As we let go of the need to establish an illusion on the page the balance of form and content shifts distinctly toward form. Without narrative content to occupy the viewer’s attention, it becomes more important than ever for the paint itself to be worth looking at. Freshness and clarity, fluidity and interaction of colors, - the qualities that attract us to watercolor in the first place – are now the subject matter of the painting.
How do we decide what works best when we let go of the usual standards? Are there any guidelines, or is abstraction a painting free-for-all?
Nathan Fowkes has let go of texture and specificity, but he keeps a good grip on value and color.
In fact, the same standards that apply to realists are equally important to abstract painters. A painting with too many shapes, for example, feels busy whether it is a cityscape or a non-representational collection of forms. Wherever your work resides on the continuum from realism to abstraction it will benefit from being clear and deliberate in your use of value, composition, color and edge quality. As you extend the range of your comfort zone you can keep one foot in familiar territory.
The transition from realism to abstraction is a process of combining what you know from your previous experience with experiments into the unknown.
The pattern of light, middle and dark is thoughtfully constructed, just as it would be if this were a painting of a barn.
There is as much of a story being told in an abstract painting as in a realist image. It may be a story about rectangles touching the frame of the painting, or pale, soft-edged shapes being traversed by hard-edged diagonals. The wonderful irony is that this kind of narrative is also present in even the most hyper-realist work. The difference is that in abstraction, the viewer is invited to pay attention to it.
Having said that, it is also important to leave room for surprises. Break your own rules, just to see what happens.
Some painters will naturally start exploring without guidelines and discover what works and what doesn’t. Others will want to begin with some deliberate structure in place, like keeping the shapes parallel to the edges of the paper.
For homework, do whatever you want.