Jane Appleby answers questions from her students:
Q: What are some of the points to remember in Expressive/Abstract Painting?
A: Ten tips to a better abstraction:
1. Looking at different parts of your painting thru a view finder can help you see where there may be areas for improvement. Turning it upside down and looking thorough a mirror also helps discover areas that just don’t fit. Remove or cover areas over that draw too much attention unless that is what you want. You my cover with opaque paint, layer a colour over to push it back, smooth-out the lines, break up the lines or add something to the area to make it more harmonious. Wipe if wet, cover if dry.
2. You only need 4 or 5 colours to make any colour you need: Red, Light Blue, Light Yellow and a dark like Black or Burnt Umber. Simplified palettes unite colours easier.
3. A touch of yellow to white makes the white object brighter and warmer and is a good highlight. It covers well if it has enough white and pigment.
4. Blues & greens can be warm, yellows and reds can be cool: The closer they are to orange/red the warmer they are. Ultra Marine Blue is actually warmer than Cyan Blue and can be used in the foreground as warms tend to look like they come forward.
5. Don’t use straight black for shadows (or anything) except when it needs that depth of black, Straight black can look like “holes” in the picture so use it sparingly.
6. You need to balance colours and values. Some colours have more “weight” like strong pure ones and in Values the darkest darks and lightest lights matter the most as they draw your eye. To balance them is not to overdo any of them keeping in mind to avoid too much symmetry. It becomes an intuitive thing. Sometimes less is more. Coloured backgrounds are more dynamic. Yellows come forward, reds sit in the middle and blues recede to the back generally.
7. Your painting should have “pulls and stops” to keep it interesting and give the viewer some direction. Pulls are components that pull you in and stops keep you in. They can be small shapes that draw your eye, a colour surprise, a contrast, a line, an unusual accent with colour or value and all of these things will direct the viewer through your painting. Any element plays an important part as it can pull you along or out of the picture. Try to have the viewer stay and have an area of rest (grey mid tones or white or black backgrounds or solid areas for example)
8. Repeated shapes give flow to your painting. Vary your repeated shapes for interest and keep them in odd numbers. The space around them are just as important (the negative space).
9. Squinting helps to generalize shapes so you aren’t tempted to “copy” exactly. Opening your eyes brings more light in and colour is more evident. Look for subtleties in the value changes in one shape. Shapes can be exaggerated or simplified, skew, and repeated (with variations in size, shape and direction).
10. Traditional art rules are useful to work with, but not necessary to adhere. You may employ design elements to make your statement if you are in fact making one. Abstraction often dictates itself as you paint so a typical methodology is not foremost. Perhaps your painting is for pure pleasure and I do not know the school that wrote the rules for that one :).A diagram to explain the spectrum of abstraction in a painting.
[Photo Realism<———————————-idea———————————————→Abstract ] x Creativity + Technique = Painting
Artists examples: Robert Bateman, Rembrant, Titan, Salvador Dali, Henri Mattiese, Vincent Van Gogh, Edward Munch, Andy Warhol, John Singer Sargen, Richard Diebenkorn, Jack Shadbolt, Gordon Smith, BC Binning, etc
Examples of art forms: Illustration, Renaissance Art (often based on math models such as fibonacci formula), Medieval Art, Cave art, Surrealism, Fauvism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Pop Art, Contemporary and Modern Art (including all types of materials that now is not generally referred to as fine art but applied)…etc There are many modern forms of abstaction and all of these can be put somewhere within the continuum into abstraction.
The movements in art did not necessarily move towards abstraction as cave art was already quite abstract.
As a final point I presume that abstraction is more interested in emotion than rendering a particular finite object which however also involves abstraction of details. Its all abstract to me.
Q: How do you add depth to a painting?
A: Put several layers subsecquently over each other after they dry for the dark areas and highlights in the foreground.
Q: What is a Glaze?
A: A Glaze is thin wet application of paint over a dry surface. Acrylic paint mixed with transparent medium and a bit of water makes a transparent glaze. Layering with glazes adds depth to areas. The less paint pigment the more transparent the glaze.
Depth can be attained by layering colours over dry ones. Appling a layer of a colour’s complimentary colour over it subdues it and causes it to visually recede (purple over yeloow, blue over orange, red over green, etc.). Layering with glazes increases the colours value. All the primaries layered in subsequent layers after drying will get rich deep dark tones. Glazing with purple, black or pthalo blue also will push areas back and make them dark. Mixing lighter grey tones for the distance of a landscape works well. Deep darks (Umber + Ultramarine Blue) are good for shading of up close objects and thus are areas of dark that add depth.
To bring things into the foreground I use pure and warm colours and highlights. Orange is the warmest, yellow next, green then blue then purple. Opposite colours side by side also help with depth. Highlights are made with pure white and the desired colour. The warmest highlight is Titanium White mixed with Cadmium Orange with a bit of Cadmium Yellow. This mixture is the brightest highlight I find and should be used sparingly.
Q: What primary colours do you use?
A: I use light yellow, pink toned red, light blue, mixed with black and/or white.
I can mix all the colours with these but some pigments mix better than others and they vary in strength.
Favourite Acrylic Paints: Hansa Yellow light, Quinacridone Magenta, Phthalo Blue (green shade), Ultramarine Blue and Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Orange, Quinacridone gold and Umber for darks.
Q: How do you determine your painting is done?
A: Intuition and The Three C’s
I look for 3 C’s as a starting point. These are Contrast, Colour and Composition within the painting and I ask myself questions about these within the piece.
Do I have at least three value tones? Where is my main highlights and what are they presenting. Are the darks in strategic places to bring about the best contrast where it is important and are there varying degrees of contrast that flow with in the work? The value contrast is the first major impact and if I squint does anything catch my eye that doesn’t seem right? If it seems to draw too much attention then I try to either decrease the contrast or increase it elsewhere. Placing a white mat with a black sub mat helps to look at contrast.
Did I use colours that are pleasing or setting a certain mood? How do the colours interact and are there soft blended areas that help transition through the piece? Colour contrasts are effective visual components – did I place them where I want that impact. Do adjacent colours enhance each other or make reverberations. Do the same colour tones bring your eye through the entire painting in a certain harmony or are they placed to keep you in a certain area longer (like in the focal point). Are warm colours bringing shapes forward and cool making them appear to recede? Do I have a small colour surprise as well as some areas of less intensity for rest. Have I used my whole palette including the three primaries that I decided to work with for that piece? Is there any colour that I feel is missing?
What did I intend to compose: a picture of something or impression of something within?
I sit with the painting in my living space where I walk by casually and notice things that may need change. For instance is the subject off centre for a more pleasing affect or if it is central what impact is it giving? Where are the contrasts and what are the harmonious components? What is the primary theme of shapes or repetitions that are presented and are they varied enough in size and shape and have colours that support or excite. What does this piece “say” to me or how does it make me feel? Is there a linear, diagonal or circular theme and a counter theme or point? Is there an area of impact that is interesting or entertaining visually with brush strokes, detail, interesting shapes or colour expression? Is my eye led through the whole painting and does it imply the subject to some degree while leaving something for the viewer to interpret or be involved in? Do I get stuck anywhere? Where are the areas of high contrast vs. low contrast, warm colours vs. cool colours? Do any areas cause me to leave the painting and what brings me back into it? Lastly if there is not anything that I find disruptive in some way I say to myself it could be finished. And leave it for another day if I am not sure. I place it in a high traffic area so I can view it spontaneously and often.
It takes some time to ponder all the elements in the painting and most of the time not all of them matter. I make mental notes and if there are obvious distractions in the piece I may choose to eliminate them. However adding a new colour is risky as the weight of the piece will sway. If it seems to work with minor “imperfections” I may leave it. To me its like a person. We all have flaws but on the whole we’re pretty good to look at. Usually I resist changing too much in case I over do it. Most of the time the painting left in its initial expression with a few adjustments is what works best.