Abstract High Five


One of the blogs I follow, The Last Post by Pippa Rathborne, had a very interesting entry about Henry Siddons, who had a passion for acting but no talent. My impression is that he was quite similar to Antonio Salieri, as portrayed in the film, Amadeus. Salieri was tormented by the effortless genius of Mozart in contrast to Salieri’s own pedestrian musical talent.

The most intriguing aspect of Ms. Rathborne’s post was the reference to Siddons’s work, Practical Illustrations of Rhetorical Gesture and Action (1807). This is a catalogue of gestures and actions meant to help aspiring actors in their portrayal of emotion.

I have written quite a number of posts about gestures (Gesture Study, Gestating, More about Gestures, Hand Gesture Atlas, At Rest with Slinky) mainly in the context of my attempts to understand my older brother, Michael. Mike is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal. I have read about the universality of expressions and gestures (notable references include Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Darwin was aware of Siddons’s work) and Paul Ekman’s Unmasking the Face) to be better able to decipher nonverbal cues.

Henry Siddons’s work was the inverse of my efforts and the efforts of those of us who are not adept at reading body language. His study of gesture and action was in service of conveying emotions that an actor may or may not feel by suggesting appropriate postures.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

In my watercolor today, I wanted my brushstrokes to portray gestures. The gesture that fit with my state of mind as I looked at the blank paper was an upturned palm to represent a shrug of indecision. The same body language that would say, “I don’t really know what I’m going to paint.”


I began with a yellow ochre arc shadowed by Payne’s gray, to represent an upturned palm. After altering the shape of the arc, it did not look like a questioning gesture. However, it inspired another shape: an opposing arc. I reduced the abstract nature of this composition by manipulating the original arcs to resemble human hands.

I outlined the upper hand shape with lemon yellow and the upturned shape with quinacridone purple. Permanent mauve colored the outer perimeter of this study.

Watercolor: Abstract of Two Hands Performing a High Five

Cartoon High Five
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


This composition portrays a gesture familiar to a great number of people. Even small children somehow know the way to respond to an outstretched hand when told, “Gimme a high five.” This is probably not an innate behavior, although I could be wrong. Even Mike used to do a High Five.

The background ‘halos’ around the hands, yellow and purple, contribute to a sense of action.

The visual elements in this composition are not boiled down to their most abstract, so I’m sure the meaning (High Five) would be readily recognizable at least in some form (perhaps seen only as two hands interacting), by most people.

Looking at this composition through fresh eyes, this composition looks like a cartoon. I like that.

I would like to try abstracting this gesture even further.

2 thoughts on “Abstract High Five

  1. Fascinating. I look forward to more gesture paintings from you. I’m delighted by your references to The Last Post and Pippa’s article on Henry Siddons which, of course, I reblogged onto my theatre site. Pippa and I have known each other since birth as her mother and my father were at drama school together!


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