Abstract painting and Abstraction

Swithland Woods by Vivien Blackburn. Watercolour and mixed media
approx 12 ins sq

Tina Mammoser has written a really good blog post today on abstraction at http://tina-m.blogspot.com/ - do go and read it. It gives a good insight into the way she thinks and the preparatory sketching that goes into her lovely abstracts of the English coast.

I like working on the edge between abstract and representational, sometimes slipping into total abstraction and sometimes working more representationally. The work evolves from observation and sketches, which are essential to me to understand the subject matter, the colours, form, composition I want to work with, perspective and tone.

Sketching plein air in the local woods led to the first painting shown here - a watercolour/mixed media done from memories of different days working there over a long time.

Sometimes I find I work best this way - lots of studies done over time but then putting them away and relying on visual memory. Degas believed in this approach. He talked of an art academy on (I think) 6 floors with the model on the top floor. New students would work from the model on the top floor but as they gained in experience they would move down a floor - running up to look at the model and then back down the stairs to draw on their paper/canvas. Experienced students would have the 6 flights of stairs to climb each time. He said that only essential elements would be retained and the unessential filtered out. In effect, abstracting.

Of Flowers, pastel /watercoloour painting by Vivien Blackburn

approx 12 ins sq

Of Flowers is a watercolour and pastel (Unison pastels) painting done after I'd done a series of studies of pansies and irises and contains elements of both without being a direct painting of either.

oil on canvas approx 54 ins square. Vivien Blackburn

The last one is a large oil on canvas that evolved from some small sketches done sitting on the banks or the river Dordogne in France. I sat under the shade of some trees and the water surface was a complex ever changing mix of light reflecting off the water, reflections of the trees, wave and current creating patterns and ripples and the weeds and rocks partially seen through the water. I didn't want a representational 'frozen moment' but to create the confusion of elements and movement as it was when I was sitting there watching.

I'm tied up with visiting family and friends at the moment so though I'm thinking and planning the next paintings, there isn't any serious painting happening . It has been a very grim grey dark day today and I find that the light is really important to me - I hate painting in gloomy light like this and don't like working under artificial light. I think I need to work out a lighting solution.

Christmas was lovely with visits to both daughters - lots of mileage, some in freezing fog which wasn't fun! and young Sam's first Christmas :) ...... but back on track soon.

I hope you all had a great Christmas.


I love the Swiftland Woods - quite beautiful. Thanks for the tip to the Cycling Artist site and for your perspective on abstraction, abstract and Degas. It's great to see how differnt artists arrive at a finished piece — so many different traditions and approaches but drawing is definitely fundamental and key. Best wishes for the new year.
Oh I do so love your colours. If I am lucky enough to create colours like this - it is usually be accident rather than design.
Been busy with family too - making the most of it.
Hoping to get back to creating now - but as you say - the grey days don't help.
sharon young said…
Hi Vivien
As usual you've given me plenty to think about. I just love 'Of Flowers' it's so vibrant! Pastels are my favourite media, as it was where I stated my drawing tuition. I also love the way Degas uses them , but didn't know about the 6 floors in the academy, no wonder his work has such an immediacy and he dispenses with all but the essential details. A part of me would love to work like this but another, stronger side has a love for containment and detail, and it's this side that wins most of the time!
I too am caught up with family commitments at the moment and am dying to get back to something creative.
I shall go and look at Tina's blog while I'm thinking
vivien said…
thanks Suzanne, Shirley Anne and Sharon - all S'sss!

I love pastels but find them a nightmare to frame and to keep the mat clean :(

the academy was a theoretical one, he never actually set one up but believed that was how visual memory could be developed and how non essential elements could be filtered out. I do find that when I've sketched something often enough to have imformation imprinted in my memory that the non essential elements disappear :)
Lindsay said…
Your post is a great compliment to Tina's. Thanks for sharing your ideas and beautiful work.
Sue Smith said…
when matting your pastels, ask your framer to use a reverse bevel on the mat, and spacers (lifting the mat up off the artwork by the "space" of a thin piece of foamcore) when the small bits of pastel fall off they will go behind the mat and not on it.

Graydays here, too. And snow. And frustrating lighting sources.

Maybe this time if year is meant to be a time of reflection and reinvention for the coming year?

I've so enjoyed you this year and looking forward to the next!
vivien said…
thanks Lindsay and Sue - and thanks Sue for the framing tips which I'll definitely follow :D
Tina Mammoser said…
Thanks for linking to my blog Vivien, it's great to know more artists can read the post and was really fun to read a bit about how you abstract your ideas. And now I have the image of artists running up and down stairs to see their model! Haha! I don't think they'd be happy about that approach at my local life class. (not that I go anymore, must get around to it this year!)
vivien said…
Hi Tina

yes - I'm asthmatic and would be too breathless to put pencil to paper and would get about one trip up and down to others 6! That would certainly be an incentive to improve the visual memory to me. >:>)
Vivien, both of these are quite stunning -- and I'm normally a diehard representational girl. But both of these are like just the guts of a representational painting -- just the emotional bits. Quite lovely.
vivien said…
Maggie that's exactly what I'm trying to do so that's a comment that really cheers me :) Thanks.
laurel said…
Wow! I just love these. I'm quite partial to trees so that one speaks to me with the subject and the colors. 'Of Flowers' has such wonderful colors. It just makes me happy to look at it.
vivien said…
thank you Laurel :)

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