Backing into Abstraction

posted in: Blog, Classes, Composition, Painting | 2

Abstract: to remove, simplify, reduce, or extract something or, to consider a concept as in a nonphysical reality. Abstract: to reduce to an essence, to seek the quintessential aspect of something, to find a particular aspect of something as separate from a generalized experience, to reduce to information into patterns.

With these thoughts I turn you attention to the painting process of abstraction. I begin with three examples of questing for an abstracted identity using three different landscapes. Let’s begin with the painting as they appear in their current state and then, walk backwards down the trail to see how these works arrived in their present state.

All three works are 24×24 inches (61×61 cm) on enameled laminated aluminum composite. First is “Vital Signs”, Second is “Tidewater Maze” and the third is “Melting into Blue”

Example 1. “ Vital Signs” oil on laminated aluminum.

Example 2. “Tidewater Maze” oil on brushed silver laminated aluminum.

Example 3. “Melting into Blue”, oil on laminated aluminum.

Example one began with me wandering as a volunteer trail steward through “Stonebridge” an Aspetuck Land Trust property.  I take thousands of photos. I come to computer and start recomposing a few of the shots and layering them with other shots.  In recomposing I stick with one foundation shot and layer others over it, reverse it, clone in and out other parts of it, recolor it and more. Here are three examples of how that worked in preparation for “Vital Signs”. In each of these photos you should be able to detect the common denominating image.

Example 4. “Vital Signs” image one,

Example 5. “Vital Signs” image two,

Example 6. “Vital Signs” image three,

I approached the re-composition of “Tidewater Maze” differently. I spend time hiking through nearby coastal wetlands.  I take photos. I come home and distill imagery through sketches.  Varieties of designs are tested, different horizons are tested but, these sketches and test all rely on one simple compositional shape. In this case the shape was a foreshortened “S” or serpentine. To show the evolution of the expanding watery foreground I will first show you an earlier version and then again show you the current version (examples 7 and 8).

Example 7. The earlier version of “Tidewater Maze”,

Example 8. The current version of “Tidewater Maze,

In my third example “Melting into Blue” I have reached for more ambiguity and a stronger suggestion of the metaphysical.  Here I began by overpainting a previous work (example 9) and then using a small vernal pool as my overlaying idea. I excised areas of the overpainting to reveal components of the underpainting.  The image became a hybrid.  Next, I tried several different horizons. I am showing you one of those earlier alternatives here (example 10) which is followed again by “Melting into Blue” (example 11) in its current state

Example 9. The work which would be over-painted and serve as the substrate for “Melting Into Blue”.

Example 10. One of the earlier versions of “Melting into Blue”,

Example 11, Current state of “Melting into Blue”,

I invite you to join me for online classes upcoming in February (next week). I offer demonstrations, talks on composition, color, brushwork and art history and, if you desire I offer personal critiques of your work using digital drawing tools. You can register at on this website.

2 Responses

  1. chris tugeau

    thanks David! fun to see process ….wish i could sign up but leaving for FL in midst. might try an APRIL SESSION IF HAVING ONE AM USING WATER MIXABLE COBRA OILS NEWLY! first time with oils in 35+ years! loving them!

  2. Betty George

    I have only just discovered your work – and it is what I have been looking for for some time. I want to learn how to convert realism to abstract and in particular landscape and seascapes.

    I admire your work and your way of teaching hugely. I would like to practice some of your teachings in order to be fit to sign up for your courses.

    May I please ask you meanwhile what type of paper is it you are demonstrating oil painting on and how is it prepared? I do of course understand if one has to sign up first for this information, however, I remain hopeful.

    I am a keen amateur and I am based in England. I am not classically trained or painting to sell. I have attended a number of art courses. But for the last three years have had a desire for abstract skills, and yours is the first to answer what I need to know. I love your work and your way of working. Thank you for sharing so much free information with us. Kindest regards. Betty George

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