Workshop- Experimenting with Abstraction Through Drawing

This two day workshop was tutored by Jane Strother, an Oxford Adult Education tutor who offers thoughtful and interesting courses in personal development for experienced artists. I have been to one of her courses before at Oxford Summer School and found it really useful. The attraction is not just the content of the course, but the coming together with half a dozen like minded people, albeit with totally different art directions.

Jane started the day by reviewing the work of several artists and looking at their different approaches to organising mass and line within a space. We looked at William Scott, Ellsworth Kelly, David Tress, Simon Carter and Nicholas De Stael. Jane showed us their different methods for exploring composition; collage, drawing, tearing and rearranging, working via a grid, simplification via obliteration etc. We discussed how, in developing an abstract, or abstracted image, you might wish to completely loose any iconography, or choose to retain a few specific elements.

Jane had set up a towering stack of chairs and set us the challenge of drawing them in various ways, trying to loose the iconography. We drew quick drawings with our non dominant hand, with continuous line, unsighted, ‘sneaky look’, negative spaces joined up etc. The objective of this first day was to build up a body of drawings which we could work from the next day to create compositions for a future work.

A1, Pencil, wrong hand, unsighted, 3 mins

A1, unsighted, pencil, 5 mins

A2, pencil and charcoal, unsighted

A2, charcoal, neg spaces

A1, charcoal and white pastel, c 20 mins

These exercises show how difficult I find it to loose the representation, the longer I sketch.

In the afternoon, we sketched in the garden. Here the objective was to use the structural aspects of the garden with the organic shapes to find a variety of mark, shape and mass which could be selected and isolated or joined in different ways in a subsequent composition. Again, we were trying to loose the representation and just let the subject suggest marks or shapes. We all found this even more difficult in the garden. Jane suggested trying moving around and sketching the garden from different aspects in the same drawing.

A3, charcoal

A3, charcoal

A3, stick and ink

A3, stick and ink

A3, charcoal

A4, ink on stick

A4, ink on stick, charcoal

A4, ink on stick

A4, ink on stick

The next day, we thought about strategies for taking our drawings and making an abstract monochrome composition from them, either completely abstract or retaining some slight iconography of the original subject.

Strategies included:

  • tearing up and rearranging
  • painting over and obliterating in areas
  • adding paper to margins and extending
  • over drawing one drawing on another
  • redrawing and selecting
  • cropping
  • collaged papers
  • cutting up and weaving or rearranging in a grid (ref Kelly)
  • rotate some elements relative to others
  • joining shapes, neg or pos

I felt much more inspired by the organic shapes than the chair drawings, so I used the latter as practice for manipulation.

Adding charcoal and white paint, joining shapes

Uninspired and uninspiring. I went back to the garden sketches and drew from a couple of them, enlarging the shapes of the tulips, adding the loopy lines of plant supports and black shapes of clumps of perennials. I forgot to take a photo of this before I decided to tear it up and put the pieces together  another way, extending lines and shapes onto new paper.

Some shapes are still recognisable here, I then cropped into one bit, about a third, which I found the most interesting.

The drawing was added to, subtracted from with white paint and finally torn up again and the pieces rearranged.

Drawing was added to relate the shapes somewhat whilst trying to keep a balance of positive and negative space. I regretted that I had cut, rather than torn some shapes when cropping.

This has now completely lost any iconography of a garden. I can find a landscape within this, with an exciting sky, if rather literal land.

I like the idea of making very big marks for a very big sky.

Turning back to the garden, I made an even more gestural sketch.

Drawing on newspaper which I have previously used as worktop protection whilst painting, was really useful as a device for loosing representation. A stick with ink is great for creating a gestural, inexact mark. Once again, I tore this up, glued parts down onto new paper, and added some lines in ink, suggested by my earlier drawings of a tree and climbing rose. Watery, white paint was added to soften tones by making the ink run.

A3, collage, ink and white paint

With the day drawing to a close, I drew three marks on paper, suggested by the garden forms, and then tried to unite them in a composition.

A3, ink and paint

This sketch used carbon stick and white acrylic paint. Mixed on the paper with the paint, it forms a lovely bluish grey.

It felt decadent to spend days experimenting and I came away with an appetite to try painting again, beyond the representational watercolours I used to do years ago. I find workshops really useful for exchanging ideas, freshening up my own, putting into practice the stuff you might know but don’t give yourself time to do but should. It was lovely to meet new artists and look at their work and to be invited into Jane’s home and see her work. I was also grateful for being introduced to the work of Simon Carter and his excellent blog where he discusses the development of work from sketchbook to possibly finished painting with great honesty and humour. This was a very productive couple of days.


5 thoughts on “Workshop- Experimenting with Abstraction Through Drawing

      1. outsideauthority

        You can still be that, just don’t destroy the end product! Btw that’s meant to say tall ships below. I’ve had a look at the tutor’s website too. Just wish I was nearer to Oxford


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s