Abstracted From Nature: An Acrylic Painting Demonstration

Every year during my hometown’s Labor Day parade, you can find me on the lawn of my parents’ house with my family, catching candy from the locals on floats, holding our ears when the fire trucks pass, and “awwwwing” as the finale–a handful of beautiful horses with braided manes and proud riders–clops its way down the street. I have dozens of photos from these parades, and the only thing that seems to change is the gradual aging of my children.

One year I brought my sketchbook to see if I could draw what I felt during the parade. I aimed for capturing the nostalgia of watching it from behind my children as they sat closer to the street than they’re normally allowed, and for the unique perspective of the bending street and the arrival of the horses.

I failed. It was a horrible drawing. But–I still have that sketch, and more importantly, that memory. Tesia Blackburn, author of Acrylic Painting With Passion, speaks to the difficulty of portraying reality, and the idea of playing with abstraction to convey your message. Read below to see what she has to say about this. (I’ve also included a step-by-step from her book to help you get started). I’m going to take note of this for the next parade and see if I can come up with something a little more accurate–not in the sense of realism, but in the sense of expressing myself. That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it?

Warm regards,

Abstracted From Nature by Tesia Blackburn

Reality is interpreted by the artist and sometimes copied so closely that it resembles a photograph as in photorealist painting. Oftentimes artists don’t attempt to paint reality because they’re afraid of failing. After all, it takes a fairly high level of skill to draw or paint a beautiful still life or portrait. But what if you want to express your feelings or interpretation of a beautiful still life or flower arrangement? Do you have to wait until you have all the necessary skills to re-create it exactly? I don’t think so. I’d like to offer you the option of using abstraction as a way to express what you see around you.

You may have profound feelings about your rose garden or your child’s baby shoes. How can you express that without painting an exact re-creation? You can abstract from them to create a painting that expresses how you feel about the roses or any other subject.

What You Need
Setup time: 10 minutes Painting time: 20–60 minutes • pencil (to create viewfinder) • ruler (to create viewfinder) • canvas, bristol board or heavyweight watercolor paper • assorted brushes, including one round brush • palette • Golden Fluid Acylics, your choice • paper towels • craft knife

The end result of this exploration is an abstracted version of a succulent from my garden, and it captures the bright sunny afternoons I spend in the garden at my studio.

how to make abstract art

1. This is a photograph I took in the garden at my studio. I love the succulents we have in the garden. Nature offers us patterns and shapes that make great abstracts. First we have to simplify the photograph so we don’t get caught up in too much detail.

how to make abstract art

2. Here I’ve cropped in on the photograph using a viewfinder to maximize the shapes and patterns, deleting much of the complexity. I’m keen on using rhythm and repetition as my main design principles here.

The Rule of Thirds
Many books have been written on the rules of composition, but the main rule used here to crop in on this photograph is the Rule of Thirds. Simply put, you divide your canvas into three equal parts–both vertically and horizontally. The spots where those lines intersect are called the “sweet spots.” Putting the main focus on one of those spots and adding secondary points of interest on other sweet spots will give your painting a sense of balance and harmony.

how to make abstract art

3. Roughly block in the biggest shapes in the photograph, leaving out almost all the detail. Remember we’re going for an abstracted version of the photograph, not a rendering of fine detail. Look for repeated shapes and patterns and hone in on those. You’ll also need a little contrast. I used the rounded shapes of the succulent and repeated that with some variation. Then bring in some contrast to all of the initial shapes. I used the green square vase for a contrast with the round shapes. Using just two colors (I used quinacridone magenta and green gold), scrub thin fluid paint into the canvas, letting plenty of white canvas show through.

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4. Lay down a couple more layers of very thin paint, letting the underpainting show through and deleting unnecessary details. Here I added a tiny bit of titan buff to create muted tints that help to vary the value of the leaves.

how to make abstract art

5. Continue to build up thin layers of paint, scrubbing the paint into the canvas.

how to make abstract art

Finally, the square green vase was brought back but in line only, and I added a black line for contrast in the leaves. You’ll notice that the edge of the vase lands squarely on one of the sweet spots horizontally and that the top of the lower left-hand leaf rests right on the horizontal line of the bottom one-third. ~Tesia Blackburn

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