Just a quick post here as I have 5 minutes to spare after being at a talk by renowned UK artist Maggi Hambling this afternoon.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the talk as it was really about her latest book but it was a very entertaining talk and I did buy one of her books afterwards.
Anyway, one thing that she said that hit a chord with me was (and I think it might have been something that someone said to her) that every painting you do should be an experiment otherwise it all becomes a bit boring and repetitive.
I thought about this and how right she was – the more we experiment the more we learn and hence the more we improve (usually, even if it is 1 step back and 2 forwards!) so that is a mantra that I will try and take on in future paintings – whether it is just adding in something new or trying a slightly different technique or new colour combinations I guess there is always something new we can do.
I have a lot of materials that could be used in some kind of experimentation in future paintings so I don’t think I will be short of things to try!
Sometimes it is difficult to find inspiration for abstract paintings, but there are techniques that you can use to give you some ideas of what to paint and this is what I will explore in this article.
How Do You Get Inspiration?
Sometimes (in fact quite often) people ask me how I get inspiration for my abstract paintings. Mostly I am inspired by particular colours or textures or have an idea come into my mind of a pattern or colour combination that I want to turn into a painting, but at other times I use other methods to find inspiration for my paintings.
If you are an artist who wants to venture into abstract art or else you have been creating abstract art for a while but need some inspiration or new ideas on what to create then here are a few things that might inspire you for your next painting:
A great idea for getting inspiration for your paintings is to take a snapshot of a piece of a magazine. Look through magazines that have lots of pictures or adverts and see if you can find a piece of those that might be good as an abstract painting. It doesn’t have to be something that looks like anything, in fact it is better if it doesn’t, but you will find some interesting options in magazines.
A good way to find something is to use a cardboard cutout as a frame, maybe just a few inches wide and high, and use this to pick out pieces from a page. Quite often, adverts have interesting colours in them that you can pick out.
The image to the left is one I have taken out of a picture in a magazine that would provide inspiration for a painting in some shades of red and yellow.
Fabrics and Furniture
You can get a lot of inspiration from fabrics and furniture patterns. Don’t copy them exactly as they are as this would not be your own design but maybe pick out elements of the pattern or elements of the colours that have been used in the fabrics. Cushions, bed covers and curtains are particularly good things to take inspiration from.
Create An Inspiration Scrapbook
I have a scrapbook where I glue in cuttings from magazines of things that I might use in future to base a painting on. These could be cuttings of actual paintings themselves that I really like and maybe I can figure out why I like that painting – is it the composition or the colour scheme etc.
Other cuttings are from magazines as I have detailed which could be fabrics, floors, vases, or anything that I just like the look of. If you cut these out when you see them then you will end up with a book of inspirational items that you can pick bits and pieces from to create into your own painting.
Inspiration From Photographs
Look through your photographs and see if there are any that have great colour combinations – more often than not nature picks better colours than we can ourselves and that can be an inspiration.
Use a photo editing software to distort the image – it doesn’t have to be expensive software, you can get free programs that will do this too.
See the images underneath from one of my photos that could give me inspiration for an abstract painting. I took the image and blurred it and added ripples with a cheap editing software. This is just an example – you can probably do something more creative!
Another one I did really quickly was a sunset picture that I thought might be too twee if it was too real so I distorted, blurred, cropped and saturated that picture to get the image ont he left.
it still looks pretty much like a sunrise but it could be just used very loosely to create a painting that resembled the colours etc, perhaps also adding some texture in.
Choose photos where the colour combinations are good (or just the colours you like to use) and manipulate them until you get an abstract idea. You don’t have to copy the result completely but it may give you some ideas for a composition.
Colour Combinations or Textures
Sometimes I will just take inspiration from a particular mix of colours. For example I recently completed a painting in blues and greens but there was one particular part of the painting that I liked that had some exact blue/green shades in. For my next painting I wanted to use those exact shades as they had turned out so well so I would choose some texture on which to base those colours.
In another painting, I might have an idea that I wanted to use something particular as texture in the painting – for example the spacers that you use when putting up tiling. So the main inspiration would be the texture and only once I had put the texture on the canvas would I choose the colour scheme.
Try Creating Other People’s Work
This may sound like a strange thing to say but what I mean by this is find a painting you like and try and copy it. By doing this you will more than likely teach yourself other techniques that you would not otherwise have thought of. I have done this a few times when I have been asked by companies to reproduce a particular painting that they have the rights for.
In trying to recreate it almost exactly, including any kind of texture and painting techniques that you can see in it, then I can guarantee you will do something that you have probably not done before and that will then become a new technique for you.
If you are trying to copy something that you don’t have the rights for then you should obviously just keep it for your own purposes or scrap it!
I hope this has given you a few ideas and some inspiration to get painting, particularly if you are into abstract art.
So following on from my last post about using resin in my paintings I realised that I had actually meant to document the process of creating the painting shown in that article.
So I put together all of the images I took during the creation process and have made them into a step by step video of how I did it which I thought might be of interest to some.
For future paintings I have just got myself a new video camera so hopefully I will be able to do some better videos (although if my first attempt is anything to go by this may not actually work out so well!) so will use that in future rather than stills.
The painting took a few days including leaving the texture to fully dry (as it was quite thick) and going back and changing the gold, silver and greys until I was happy with the final painting.
I did use some big dried up pieces of texture so that it would have a more rocky effect but obviously these were all coated and mixed in with the PVA.
Anyway, I have uploaded the video on YouTube so here it is below. It is mostly created using the standard texture mix, some pale paint colours, silver leaf, silver and gold powder and some fine iron pyrite pieces added in.
The resin really brings out the colours in the ‘rockpool’ and really gives the effect of water so I don’t think it would have worked half so well without that.
Edited to add:
I have added this painting to my Saatchi Online portfolio for sale here.
So I wasn’t sure if I had posted about making paintings based on Google Earth images before but I don’t think I have so I will do so here!
Anyway, I had the idea a few years ago when I was in Spain and I was looking for somewhere to visit by using Google Earth to see where I could spot some kind of lake nearby. It turned out that the images that I could see were ones that I thought would make really great abstract paintings by just using them as inspiration.
As the area I was looking at had lots of undulations and various buildings and things that gave the picture height, I thought it would be a great way to incorporate some texture as well.
I ended up doing a series of 4 paintings (all sold now) which mimicked various views of the area I was in, just south of Madrid.
These is a collage of the finished paintings:
This is one of the screenshots that I took from Google Earth as a guide for the painting in the bottom left of the four. As you can see it wasn’t intended as being a replica but just as an inspiration for the painting.
I used the same texture as I normally do to build in some extra height and contours to the paintings but I guess you could do a similar thing without using any texture.
I have in my mind that I want to do more series like this and I also have some ideas in mind about what sort of terrain I am looking for. In fact I searched around the world on Google earth to find a particular kind of image that I wanted to create that had a lake in the middle with some kind of barren land round it. I did actually find what I was looking for in the depths of West Africa but unfortunately my iPad died and I lost the location of that area!
In the meantime I decided I would create it as I remembered it but with some tweaks. I wanted quite a muted background color but with some gold or silver leaf on the ‘hills’ and with a deep blue pool of water.
I created a pool using some heavy texture and allowed that to dry and then poured some blues and greens in and once dry, I filled the ‘pool’ in with some resin (I have been working with resin for the last year or so and have started to do some pouring paintings with this recently but also wanted to combine it with texture so this was my first textured painting idea).
Anyway, I am pretty happy with the result – it really does look like a pool of water from above (well I think so anyway!) and the texture really keeps the resin contained.
It’s quite difficult to capture an image of the painting but here are a couple from different angles so hopefully you can see the effect of the resin (the painting is currently hanging in my lounge before going into an exhibition at the beginning of next month):
I have tried out a couple of resins and I have to say I have found Art Resin to be the best (doesn’t turn tacky after completion and easy to mix as it is 1 to 1) and also it is easy to get hold of in different quantities, particularly in the US.
A similar one in the UK is this one below which I have on my list to try out next as it seems to have the same qualities. Let me know if you have already tried it and if so what you think:
This is more of a rhetorical question or a throwing about of ideas with anyone else welcome to pitch in, but I find sometimes writing about things brings out more ideas myself in what I can do in future.
So, what makes a good painting? I have been thinking about this after I got an email from someone who had seen my work online and who asked me a couple of questions about it that made me think a bit.
Most weeks I have a 2 hour drive to do and in that time I tend to think about a lot of stuff and this is one of the things I was thinking about today in particular!
There is one thing that sticks in my mind about making a painting good, and it is something that I learned in a course I did about 10 years ago. The course was run by a German man (I confess to have forgotten his name) who was taught by the masters of the Bauhaus (he was quite elderly and only spoke German so he travelled with a translator!).
Anyway, what he said has always stuck with me ever since, and he kept emphasising the point, that a good painting must always have some really good contrast. As soon as he said that and I started implementing it in my paintings I really felt my technique improve.
I have also looked online for some of my favourite paintings and definitely think that the ones I like best have some really good contrast somewhere in there.
I’m actually going to do some of the exercises in the book again to refresh some of the things I originally learned from it.
I think this is one point that lead me to do my squares and shapes paintings which also had dark brown lines to highlight all the colours and give more contrast. I liked to use prismatic colours too which also gives a lot of contrast.
Another key point in making me think about what makes a good painting is the colours to use – I guess this is quite a personal thing in terms of people having favourite colours that they use more often than others – but a few years ago I picked up a really interesting book that made some great points about use of colour.
The book goes through a lot of colour theory and discussion of hues etc and makes some really salient points about when to use particular hues and what colours and intensity of colours do to each other when they are side by side. Obviously colours can be used a lot for perspective but also about how a painting is perceived. This is the book:
Another thing that I think makes a good painting, and I think I may have written about this before, is the depth of the paint. Personally I think that a good painting needs lots of layers of colour. It doesn’t even matter if that is the same colour but just lots of layers of it, or in terms of the abstract paintings that I do, often it is the case of adding in lots of thin layers of paint in slightly different colours which really give a great effect. Actually one of the paintings I did a few years ago encapsulates all of the things I mention above:
It has quite a bit of contrast, uses monochromatic hues with a dash of a complementary hue but also uses lots of layers of slightly varying colours of the blue to give some depth to the painting. Although you can’t see it that well in this picture, it also has a fair amount of texture in to give a third dimension to the painting.
I guess the thing is that everyone has a different idea of not only what makes a painting good, but also what is a good painting and if we all had the same taste then the world would be a dull place and there would not be the plethora of widely differing artists that we have in the world today.
So if anyone has any ideas about what makes a good painting then I would love to hear them as it would be great to spark some thoughts that might make us all better artists!
Thanks for reading 🙂
EDITED TO ADD:
Of course I forgot to mention one very big thing that I had been thinking about which is composition and using the golden mean/golden ratio or any of the other names it goes under.
I could also mention the rule of thirds but I think in terms of my own paintings I tend to follow the Golden mean more. Positioning key elements in the right place in the painting can definitely improve the overall composition.
Also using odd numbers of certain elements (I almost always use odd numbers of gold squares in my squares paintings) seems to be the done thing and actually does tend to look better.
Obviously there will always be exceptions to these rules for particular paintings but I do find these things help the overall look.
Masking tape is a really useful tool in painting I find, whether you just create patterns and paint over it, mask off edges of the painting to frame it or maybe use texture.
In the past I have created a few paintings that have had a specific part of the painting that has raised texture using masking tape, maybe just to emphasise a feature in the painting. I have also used this method just to add some extra shapes to an abstract painting.
So I have created a quick video to show how I use this technique – in this case I am creating a small painting with a raised, textured beach hut. In this case, instead of using my standard mixture of stucco and PVA I have used ready mixed plaster – which is something that is easily available in most DIY/hardware shops – with craft PVA.
To make the pattern, stick down the masking tape where you want the beach hut (or whatever you are drawing) and mark up the pattern on it.
Then cut out the pattern using a craft knife. You can press reasonably hard (as hard as you need to to cut the tape) and you should not cut the canvas.
Peel the tape off inside the pattern and spread the texture over this area. you can then remove the remaining masking tape to reveal the beach hut and scrape some lines in it using a kebab stick or whatever you have to hand.
Here is the video:
Another example of using this technique with masking tape is a painting I did with a seagull which I sold a few years ago.
Another example of using masking tape is to create a border around the painting or just to divide up some aspects of the painting as per below:
This month I have had my studio open as part of the local open studios event and during that time I have been doing some demonstrations on some textured canvases.
As part of these demonstrations I have been including some additional elements to the texture to demonstrate different techniques.
So as well as just using texture on its own, you can also add things to the texture to make different patterns on the canvas or board and I thought I would share some of my ideas here.
So here are 10 things that you can add to your texture mix to give you some different effects:
1.String – I generally use the cotton type string rather than nylon as it soaks into the texture and you can seal it with PVA really easily. It’s very versatile so you can either coil it round or just use straight strips – in fact you can make whatever patterns you like by sticking it into the texture or even just sticking it on the painting with PVA.
2. Sand – sand is really good to create a more grainy texture although it might be difficult to get hold of if you don’t live somewhere near the sea! Luckily I’m about 10 miles from the sea so I can grab a small bag whenever I need it. You can either mix some into the texture before applying it or sprinkle it on top of the texture.
This painting incorporates some sand and string in the texture
3. Sawdust – this is another really great one to provide some additional bulk to your texture. Maybe you know someone who is having work done on their house and can save some for you.
4. Rice – you can use on cooked rice in your texture. Just make sure it is fully coated with either PVA or a coat of paint once you have put it on the canvas. As long as it is sealed it will last a long time. You can either mix it in with the texture or add it afterwards.
5. Chick peas – just like rice, use them uncooked and seal them up and they will provide some good interest in the painting.
6. Pasta – you can also use quite big pieces of pasta but obviously the bigger they are the more delicate the painting will be and subject to breakage. Stick the pasta on with the texture and once again seal the pasta when it is on the painting. Myself and another artist created a triptych painting using pasta for a hotel restaurant:
Painting for a restaurant using pasta shells
7. Corrugated card – stick the card down onto the texture which should be quite flat and then make sure that all of the edges are stuck down using PVA.
8. Tissue – rip up strips of single thickness tissue and place these on top of the texture while it is still wet. Pat it down to make sure it is absorbed into the texture. It is quite a good wrinkled effect when it is dry.
9. Crushed shells – you can often buy pots of these in craft shops and they work well added to the texture in a similar manner to sand or sawdust.
10. Tile spacers – there are lots of things that you can get from a DIY store that you can use in your texture and tile spacers is just one suggestion. I’ve been meaning to try this for ages! But one thing I have used is some nails in a painting that I did a while ago so really anything goes 🙂
A textured painting including nails.
I’m sure there are a lot more things that you can add to your texture so feel free if you want to share any ideas that you have or things that you have used in the past.
I have been thinking about this post for a while but I have been asking myself the question – when is a painting finished? – for quite a while!
It first started when I began to paint semi-professionally in about 2004 when a friend of mine asked if I would like a professional artist friend of hers to come and see my paintings and give me some advice. This was at a point when I had just put together a set of around 10 abstract oil paintings. Many of these paintings had only one coat of paint but I was happy with the finished products.
The artist who saw them gave me some good feedback in a very subtle way. She said that most good paintings consisted of lots of layers and that was one thing that helped them become good paintings. I have always taken this on board in my future work and sometimes I take it to the extreme!
Anyway, I digress slightly from the topic as I want to really address that question.
When is a Painting Finished?
The first point I would say in answering this question is that only you know when it is finished. You have to keep asking yourself if you are 100% happy with the painting. You should get a feeling that you are totally happy with it before you stop painting.
One problem that most artists come across is that they are scared to ruin a painting. In fact I know someone who frequently does not do extra work to their paintings because they think they might ruin it and will waste all of the work they have put in so far.
What I would say to this is, never stop a painting unless you are at least 97% happy with it. Sometimes it may be the case that 97% is enough to satisfy you before risking spoiling it – for example if it is a really big painting that you have spent a lot of time on! In which case I would say 97% is good enough.
So this artist has a lot of paintings that seem unfinished, because they did not dare to take them to the level that they could be. If you don’t dare to maybe take a few risks with your paintings then how are you going to progress and try new things?
Only rarely have I messed up a painting that I was 90% happy with but tried to push to 100%. One reason for not messing paintings up is that often the more paint you add, the greater the depth of the painting. I think this particularly applies to paintings with texture in.
If I keep pushing the painting, even if I am not happy with the extra that I have added, I feel that I can still keep adding paint until I am. So maybe I might go from 95% happy to 86% but then back up to 100%. In any case I can recommend to keep on painting.
If it does end up unrecoverable then it is worth thinking of it as good practice. Don’t worry about having to throw artwork away or scraping all the paint off and starting again, it is all good experience and the time you have spent is never wasted.
I had an example of this recently in my studio. I textured up a canvas and I had an idea of what I wanted the painting to look like. I was going to be creamy white with bright colours coming out of the texture. When I had finished it I would say I was 90% happy with it.
I kept going with the same idea but it just wasn’t getting any better so in the end I decided to change the colour scheme completely and went for some blues and purples. However, I was still only about 92% happy with that painting!
I thought that the texture needed something extra so I added in some black and metallic blue but then I was back to about 85% happy. But I did like the elements of black in there. So I painted the whole thing black fading to grey.
I was in 2 minds about just keeping it all quite monotone but then I thought it needed some extra colour so I added some purple.
To cut a long story short I kept adding colours on top of the back until it started looking a bit like a black opal. Eventually I got to about 95% happy when I realised it needed a bit of gold leaf.
Once that was added in I was 97% happy but took the chance to get further by also adding a bit of copper leaf.
Finally I would say I was about 99% happy with it so I decided that was it!
The whole process of this painting took over 6 months as it spent lots of time sitting waiting for me to decide what to do with it but I am glad that I kept going and kept changing it until I really decided it was finished.
So here is the finished painting. Obviously just because I like it doesn’t mean other people will too!
I’ve had a far greater response to the site than I expected and there had been quite a large number of comments, particularly on the ‘make your own texture’ page.
This made me think that people had a lot of questions but not only that, there are also artists adding really useful comments about how they make their texture too.
So I thought that it might be useful to have a place on the site specifically for people to have discussions about texture – or in fact anything else art wise that they want to talk about. So I have created some forums. I’ve not really tried this software before so I have yet to see how user friendly it is and if people want to actually post there!
Obviously the site is still open for comments in the usual way but if you feel like asking questions or getting feedback on something then feel free to go over to the forums.
So having had a few enquiries about my gold and silver powder that I use in my textured paintings (and in fact in my fluid abstract paintings), I’ve done a bit more investigating as to where you can get hold of something at least similar to what I have.
I got my gold, silver and bronze powder deep in the industrial area of Dubai! I have no idea what it was intended to be used for but myself and a few other artists over there started using it and loved it!
You only need the smallest amount possible on your paintings so it lasts pretty much forever. As I had 3 or 4 1 litre pots of the stuff I still have loads of it left.
I find the best use for it is to use it to rub into paintings that have a lot of texture on. You can either rub it into the cracks and crevices on a painting or you can use a sponge to pretty much dry brush it onto the top of bits of texture. If you don’t like what you have done then you can wipe it off with some water although his becomes difficult if you have put a lot on.
You can also add it to a painting medium so that it is effectively in liquid form and you can apply it like that.
In my fluid paintings I put the smallest amount onto the end of a stick or sponge (and I mean the smallest amount – I put some on then knock most of it back into the pot) before applying a dusting to the painting. If the painting is still liquid then the powder will move around and form nice organic patterns.
With the textured paintings I like to combine using the powder with also using gold or silver paint and maybe some gold leaf too as they come up with different effects. To be honest I’m a bit of a gold addict!
So I’ll try and attach a close up of a painting or two where I have used the gold powder so that you can see what kind of effect you can get…
OK so the above painting has a fair bit of gold powder on it – in particular you can see where I have rubbed it onto the squares in positions 4, 8, 23, 27 and 32 (although I think there is some on other squares too).
You can also see in the painting above that I have used the gold powder to rub into high pieces of texture at the top as well as some silver powder on the bottom right and more gold powder on the left bottom below the gold leaf.
OK so here are the examples of what looks to be a similar gold powder on Amazon both in the UK and in the US. I haven’t tried and tested these so I don’t know if they will perform in the same way but they look pretty similar to what I have and for the price they are probably worth a try:
And these look very much like the silver powder that I have been using although the UK product is more of a cosmetic one but looks like it might still do the job: