Sometimes, it is less appropriate. But, this decision should be made by the artist and accepted as an element of the art itself.
The artist should title their piece if they do believe that it will “open the eyes” of observers and guide them, so that they may see clearer, and so that they may be able to further melt themselves within the piece. If the artist believes that titling their work will hinder the excitement of feeling what is on the canvas, and if it is not specifically associated with any other relevant outside items, the work should not be titled.
In the case of my first abstract collection, I have decided to reveal the titles. They are a group of actions and feelings and each one is a part of our lives, in one form or another. The planning process was difficult, because researching the theme hit so many emotional nerves. Focusing on the goodness of people can be refreshing. Diving into the worst characteristics of humanity is gruesome, and those laced in what seems to be goodness makes one reevaluate their own nature. Trying to create art that represented and embodied these feelings and actions was a challenging feat.
The only tangible pieces of research that were obtained for my collection were the assignment of colors and the order of their display. At the time of their “creation”, each feeling had an official hue assigned to it. Their order is from least to greatest.
I hope that revealing these titles will enhance your understanding of the collection, and maybe lift the curtain back so that you may be able to see.
A sin that is the perverted love of good things
Lust is extreme yearning. Because it is the only sin that is shared with animals, and it is a sin of the flesh, it is labeled as the least of all sins. It is more often labeled as a sin of perverse sexual desire, but it can be applied as a yearning for almost anything: lust for money, power, food, the latest iPhone, and so on.
It is the movement of lust, and the feeling of lust, in all of its smoothness and sensuality. It can be the silk sheets of two lovers, or the smooth finish of the next unneeded electronic gadget. Lust is the calm movement of desire, or the supple air of breath from a kiss that is wrong “but feels so right”. Sleek, comfortable, and often described as beautiful.
A sin that is the perverted love of good things
Gluttony is overindulgence. It is consumption to the point of waste. Society often pinpoints gluttony as “eating”, but the sin covers so much more ground. Overeating, under eating, and purging, can all be labeled as gluttony. It is hoarding money, wasting material goods or non-material items. And as a whole, putting your desires and your needs above everyone else and their well-being.
It is too much. It is abundance. It is waste. It is no coincidence that most food companies use a combination of yellow and red in their business logos. Most fast food chains use these two primary colors because when they are seen together they trigger hunger on a subconscious level. It is also no coincidence that gluttony’s color is the combination of yellow and red: orange.
A sin that is the perverted love of good things
Greed is a sin that is linked to material possession. People think of money, gold, wealth, and over-indulgence. It is a sin of desire and cupidity. A person can also be greedy in love, feelings, and actions.
In its purest form I saw greed as wealth. It is yellow and gold, it is diamonds. In our society wealth is beautiful. More is better. Greed is the finish line that no one will ever reach. Greed only spends on what it wastes.
Color: Light Blue
A sin that contains no love or is the deficiency of love
Sloth is to be “without care”. It is the ONLY sin that revolves around a LACK of action. It is the absence of interest. Boredom, apathy, slow responsiveness. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
I do think that “Sloth” was the most curious and disconnected from the collection for the people who saw them face-to-face. When displayed side by side, left to right, it is the center of the display. It is also the most blinding with its foggy color, and confusing in its lack of movement. It sits there, doing nothing, as if wandering through a mist. The brush strokes are boring, lacking, lazy.
A sin of unnatural love that is directed toward a person in order to harm them.
Wrath is unbridled feelings of rage, anger, and hatred. It is seeking vengeance. It is the “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite”. Anger, in itself, is not a sin. Anger is a natural feeling, but it becomes a sin of wrath when it is directed toward an innocent person, when it is abnormally strong or enduring, or when it fancies overindulgent “justice”. (punishment).
It is decay, rot, death, and blood. It is unfounded war. It is unjustified death. Wrath is an abundance of spilled anger. It is the slitting of the throat of a lover, and it is the pools of blood in fields that were once green. She yells at him. He hits her.
A sin of unnatural love that is directed toward a person in order to harm them.
Envy is the second worst sin. It is the result of pride, the greatest sin, becoming wounded. Envy makes good things feel bad. It lowers another person’s reputation. It finds joy in another person’s misfortune. It grieves at another person’s prosperity and causes sorrow and hatred. “Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” – Harold Coffin
If you want to know what your greatest desires are, pay attention to who you envy. It calls into question everything that you think you are. It exposes what you value and where your heart is. You experience joy in another’s sorrow, and sorrow in their joy. It is a never ending whirlwind of suffocation and destruction. If you cannot prevail, and become better than the person who you envy, then you try to bring that person down to your level. Envy is the great leveler. It is wanting something you never had.
Color: Violet or all of the colors
A sin of unnatural love that is directed toward a person in order to harm them.
Pride is the father of all sins. It was known as the devil’s most prominent trait and is viewed as the “anti-god” state. All other sin acts out because of pride (which is why purple is used in all of the paintings – what looks like black, in some of them, is purple). It is the abundant admiration for one’s self. It is failing to acknowledge accomplishments of others, and the twisted belief that one is better than others. It is disconnected from people and reality. Pride honors those that the WORLD sees as worthy. It is hungry for attention, respect, and worship. It searches for fault in others.
Pride is deceiving. It is best at hiding beneath good qualities, such as humbleness. It is the donation that you give that flaunts your name so the world may see your generosity. It is the shy individual who is preoccupied with how the world views him, and what he will do when the spotlight is flashed on him. It is the voice inside your head that says “I’m better at that than her”. You don’t even have to speak; it is there. It is self-centered love that sparkles and gleams behind tainted humility. It is all about you.
A collection, like this, starts with notes and sketches. What looks like random spots and lines and colors are planned movement and a combination of elements. There should be cohesiveness in the painting.
Here is some of the aftermath of Wrath. The trees suffered a little with all of my gashing and slashing movements. (It was a lot of fun though.) I might have shared a hand-full of orange paint with the neighbors when I was working on Gluttony, too…woops….
Here they are sitting out to dry, with Greed.
I struggled the most while trying to capture Envy and Pride. I wanted their flow to relate to each other more than between the others. Envy is pride that has been broken. And pride is the root of all evil and all sin. It is fitting that when most people look at Pride, they see the universe. And isn’t that the point? I was very happy with the response to the piece. I felt like I did my job, as an artist.
Envy was the most difficult. It’s okay to make mistakes! How many times was the Mona Lisa re-painted? (too many!) I scrapped the first version of Envy, and painted over it. The flow wasn’t right and the colors were not what I had envisioned, and the texture I wanted was non-existent. When it comes to artwork I rely heavily on instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
I had to sit down and try to revamp what I had wanted. I tried salvaging it, at one point, but it got to be too much. When all else fails, paint over it and start over!
Sometimes you need a little helper to motivate you and keep you going. This is one of my helpers, Ody. (Short for Odysseus).
After all was said and done, I was very happy with the result.
Thank you for joining me on my first journey through abstract art! I hope that you were able to open your eyes a little, like I did, and expand your understanding of the strange and subjective art style. I hope that you pick up a paint brush and try some, yourself! I promise that you will have a lot of fun!
***My first abstract collection is below! “Abstract Art: Part 2” will contain the tutorial and titles for the compositions. Enjoy!***
I FUCKING HATE ABSTRACT ART!
I was never certain when my loathing for the style started. It had always been the primary scent of who I was as an artist: anything but abstract. I do know that my hatred solidified when I was in college and I remember the precise moment in all of its disgusting and jealous glory.
One of my teachers had the class travel to the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in San Francisco. Our assignment was to evaluate our favorite piece of art and our least favorite piece of art. I couldn’t tell you what my favorite piece of art had been, but without taking a millisecond to recall, I could tell you what my least favorite exhibit was.
One would think that the ordinary plaster-white toilet would have taken the prize for first worst place, as he basked in the museum lights, and grinned with pompous arrogance. Fuck that toilet!
I walked into a huge room, and looked to my left, and to my right. The canvases were about five feet wide and eight feet long. Two were spaced the same distance apart from each other on all four walls, and all of them were painted a familiar elementary school crayon color: pumpkin orange, cherry red, cobalt blue, lemon yellow, royal purple, emerald green, fucking black, and fucking white. (The last two aren’t even colors!) I walked around with my mouth dangling. They were PLAIN SOLID COLORS! No texture. No hint of any character, except maybe in their massiveness and hue, or lack of hue…did the artist even PAINT the white canvas?! This artistic experience got so much better, though.
In the center of the room sat a lazy cement block. From the top of that lazy cement block a thick metal rod grew like a flower stem that was on the verge of wilting. A natural sponge, the size of a small watermelon, had been dipped in cobalt blue paint. It was quite apparent that this poor blue sponge had lost all faith in life because he decided that he had no choice but to impale himself on the top of that metal rod. Thus, the art exhibit was complete. Fuck that blue sponge!
Needless to say, the nature of my essay was not uplifting.
My next huge run-in with abstract art punched me in the face two years ago at the Getty in Los Angeles. I walked into a room that hosted one of Jackson Pollock’s famous compositions. It plastered the museum wall and beckoned all living creatures in the general vicinity to come and share in its narcissistic breathing room. My first thought was “it’s so big!” My second thought was “why do people think that this is good? It’s just paint that’s splashed and twirled on a board. Yeah, it’s big. But, why do people like this?!” I wandered through the rest of the museum and left in a rage as Pollock pricked his untalented needle fingers into my brain. FUCK FUCKING POLLOCK!
WHY IS ABSTRACT ART SO GREAT?!
During my journey in “all things art”, I made the decision to explore the abstract world; I tried to figure out what made this sloppy, child-like, finger painting so lovable and mesmerizing to millions of people. There had to be something that I was missing. As I absorbed the characteristics and commonalities that the most famous abstract pieces were composed of, my respect for abstract painting started to take shape. When I started to paint, I understood and appreciated the style.
So, what made good abstract art?
Well, “anything goes” in art. Art is subjective, on all levels. Just because one person likes one style of art doesn’t mean that the next person will feel the same about that style. But, what is consistent across the board, for all good art, is the presence of technique. It is the purposeful application of texture, balance, layers, color compatibility, and the formation of emotion. These categories are all present in good abstract art. What looks like paint splattered on a canvas is coherent. Every stroke and detail should be intentional in its thought. With that being said, famous art isn’t always good art. There are many famous singers who cannot sing well, but they are marketable. Marketability and talent aren’t one in the same.
What looked like blobs of paint colors on a canvas, in Pollock’s painting, were actually layers of compatible colors. They were applied with different tools, in different paint weights. They ended up creating a mishmash of artistic patterns that were executed by the trained, seasoned, and unique movement of Pollock’s arm and body. No artist can replicate another artist’s work without fault, because so much of the character of an artist’s composition comes from unique body movements. No two people move in the same way.
When I look at Pollock’s work, now, I can see the glory behind the artist. He was talented and created with purpose. I can see which colors he started with, what weights the paints were, what kind of tool or surface he might have used to create that kind of stroke with that specific paint color, and in what way he moved his arm based on the splash angles and how the medium hit the canvas. What I didn’t know, until a few weeks ago, was that most people don’t know how to dissect a piece of artwork and analyze the details. But, that didn’t matter. Breaking down the technicalities of a composition was a great skill to have, but I was missing the whole point of abstract art: subjective emotion.
I decided to whip up a collection of seven abstract paintings. Painting a landscape or cartoon characters that formed a story was talented in one way. Painting subjective emotion, was talented in another way.
The following collection of paintings is displayed in order. I would like to invite you to analyze and try to figure out what they are. In my next article, Abstract Art: Part Two, I will reveal the titles for the pieces, as well as the intense planning process that was built up behind their execution. There is so much more to abstract art than meets the eye and I would like to challenge all of the critical purists to explore the medium in the same way that I did. Doing so might end up killing the pride that has clogged your arteries due to your fattening arrogance. And you might have a little fun in the process.
‘Til next time!
24″ x 36″ Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas – July 2016
Titles of pieces and collection to be revealed in “Abstract Art: Part 2”
The most tremendous obstacle that an artist may have to overcome, in order to start any project, is fear. The fear of your own perfection and your own expectations, the fear of other people’s expectations, the fear of failing, the fear of success and the trail that you must create to withstand the journey, the fear of not completing anything and the simultaneous fear of completing something so that people may critique you and everything that you are. An artist’s fears can be the endless fog that hides them from the world and buries their creativity in the catacombs of their mind.
The last time I touched a paint brush to a canvas was fourteen years ago. The last time I finished a personal art project was when I graduated from college nine years ago, and most of my portfolio was dictated by classroom requirements. I knew my capabilities and I knew my weaknesses and strengths in art, but the last time I gave myself the chance to create anything for myself was in high school.
The enemy that I had learned to kill, and would continue to kill, day after day was my pre-perfectionism. It made up the stitches that held my procrastination together. Instead of diving into a project, I would busy myself by making plans for the next project; I would sketch out an abundance of nonsense while brainstorming, I would try to pinpoint the perfect medium for the perfect project, and calculate the perfect size canvas. I would fail to see any of my brainstorming make it to a canvas. There was always something else to do and something else to finalize before creating the final piece. There was fear that my own standard would not live up to my expectations; it turned into a vicious circle of doubt that looked like a snake eating its own tail.
Two years ago, I started to write the first draft of a children’s picture book. I wanted to find a way to promote my artwork and maybe dive into writing. I got stuck in the swamp of the writing process, and I am still stuck. Instead of waiting for a “good enough” draft to round itself out, I decided to sketch out the world where my story took place. I had a lot more experience in art than I did in writing. I only began writing when I was about nine and I have just dabbled in it from time to time. It made sense to start in a place that was familiar to me.
I started watching Bob Ross on Netflix, a few weeks ago. He was mesmerizing and it was helpful to absorb his laid-back mindset when it came to painting. Landscapes were a great place to start because, unlike painting people or animals, the artist could make up things as they went and “happy accidents” could easily turn into the most surprising details of a painting. Nothing had to be planned out and nothing had to be perfect. Three days later, I retreated to my room to paint, and everything went wrong.
The wet-on-wet painting technique that Mr. Ross used was a medium founded in oil paint and not the acrylic paint that I sprawled on my canvas. At first, my sunset had been dancing around with its bright colors and buttery yellow had started blending into creamsicle orange and blushing rose. After five minutes, the paint and retardant that I had prepped on the canvas, had started to dry, and my pink haze turned into a streak-infested, blood-soaked, disgusting mess that looked like a massacre.
It was around that moment that my mom hollered at me from the bottom of the stairs and said “Are you painting, Erika?! Can I see what you are doing?!”
Horror, dread, doubt, and fear took over every millimeter of my face and body. I took a deep breath, “Uhhh. Not right now! I’ll show you in a little bit.” Happy accidents, happy accidents, happy accidents…
I stepped back and took it all in. “The Massacre”. I was going to fix it. I threw blue and white onto the canvas to see if the sky was even salvageable. Everything happens for a reason. In hindsight, a sunset in the sky would have been too overbearing above the colors of the bright flowers that had scattered themselves along the grass and the hills.
Two hours later, the flowers bloomed on the canvas. A little beehive from my would-be-children’s-book made a home on an unassuming tree branch, next to a little stream.
This was my first acrylic painting, so I had to give myself credit for that. After two and a half hours, I had created a landscape that I was proud of. After a fourteen year absence from painting on canvas, this was the result. It didn’t have to be perfect. I had fun. And the most important thing was that I was happy with it. Onward!