Abstract 012315

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Those of you who have been following me for the past few days might be relieved to hear that today’s watercolor study is not about ladybugs or ladybirds. At least not consciously about them.

I just made up a motto: “When in doubt, abstract it out.” Not very good English but it seems to help me to start paint when I have nothing specific in mind. I would rather paint something each day than spend days trying to think about the perfect subject to depict.

‘Abstract’ – two different meanings:

It is important for me to be mindful of process, particularly with abstract compositions. I am referring to the type of abstract paintings that build up based on previous brush strokes. For example, a diagonal squiggle might inspire a superimposed arc; or a blue spot might beg for contact with yellow.

Another type of abstract painting relies on a different meaning of the word, ‘abstract’. ‘To abstract’ means to define the essence of something. For instance, there is usually an ‘abstract’ at the beginning of a scientific paper that summarizes the key points of the rest of the text. A painter might wish to convey an object or idea in simple visual terms that abstract the meaningful elements of the subject. In this way, one may get an idea about the way that particular artist sees the world. Although I am not an art therapist, I imagine this is an important aspect to that science and a window through which the subject’s mental state may be assessed.

Although the latter definition of ‘abstract’ is endlessly fascinating, today I address the former.


Today I started with Payne’s gray and one of my new brushes, a 1.5 inch flat brush with rather stiff bristles. The arc began with a smooth curve, but ended up awkwardly. However, it inspired a diagonal red swath through its center, threading the needle, as it were. I used other shades of red to see how they would mix. Finally, after thorough drying, to finish the first stage, I used my 3.875 inch flat brush to add a layer of lemon yellow to the composition.

Watercolor: Diagonal Red Line with Dark Lines Surrounding It - PreliminaryI like the arrangement of the visual elements, but it is very flat, with hardly any tonal variation.

Second stage:

I retraced the Payne’s gray arc with the same brush, preserving the bristle pattern. More red brought the original diagonal sweep to the foreground. At this point, I re-glazed the study with lemon yellow.

The yellow in the background inspired a permanent mauve arc. I wanted it to come forward on the left side of the paper and merge with and go through the contour of the original Payne’s gray brushstroke. Finally, I glazed again with lemon yellow.

The picture below was taken before the final wash was dry. I wish it could have stayed that way.

Watercolor: Diagonal Red Line with Dark Lines Surrounding It

Abstract 012315 (Still Wet)

Here is the composition in its final state:

Watercolor: Abstract - Diagonal Red Line through Gray Curve

Abstract 012315
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


Even though I like the penultimate version, there is something about the final version I also like. There is ‘busy-ness’ under the first arch of the gray curve. There are patches of muddiness on the paper resulting from interaction of the paints on the paper, but enough separation among the shapes for them to be distinguishable. I also like the full range of tonal values from very dark to light.

If you had asked me to predict the appearance of today’s study, I couldn’t have guessed that it would turn out as it did. That is the excitement of painting abstract compositions.


4 thoughts on “Abstract 012315

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