John Salminen: Blurring the Lines

Battery Park (watercolor, 25×35)

My art career began with painting in an abstract style. I did this happily and successfully for many years, but I?d always been an admirer of
Lake and Wells III (mixed media, 11×15)

realistic paintings as well, and I suspected that the difference between the two wasn?t as great as many artists assumed. Then, in the 1980s, I began to add realistic works to my portfolio and discovered how well they worked together.

Broadway Flea Market (watercolor, 25×35)

To bridge the gap between the styles, I focus my attention on the fundamental artistic principles that make any painting successful. It may sound simple, but the only real difference between my representational and abstract work is that one contains recognizable subject matter and the other doesn?t. For realistic paintings I shoot photographs on location that represent different compositional choices, paying careful attention to strong design. The concept of staging is very important, and the scenes I like are filled with interesting detail. But once I start painting, I?m constantly altering the placement of objects, values, colors and shapes to strengthen the design.

Monterey (watercolor, 22×30)

My process for creating an abstract painting is similar, but with thumbnail sketches as the source. Often these quick sketches are inspired by actual scenes, and I design them through the placement of values and a center of interest. While an abstraction lacks a recognizable subject, the organization is just as important as it is in realistic paintings, and I stage it in the same manner, although the painting process is much more improvisational and open to surprises. In the end, however, whether I paint an abstract or a realistic piece the strength of the design is crucial to the power of the painting, and I?ll know I?ve been successful if the excitement I feel during its creation is transmitted to the viewer.

Catherine Anderson is a signature member of the National Watercolor Society, Watercolor West and the Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Society. Visit her Web site at

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