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7 Methods for Painting Abstractly: My Experience at an Abstract Painting Course

For some time now I’ve been working towards a more abstract approach in my still life painting, but so far I haven’t been satisfied with the results. After seeing a short course class advertised at Morley College on abstract painting I decided to take a chance and sign up for it, without much idea of what would happen.

As it turns out, it was just a small group that turned up for the class—seven of us all told. Six out of the seven had at least some painting experience, and the one who didn’t had come along to learn about the theory and history of abstract art (he was doing a course on 1920/30 history).

Anyway, after a very short talk on the history and development of abstract painting we got down to the practical side. Two things were immediately made clear to us—that we should work large , and that we should use as much paint as needed .

The first exercise involved painting to music and painting as a group. That’s right—periodically we’d pass our paintings along to the next person so that they could develop the idea further. Keep in mind, we were using all sorts of painting implements as well as brushes. Our results looked a bit of a mess, but I think it freed us up.

In the second exercise, each of us did a quick painting using word association —we all had been given different words which we then used for inspiration. After a short time we brought all the paintings together and gave them titles that somehow reflected or integrated the original word. Again, there were some lovely messes but we learned to work together and develop our ideas as a group.

Finally that day, each of us painted two individual paintings inspired by specific pieces of music. The first painting was to Miles Davis and Coltrane, and the second to Bach keyboard music. This really suited me since I love both, and the results were really very good. It was interesting to see how everyone there reacted to the music. Before this class, I’d often thought about abstracting from music, but though I usually have music playing I’d never tried letting the music take over.

The next day of painting was even more practical. Each student was told to bring along either an object or a graphic source, and during the morning session we all painted using an object for inspiration . As a figurative painter it was hard to break away from making a figurative painting from my object, but with some hints from our tutor it gradually came together and I felt that the finished work reflected the objects while still being completely non-figurative .

In the afternoon we repeated the exercise, but instead of objects we painted from graphic sources like photos or other paintings which we looked at upside down. I used a photo of sail boats which turned out quite hard (and I’m not too pleased with the result) but when we did the critique at the end the others thought I had captured the feel of the sea and the action.

All in all, I found it a very exciting course. The tutor, Sarita Agar, was excellent, helpful but not taking over so you felt it was your own work. It was great not having to worry about the cost of paints (acrylics), and just really being able to go to town.

At this point I’m not sure how much it will affect my painting style, but I’m certainly planning on doing more abstract pieces and I’m looking forward to putting what I learned at this class into use.

To see some of Bernard Victor’s work, please visit his online gallery .

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Years after his death, Bob Ross is still teaching artists how to paint in his "Joy of Painting" series and many other books and videos—and yet if you've read my short critique of Bob Ross's methods you know I don't agree with how he taught. . . read more

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