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Abstracting from the Figure

In the class I take at the Art Students League we are charged with looking at a model and creating an abstract from him/her.   Lately, I’ve discovered it works better for me if I first create a fairly realistic sketch of the model (I think I just have to get it out of my system) and then try to abstract from that.  Here’s how I came up with this epiphany.

A week or so ago, I created the following quick watercolor sketch from the model:

Cathy, initial sketch

Cathy, initial sketch

From that (but still looking at the model), I tried to pick some particular elements to feature and created a few abstracts, including …

Cathy, initial abstraction

Cathy, initial abstraction

(I should mention there was a large terra cotta round vase at her feet which I had left out of the initial watercolor sketch.)

I showed these to an artist friend of mine who said, “You’re trying so hard to create an abstract, but you’re ignoring the abstract lines and elements in your initial sketch.  Exaggerate the curves and lines that are already there.”   She further suggested that I create four drawings incorporating those lines.  Another artist suggested I paint the colors first and add the lines later.

We (the five artists who meet regularly at Wave Hill to paint and talk about art) all agreed which of my four line drawings was the best, and I then started to create small watercolors incorporating that line drawing.

The process was informative.  If you compare the following two paintings to the initial watercolor sketch, you can see where the lines came from (a small exaggeration here, a little artistic license there…).

Cathy, abstraction 2

Cathy, abstraction 2

Cathy Abstraction 3

Cathy, abstraction 3

And wonder of all wonders, when I showed them to Frank (my teacher at the League), he liked them.  He had a couple of suggestions, which I then incorporated.

So maybe I have a viable process here for abstracting from the model:  do a quick realistic sketch, identify key lines and shapes, and paint based on them.  And, I have lots of material for future “Cathy” abstractions.

Posted by ruthhurd on February 12, 2011

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