Abstract Art | 3 Watercolor Artists’ Approaches to Abstract Painting

In the August 2012 issue of Watercolor Artist, five artists show you how they paint, pour, stencil, lift, spray and otherwise build complex layers of texture and meaning in their abstract watercolor paintings. Here, three more share their favorite tips and techniques for creating abstract art.

Jane E. Jones

Full Bloom (watercolor on paper, 22x30)

Prepping the Surface: In this piece, I combined an image of poppies with an abstract background. First, I drew the poppies with an extra-fine Sharpie pen then added the abstract image on top with a 2B pencil. Next, I wet both sides of the paper with a natural sponge and laid it on a smooth Formica board (also called tile board), flattening out any bubbles in the surface. I left the paper untouched until the shine was off, then I used a tissue to absorb the water from the edges so 1 wouldn’t get bleed-backs.

Applying an Underpainting: Using a 2-inch natural-hair flat, I applied the paint loosely using analogous colors of yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, red and red-violet, as well as the complement of the middle color, which is blue-green. I also used a discord on either side of the complement, skipping blue and green and using yellow-green and blue-violet. For the underpainting, I made sure not to go over a No. 3 value.

Establishing Forms: While the paper was still wet, I found the abstract shapes by painting around the forms that were losing their edges. Using the dominant red-orange color, I painted areas of the main flower, but completely covered the buds and middle-ground flower to bring the large flower forward. 1 pushed the background back by graying it with blue-green.

Creating Dominance: I began integrating the background colors into the flowers, careful to leave lights in the main flower and keep the center of interest very dark against the lights. I separated each shape, abstract vs. real, with gradations of value and color. Using only pure hues, I worked wet-into-wet, layering each color; I never mixed colors on my palette. In the end, I wanted the realistic image to be dominant, and the abstract subordinate.

Carole Kauber

Emerge I (mixed media on Arches 140-lb. watercolor paper, 32x18)

This painting was inspired by my recent trip to Morocco. I based the imagery on some of the photographs I took while vacationing. In this painting I worked with a variety of watercolor media: Dr. Ph. Martin’s hydrus watercolor and drawing inks, Winsor & Newton watercolors, Robert Doak’s fluid watercolors and Golden fluid acrylics.

In the beginning, I floated watercolors over a thin layer of water that defined a specific geometric shape. I then placed a geometric piece of wax paper over that colorful wet shape. The wax paper, if kept smooth, helps to define a geometric shape while adding hints of textural effects. Once that area was dry, I added new shapes and colors. Other applications of color were allowed to merge with existing shapes and forms. Spattering paint to several areas created an earthy textural effect. What emerged were unexpected colors and forms.

To me, the

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exciting aspect of painting is the experimentation. It leads me into the unknown and forces me into new territories. Once the forms have been sufficiently resolved and the desired landscape images take shape, I refer back to the photograph to add details that add to the overall image.

Marie Renfro

My Blue Haven (acrylic and collage on Arches 300-lb. cold-pressed paper, 30x22)

To begin this painting, I generously wet the paper with a large brush, Robert Simmons Big Daddy, and then began to apply color starting at the top right corner of the paper. I did some washes of pale yellow using Golden fluid acrylics Hansa Yellow Light, and had decided on a cool color scheme, so I introduced some pale Ultramarine Blue and some pale washes of Phthalo Turquoise. I also laid in some small areas of Raw Sienna and Naphthol Red, as well as Alizarin Crimson.

After these colors were dry, I glued on some collage paper that I colored with acrylic colors in the same color family as the underpainting. I used a Japanese fiber paper called sekishu, which I purchase in white and then color with leftover paint in my palette. I also glued on some textured rice papers, as well as a few strips of marbleized bookmaking paper.

My composition was to be a shapes-within-shapes format, a framed-in rectangle with dark edges around the outside and the center of focus in the lower left, leading to a secondary point in the top right. I always try to design a pattern with my light values as well as my dark values that will carry the viewer’s eye into and around the painting.

After the collage papers were dry, I began to glaze with the colors that I had started the painting with, but used a weaker strength in some places and a richer strength in others. I like to “gray-down” a painting if it is too raw and increase the intensity if it is too dull. For the glazing, I use a Robert Simmons Skyflow or Goliath brush.

As a final step, I painted negatively (or behind) some of the areas to define foliage or tree shapes. For some of the areas I used gesso mixed with a tiny bit of yellow to warm the white. In other areas I painted with pure Ultramarine Blue or mixtures of Alizarin and blue for a deep purple-blue. My goal was to have several different values of blue, green, and deep blue-purple to contrast the small amounts of red and light warm green.

Get more watercolor artists’ tips and techniques for painting abstracts in the August 2012 issue of Watercolor Artist.  And for continued watercolor art instruction, inspiration and creative painting ideas, subscribe now!

Also, be sure to check out Journeys to Abstraction, from which this material was excerpted.


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Category: Abstract

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