Draw Abstract Art - Getting Started with Abstraction

Get away from realism and explore!

cartographic grids
you can 'repurpose' patterns - in this case, lines from a map - to bring their meaning into new contexts. H South

What is Abstract Art?

Abstract art is a bit like music. Just as a tune is an arrangement of sounds in time, with no meaning (not trying to 'sound like' water or birds or anything else) so an abstract composition is an arrangement of shapes and colors in space (in the case of painting, on a flat plane). Just as there are rules governing musical composition (scales, keys, principles of harmony) which can be followed or broken to a greater or lesser degree, so there are rules of composition in painting, which you can follow or break depending on what effect you want to achieve.

What does abstract art mean?

Abstract art has many purposes and inspirations, and covers many styles. These pieces can be formal explorations of the principles of composition, trying to get selected components to look 'right' just as one might when arranging a room or a spray of flowers. Abstract art can also express deep emotion. Often this is communicated by 'mark making' - rough or energetic strokes that reveal the physical energy used in their making, just as a singer's voice might become hoarse with emotion. Music can sound formal and refined, or passionate and emotional, light-hearted or sad, by the use of harmony and orchestration, so abstract art communicates by the use of color, composition, shape and line. Color and value can have strong effects on the emotions, and without realist subject matter to communicate with the viewer, the artist must make good use of these qualities in abstract art.

Where do I start with Abstract Art?

This will depend on what you hope to express. If you enjoy literature, mathematics or science, and like to explore ideas, then a more formal approach may suit you. If you are passionate and expressive, then you might seek a more dramatic and emotional form of expression. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Spend some time exploring the principles of composition. Learn about important aspects, such as direction, balance, and weight.

Choose an abstract artist - look on the net, perhaps one of the Russians like Malevich - who uses simple, strong shapes - and copy a few of them. Then try to create your own design of simple shapes using those as a starting point.

Start with nature. Picasso said 'There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward, you can remove all traces of reality'. Try looking at some realist paintings and reducing them to bare bones, simplifying the main shapes. Forget about the things being shown, just indicate the main volumes - the rough shape of a figure, the vertical shape of a tree, a horizon.

Look at scientific images. Space photos, electron microscope images, DNA sequences, microbes, diagrams, mathematical formulae - these things can have a curious beauty.

Limit your palette. Try creating a minimalist palette of adjacent, sympathetic, opposing or random colors. Try one of:
Black, brown, beige, off-white in large blocks
Cadmium red, dark green, border and bands of black
Purple, ultramarine blue, small highlights of orange.

Use chance to help create a composition. Cut out some basic shapes - squares, circles, ovals, triangles - in the colored card, and toss them onto the floor. Move a cut-out card frame (8x10) over the shapes until you see an arrangement that looks interesting.