Master Class: Experimenting with Abstract Landscapes

Abstract landscapes are fun and interesting to make. They help you develop your “artist’s eye” by breaking the elements of a scene down to the most specific shapes and colors. Best of all, you don’t have to be incredibly talented as a painter or visual artist to experiment with abstract landscapes. Being a good artist will help you produce more quality works, of course. But, even a beginner can produce a halfway decent abstract landscape.

Don’t be scared by the big term “abstract landscapes.” Basically, what you are attempting to do is convey a feeling through your art more than depicting exactly what the eye can behold. You want to show the scene through your heart and emotions. At a wedding I went to recently, the bride and groom temporarily escaped from the reception dinner so they could have the photographer get some pictures of them and the beautiful sunset that had developed on their important day. What would make a bride and groom value pictures of themselves in the sunset? It’s not the actual event, or the wedding finery they were dressed in. They already had taken plenty of pictures both before and after the ceremony to showcase those things. But, the sunset brought with it an emotion, and that is why those pictures were important.

So, as you paint or draw an abstract landscape, instead of portraying every single leaf on a tree, or realistically representing every petal on the rose, you can use general shapes and colors to convey the feeling that the scene has created inside of you.

Awe for God’s majesty
Feeling little in a big world
Overwhelming joy

There are myriad emotions a scene can evoke, and as you make your abstract landscape, you want to try to use colors and ideas that will evoke those same emotions in the viewer. It’s not about the exact representation of the scene. It’s about colors, lines, shapes, and ideas.

To make your abstract landscape, first, gather your materials. Since you are experimenting, I suggest you choose the cheapest materials in the medium in which you want to work. For instance, if you want to use acrylic paints, choose the less expensive brands and types. If you produce something you really like, you can replicate it later using better materials.

For this master class, I used pastels and computer paper.

Next, choose a photograph you like, something that evokes an emotion in you. The best ones have a variety of colors. For your first attempts, try to find a photo with no manmade objects in it. This is a great time to go through all those nature shots you took on vacations past, and all the postcards you have saved.

I chose this photograph of Big Bear Lake. I liked it because of the depth. If you look from the bottom up, there is the sage scrub in the immediate foreground, a big tree in the mid foreground, and a line of trees after that. Then, there is the lake, another stand of trees on the other side of the lake, the mountains, and the blue sky. I also like the rich array of greens and blues that dominate this photograph. Overall, this photograph gives me a sense of awe at the vastness of God’s creation, and that is what I want to portray in my abstract lanscape.

Now, to begin, using a charcoal pencil or a pastel, draw in the most major shape you see in this photograph. It’s a personal decision, and everyone might interpret the same photo slightly differently.

For this example, I think the large tree that’s slightly left of center is the most major shape. Is it a rectangle or a triangle? That’s an artistic choice. I chose a rectangle, and drew it on my paper like this. (For the purposes of this study, I recreated the same picture several times so I could photograph the process in different stages. If you look closely, you will see these are not all the same exact pictures, although they do represent the same scene using the same process.)

Next, anchor that major shape to the ground (or whatever it is on).

Then, look for other shapes in the photo you can add. Some people choose to draw in everything at this point, and others choose to simply block out a few ideas that they will add to later. Here is my blocking sketch of the photo. I used triangles for the smaller trees, and rectangles for the larger trees closer to the foreground. I used a very stylized mountain chain in the background, and I drew a line for where the lake and mountains meet. Notice at this point, perfection isn’t the key. It’s simply getting a few ideas sketched so you can fill them in later with the colors.

Finally, looking at the colors, I chose to color my trees green, and shade them with black. Notice that I added more trees as I did this, because my original sketch had some blank spots between the sage scrub and the lake, but the photo does not.

Then, I choose my blue for the lake, a different blue for the mountains, and a different shading of blue for the sky.

At last, I finished the picture with some details, such as the trees on the other side of the lake, and the yellow of the sage scrub in the foreground. The final picture looks like this.

Compare the final abstract landscape to the original picture. Do you think the abstract landscape I created gives you a sense of awe at the vastness of God's creation, as I orginally set out to convey? I find the perspectives interesting with the large tree shape in the foreground and the mountains blending into the lake and the sky.

Obviously, there is a wide array of materials, landscapes, and techniques you can use to make abstract landscapes, but the basic premise is the same. You want to convey the spirit of the scene, the emotion the scene evokes, paring the objects in the scene down to their bare essences. It’s fun to experiment with this style and technique, and learning to convey an emotion in your art is a skill that will help any artist of any discipline.

So, get to working!

Our past Master Class articles:

Preparing for Excellence, April 2009

It Builds Character, March 2009

Labanotation, February 2009

Singability, January 2009

Avoiding Cliches, December 2008

No comments: