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Pastellus: Abstract Origins

I continue to stand at my easel and create the same type of landscapes I have been creating. I don’t seem to be improving or evolving. So I set out to read what other artists do to create fresh works of art; hoping for inspiration, guidance and support to stay the course as an artist. What I found was abstract art. Karen Margulis talks often about the importance of doing a value study before you paint in “A Tip for More Painterly Paintings”. Mary Bentz Wilkerson talks about simplifying value and shape in her article, “Five Common Composition and Design Problems”. Liz Haywood-Sullivan talks in-depth about value and composition in her You Tube video, “Preview these Composition Tips for Successful Paintings”. Plein Air painters talk about simplifying shape and finding the correct values of the landscape before them. I could go on and on, but a simple online search will lead you to all this great information and more. After hours of reading articles and watching videos, I understand that in order to improve, artists need to learn to abstract. Artists need to separate subject from color and emotion and separate shape from detail. They need to simplify the subject into its basic elements. Artists need to plan their paintings from the initial view of the subject to the final selection of the pastel palette. Although much of what the artist does is instinct, planning thorough value studies and simplifying shapes helps train the eyes and brain to see the abstract. The goal is to see the subject abstractly before we even begin to take reference photos. Not being an abstract artist, I had been taught in art school that you need to have intimate knowledge of your subject before you can truly begin to abstract it. This information was a revelation to me. It was as though the fog had lifted along with a small shift of direction, and a sense that I could be on course for creating successful paintings. I looked up the definition of abstract just to make sure I really understood the concept. All of the definitions spoke to the idea of separating and extracting basic information, especially when used as a verb…..'to consider separately or to extract or remove something'. As a practice, if we abstract the values and the shapes from the subject we plan to paint before we begin, then we start to see the world differently. We begin to see the world abstractly and can move from separating and extracting to conceptualizing and re-conceptualizing. It is really very magnificent! I am very excited by this revelation and excited to see if it can help me through the painting plateau I have reached. Do any of you abstract before you paint? Do you do value and composition studies? Do you simplify shapes and colors? Does the planning and pre-work help your paintings be more successful? I would love to hear if my revelation is “old news” to everybody except me. I also question why I didn’t learn this is art school.

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