Many confuse abstract painting with modern painting or modern 'art'and wars and battles rage in the 'art' world over definitions of what is 'art'.
We are concerned here only with painting.

In truth, an abstract design is one that has no pattern and an abstract painting is one that has no form.

The painting above is not a photograph but its realism is undeniable. It has form but no pattern (repitition).

In a previous lesson I stated 'the human mind does not like to be overloaded with detail, particularly in a painting. It revels in its ability to complete the picture itself. And it must be allowed the latitude (hazy bits) to do this. The degree you allow this will say something about your estimation of your proposed audience. My rule is to always assume they are smarter than you, in other words leave plenty of for the imagination.'

This idea of involving the imagination was the genesis of most post 1850 art movements and experimentations. In the more extreme any cognisant feature became a disadvantage.

When contemplating painting an abstract picture or one with symbolic meaning try and recall no one will gain a dividend from the finished work in excess of your input. So no cheap shots for, to rob your audience is to rob yourself.

Sharpness and smudge the layered effect.

Here I have taken a section from an action painting and blurred it before overlaying it with thin, sharp-edged black and white lines and shapes. This 'depth of field' photographic effect is relatively modern as (excepting Vermeer and a few others) the artists of the past insisted on bringing everything into focus. It must be said their clients often demanded this.


The worth of an artist was once determined by his or her ability to disguise brushstrokes and produce 'magic' surfaces and textures. A few - Rembrant and Titian in their later years - decided paint had a tactile quality itself and sometimes layered the paint to produce a separate effect. Rather like Rodin often left parts of his marble sculptures 'in the rough' to emphasise their other qualities. Mostly they used white as that pigment was the cheapest .It was also the slowest to dry and could be safely applied over the successive layers of dry thin darks.

This use of excessive body in paint took off with the development of cheap mass produced paint in the early and mid-eighteen hundreds. One of the first exponents of this 'impasto' method was Turner and his use of white. Turner would often sculpt some landscape element in heavy impasto, wait for it to dry then coat and wipe with successive transparent galzes. The depressions and cracks would fill and the highlights would realise their sculptured effect. Also the galze over the white would make it glow - even more so if even more galze and white was later applied.

STUDENT ACTIVITY: The ultimate weapon in this texture effect is the pallet knife. If you would like to experiment with this you will get remarkable effects by treating your canvas like a mud heap and shovelling paint around with the knife. Create loose forms if you like. Stop just before the colors completely disappear into a mass of grey mud. Now take some pure color and with the knife gently fold it into the mixture - blending in some areas and in others leaving a few of the edges sharp. Be liberal with your paint but just use a small surface ... Allow 40min.

Then there is the dragged dry brush or scumble effect, mainly in the distant sky (dry the oil out of the paint on blotting paper if you need to).

Or the slick oily in the bottom half of my rose painting (adding more oil or medium to your paint).

Experimenting with paint and texture will provide wonderful moments but try not to make this and end in itself. Great paintings have a magic that transcend the sum total of their parts.

GO TO ... order and chaos
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