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Start From a Part

Lesson 6 from: 7 Abstract Art Painting Techniques

Amy Wynne

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Lesson Info

6. Start From a Part

Explore cropping in detail, using old work or a photo, enlarging, and finding a “juicy bit.” This lesson is full of helpful secrets you’ll be itching to try!

Lesson Info

Start From a Part

So I spent a lot of time outdoors doing small sketches, traveling around, having a little watercolor, little quashing a set and some paper and I make very, very small color studies, color sketches, something like this. Where you know, this one was done out on location in an industrial area. I really love the sort of mingling of shapes and colors. And then when I come back to the studio I often work with enlarging those images into larger, sometimes even more abstract paintings. So I want to show you that process a little bit as a possibility for you to enlarge and then also possibly choose a section to work from. So this is just a larger, slightly more saturated version of that little watercolor study. And I was looking at this and I was thinking, you know, I like it. It's already somewhat abstract in terms of a landscape, but I was interested in seeing you know what it would be like if I zoomed in even further and maybe started with a part of it as a painting. So I cropped it and I zo...

omed in further, like really zoomed down and I found a section that I thought was pretty cool, pretty interesting. And so I made it into a square. Sometimes I work in square. Sometimes I work in rectangles. This just for me. So happened to like seem to occupy a square really well in terms of the composition and I decided that I would transition from the water color into oil paint. Now this oil painting, you could use oil, you could use acrylic, you could even work larger and start with, apart from other sorts of paint. But I want to show you the possibility of working with oil paint with this. So I often will take this part and blow it up so I can see it and I'll have it nearby. I'll have it nearby so I can see it as I'm working because this now is my inspiration, not the whole painting, but just a section of the painting. I also you might notice that I have a pretty wild color surface. This is a panel, it's a wood panel that I've primed with a turquoise paint and I often, I wouldn't say I have an aversion to working on a white surface, but sometimes a white surface just feels like kind of boring or very bright. So sometimes I'll put a color down before I start and this color I chose because there's a fair amount of orange, there's a fair amount of warm colors in this image. So I thought maybe if I put something blue behind them, maybe even left it showing here and there. It might be an interesting way in. So the next step beyond priming the surface of the panel and choosing the section of the painting I really wanted to work from is developing my palette for this painting. So developing, starting to mix colors based on my little detail here and I like having this close by. I mixed colors and sometimes what I'll do is I'll mix the color, get it on the back of the knife and just pull it over and put it up right next to the image and see how well it pairs with the original color. And I find that to be a really useful way to, to work also, I'm not going to be using a brush for this, I'm actually gonna paint it with a palette knife. I really love palette knife painting palette knife, painting is very direct, there's no solvent involved and it really is almost like frosting a cake. So next step after developing a basic color scheme for this, which can change, obviously it's time to draw the basic shapes onto the surface and then start to try to play with painting them in. So sometimes I draw up the shapes with a little bit of oil paint on a brush today, I'm just gonna drop the shapes with a little piece of charcoal so I can see them very vividly. So the drawing process is gonna be loose. I'm gonna start maybe down at the bottom here working into this dark shape, there's a little bit of a yellow shape here, it doesn't have to be um super, super accurate. I mean, I want to have a sense of what's what's happening, but I'm really almost mapping the color shapes. This is the blue and then I have right about the midpoint here, we have this larger sort of base shape happening coming down seg wing around the yellow here. So there's a sort of nice yellow rectangle and then this swatch of pink coming in. Now, all of this has taken, you know, it's not being taken from a photograph, it's being taken from an abstract section of a pre existing painting. You could do this from a photograph, you could zoom in a lot. In fact, I often feel that like a bad photograph, like a blurry or really pixelated photograph is also a really nice way to sort of segue into abstraction. Anyway, that might be something you can try but also just using your own raw materials. There's a nicer gray shape up here with a little bit of a blue note, there's a green here. So I'm just, you can see how I'm fluidly just sort of mapping out. There's a there's a yellow here right up next to this sort of cocoa brown. Alright, so that's my color map. There's certainly other things going on there. But this is basically what I'm going to start with now. It's basically painting in the shapes and I wanna talk a little bit about using a palette knife to paint. Um It takes some practice, You could certainly also paint this in with a brush but I want to play a little bit with painting it in um with the knife. So what I like to do is rather than just jamming the knife into the paint. What I do is I take the knife, I put it against the pile of paint, and I end up with like a little burr of paint along the edge of the knife. Not too much, not too little, but just a little ridge on the back of the knife, notice there's no paint on the front of the knife, it's just on the back of the knife and I can take that paint and I can find a yellow section, like there's a yellow section right here and I put the knife on an angle like this, and then I just drag it down just like buttering a piece of toast or frosting a cake. I can go in two directions and just start applying the paint. Sometimes I want to apply it really thickly, sometimes a little bit more thinly. In this case, I'm starting with sort of a thinner application of paint. Just working in this, the yellow shape, the region of the yellow shape that I had mapped. So there's a yellow shape done with a knife. Now, here's a big thing, you want to wipe the knife in between colors. I mean ultimately you can do some blending and kind of moving things around. But if you want to keep your colors pure, it's nice to wipe the knife between colors. Alright, so I also like to work with adjacent shape. So the next shape that I'm sort of seeing right next to this. And sometimes if you, if I did yellow and I jumped way down here and did blue and I did green up here. The shapes and the colors aren't starting to really talk to each other as much. So I'm gonna do shapes that sort of are near each other that our neighbors. So the color just above this yellow is this sort of okra brown, I'm gonna take some of this Okra brown with my knife and I'm gonna start to fill in this shape up here and you can see it's actually really beautiful where this Oakar allows some of that blue to come through. It has a little zing to it because the okra has a little bit of an orange flavor to it, orange color to it. So I might actually see that little place where the blue shines through. Maybe I won't completely cover it up. Maybe I'll let that blue have something to say in certain aspects of this. So I do enjoy allowing little fissures of color to come through where you're not necessarily closing down or closing out the entire painting because if you paint a luscious color behind the painting and then you cover the entire thing over, then it's in a way it's sort of like, well, why did I put that color down to start with? Right, I mean sometimes I'll put a color down because I'm working outdoors and I don't want it to work on such a bright surface, but a lot of times I'll just leave like a little nuance there. Alright, next color I want to try is maybe this sort of uh sort of minty, neutral green and that color I mixed something for it, but I'm just gonna add a little gray to it because it feels like it needs to be gray down a little bit. So even though I premix the color, sometimes I wanna change that up a little, so I'm bringing that in a little bit of gray into the green and then I'm looking at this section here that feels pretty good for filling that in. It's very, very satisfying palette knife painting, it's really very um direct and I even like the sound of it, right, and it's not precious right? Like if I was working with a tiny little brush, like a single hair brush and put putting this paint down one, it would take me a really long time and to it would um not have the sort of robustness that this has right now. So I recommend, you know, giving, giving it a try with a palette knife loading the back of the knife coming in and I'm enjoying how these colors are starting to have a conversation together. You can scrape it across, you can, if you scrape the paint a lot, you can also allow the color to come through through having almost like a little bit of transparency to it, but oil paint is inherently um opaque so that, you know, it might be something you want to capitalize on. And the other thing that I do, this is my, you know, my palette I've had for years and as I'm working with the painting, if I have scraps that I don't want anymore or dry paint, I just lay them right on top of this big old pile of paint and this to me is abstract in and of itself, but it's also the remnants of my process, like evidence of my working. So I really like having this on the wayside so I can just add things to it. I can't really go much further without addressing the showstopper which is the big orange swatch through the middle of this painting. So I want to come in and take that orange paint on the back of the knife. I'm gonna come in and just start laying it in now that orange against that blue, wow, that is just so beautiful. So again, this sort of conversation that happens between colors. This is a larger shape. I'm using a pretty large knife. There are smaller knives that you can use, but for the sake of this and the sake of sort of coverage, I'm using this larger knife and I'm I'm also interested here in letting some of this blue show through the orange because it has such a zing to it different than what's happening up here. So as I fill this in and as you see the painting evolve, you can see how um starting with a part can be an incredible practice and an incredible process and where you have the opportunity to allow a color to come through can also be a really fab way to create a little bit more of a dynamic. And as I mentioned, because this part, this abstract part that I started with for me felt predominantly, you know, had a lot of pinks and oranges and brokers to it, it didn't have a lot of turquoise. I thought, well what if I put a cool turquoise down? What would happen? Right? So I think that it's starting to block together really nicely. You know, eventually you can start to do some blending, You can start to work with it in that way. I want to just put one more section of color down. Now, this is sort of a purple, blue on blue. So this area down here, it's blue on blue, but these blues are very different. So once again, I'm tempted to let a little bit of that blue shine through just a little bit of the blue shine through so that we can get a little bit of a feeling of the contrast. This is feeling quite purple also against this blue and as colors relate to each other over time, they also start to create a sense of a dynamic that's different when they're just alone on the palate. So again just working through this, working putting the knife and I'm coming down, I'm coming up again, if you don't like texture so much you can smooth it out. I personally like to have a little bit of texture but you can nuance the palette knife over time, you'll be able to manage how that texture either works or doesn't work for you. So this starting with a part is a really inspiring way to create abstract paintings. Maybe even using previous work that you've done using maybe a section of a photograph, maybe even a super zoomed in section. And depending on what type of paint you like to use. Certainly as you can see using a palette knife with oil paint is a very satisfying process with a colored ground. But you can do this with acrylic and you can do it with other things as well. So I invite you to look through your images. Maybe look through old paintings. Even cut up old paintings that maybe you didn't feel were like super successful. I mean we all have those and take a look at how you might be able to enlarge that. Redraw it and reuse it and try a different medium and see how starting with apart can be an incredible gateway to abstraction

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Abstract Painting Color Wheel
Transparency & Opacity
Color Wheel
Color Wheel Template with Neutrals
Abstract Painting Materials

Ratings and Reviews


Loved the class! I loved seeing all the different techniques!

Jill McLean

Student Work