One of my accountability buddies had challenged me to do abstracts as a way of loosening up my paintings. Having been a digital artist for decades I’m used to being able to control my images right down to the pixel level. Also, since I studied and worked with Botanical Illustration for years, wearing magnifying lenses over my glasses, I tend to be tight and exacting. Since I normally paint and draw with much detail, she thought that maybe the abstracts would loosen up my style. That 15-minute sketches would encourage more freedom in my surfaces.
After a few days of playing with various mediums and substrates, I truly began to enjoy myself with the freedom of not worrying about the lines and adjoining edges. So, of course, I bought 3 books on abstract painting to study what I should be doing. When I mentioned this to her, she threw her hands up into the sky, rolled her eyes and sighing deeply said that this was exactly what she wanted to avoid me doing. She wanted me to use the right side of my brain and experience the freedom, not my left & and bury myself into studying the experience.
I understand what she was suggesting. But didn’t she know that for me, the more books the better? Why watch 6 YouTube video tutorials when 15 might break the ice.
The more I played and the more I read I began to realize that my flower paintings are a type of abstract painting. Not all abstract painting is completely devoid of figurative imagery. My layering over layering, capitalizing on the mark-making beneath each, is my form of abstraction. Some paintings have more visible marks and some less. And some of my paintings show these marks more and some less so. But they all have them hidden underneath the many layers of pigments. It’s like a secret life.
Now let me tell you what happens when I paint. I start with the inspiration of a real flower, one that may or may not still be alive but one that I have taken numerous photos of, that I’ve grown and that I’m intimately familiar with at each stage of its growth. I sketch a few on paper with a pencil or charcoal, sometimes on my iPad using Procreate and sometimes on my Mac desktop using Photoshop or Painter. If I’m in the mood I make a full tonal drawing in one medium or another. Once I’m satisfied that I’ve got the idea of what I’d like to paint, I transfer my outline to canvas using either pastels or charcoal and begin to paint with the full intention of staying true to the flower, the shapes, and the colors.
But somewhere in the process of painting layer over layer, a change in control happens. My careful plans are put aside and I relinquish control of the process to the painting itself. At this point, the painting becomes an abstraction to me. It may not lose its form completely and may or may not still look somewhat like the original floral inspiration. But the intention has shifted. Sometimes the form itself changes, at times radically. At other times, the colors become abstracted, leading away from the original source.
There is a freedom that comes over me when this power shift occurs. When I’ve relinquished the power to the painting rather than maintaining dominance over the process is a source of freedom for me that I’ve had a difficult time defining or describing. But then again, I don’t even know what to call my style of painting.
Lately, I’ve come to find that some are calling this type of painting, Abstract Realism. That sounds as good to me as any other label, none of which I’ve ever felt comfortable with until recently stumbling upon this definition.
Labels or no labels, I’ll continue to explore, experiment, and push the boundaries while I decide into what niche my work actually resides. If any. It really doesn’t matter since I’ll just keep letting my paintings speak for themselves.