Drawing Towards Abstraction?
When artists call themselves ‘self-taught’ they usually mean that they haven’t been to art college, or followed a full-time course. I think that any good artist is mainly self-taught though, whether or not they have had a formal art education. Learning and practicing technical skills is one thing; how we use and interpret them is unique and entirely personal. Any work we admire is processed visually. We may wonder ‘how was that done?’ or ‘how good that is!’. We may imitate work that inspires us in order to learn more about it and how it was created. Hopefully we learn all the time, whether or not we have to pass exams or submit a portfolio.
As individuals, different aspects of life will interest and attract us. Our interpretations will become more and more unique as we explore the pathways that deepen our knowledge. We may learn a new technique from a book or a YouTube video, but we integrate it into our practice by trial and error. Eventually that technique will become familiar and personal, and we will take ourselves a step further by incorporating some new method or approach.
It’s debateable whether developing technical skills enhances or erodes self-expression and creativity. The argument against it is that once you have learnt to draw in a tight and representation way it can be difficult to loosen up afterwards and not become a slave to the outward appearance of your subject matter. Creative interpretation can be stifled.
On the other hand inaccurate drawing in a representational piece is enough to ruin it. If, say, the perspective is wrong in an otherwise good drawing it will jar with the viewer. They may not even be able to identify what it is, only that something doesn’t ‘feel right’.
More naive and experimental approaches often produce much more interesting images, but personally I feel it’s a mistake to encourage abstraction – in children or adults – before they have grasped at least the basic fundamentals of accurate drawing. Drawing, for me, means developing the skills of seeing what is really in front of us instead of what we THINK is there, and having the motor skills to capture it. Otherwise, what are we abstracting FROM?
Abstraction is often used as a vehicle of frustration at not being able to draw, but serves its purpose as a powerful way to express feelings. Not many well known artists began by painting abstracts however. They arrived at abstraction after many years of study, beginning with formal drawing.
I am far from being a Well Known Artist, but my artistic journey parallels these observations.
I left college able to draw photographically, which I was very pleased with at the time. I hadn’t learnt much about colour or painting techniques though. I subsequently met someone whose watercolour skills I admired and I absorbed her guidance like a sponge. It took me about two years before I was happy-ish with my abilities.
Years later, faced with a huge life crisis, I found my ability to paint and draw realistically no help at all. I began to create three-dimensional works from driftwood and found objects, and also to experiment with mixed media. This gave me an unrestricted outlet for emotional release. I still find the challenge of unpredictable methods and materials a source of inspiration and surprise. I know that I can tie things down with a bit of drawing if required, but it’s very exciting to just let paint flow and see what happens.
For exampIe, I created a series of semi-abstracts based on the full moon. I set out with the idea of making interesting and emotive paintings using mainly one colour (Prussian Blue) and a simple circle.
My years at art college still stand me in good stead, but I also consider myself self-taught to a great extent. Or perhaps I should say ‘self-teaching’ as I certainly have not finished learning or exploring yet.