Identifying Abstract Shapes

Abstract shapes are the large, basic shapes that provide the building blocks for virtually any painting in any style. For example, in Still Life with Three Pears the primary abstract shapes include the basic masses of the pears and the long, thin rectangle that forms the front edge of the table top. In fact, at its essence, composition is simply the art of arranging abstract shapes in a manner that’s pleasing to the eye.

The process of composing with abstract shapes is much like assembling a jig-saw puzzle. To make the pieces fit, you must first pay attention to the main shapes. Only after you can clearly see these shapes do you turn your attention to the image on the shape. You can see this in the demonstration sequence presented here, where I transformed the basic shapes of the pears and shelf first into a composition, then into a finished piece.

Step 1: Gathering the Masses

I started by reducing all of the elements—in this case, three pears, the edge of the shelf and the rectangle that surrounds them—into basic abstract shapes, or masses.

Step 2: Organizing the Elements

I used shapes cut from construction paper to arrange the key abstract shapes within the rectangle. The placement of the shelf divides the rectangle into three unequal—but interesting—abstract shapes. Notice how the position of the pears creates a pleasing balance of positive shapes (the pears) and negative shapes (the background).

Step 3: Ripe for Details
With my abstract shapes firmly in place, I finished Still Life With Three Pears (oil, 7×11) by fleshing out the fruit with values, color and textures. In particular, notice how I used color and value to give the pears a feeling of volume.

Patrick Seslar is a long-time contributing editor for The Artist’s Magazine.

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