Exercise: Abstraction from study of natural forms


Starting point photo

For this exercise I thought I would study the branches and twigs of hedgerows while they are still bare of leaves but while I was out walking with my camera I looked up and saw this view of bare twigs with just a few buds. The light was flat and the sky a uniform grey which turned to my advantage as I was able to take a photo into the light which resulted in very clearly delineated lines of the branches.

I instantly knew I wanted to work with this image… it might be because the strong intersecting lines echo the work of Jackson Pollock which I have recently been studying.

My sketchbook explorations included drawings with ink using a signwriter’s chisel ended brush. This is a lovely brush to use for extended, flowing lines (like those of fancy scripts). It lent itself to this subject matter. I was particularly attracted to the cross overs of branches and intersections. Quite neural, like synapses. I haven’t yet been able to identify the tree. I may have to wait until it has leaves.

These sketches have the personality of the tree. I can picture the detail sketch (below middle) successfully scaling up to a large canvas.


ink3 ink4 ink2








Then I did some Photoshop experimentation exploring colour and detail and felt things were becoming quite abstract expressionist.

square-abstraction square-abstraction2 square-abstraction3 square-abstraction4 square-abstracton-5










disrupted copyI took a section of my original photo, removed the background colour and then disrupted the patterns of the branches by selecting sections and moving them around. This retained the complex intersections that I like and resulted in an a bit of a puzzle picture… like those handheld games where you have to move the squares round to make the picture.

I went back to my sketchbook and painted the negative shapes of a section of my photo using black Quink ink. This was striking. I added some coloured ink to the branches. Then I laid over stripes of masking tape and bleached the unmasked areas. Now I was getting really into the zone and excited by the results. I photographed my picture straight on and also at an angle that enlarged the foreground.


Photo of bleached sketchbook negative shapes ink painting


Photo with enlarged foreground











Painting above photographed through a bugs eye lens. Really abstract now.

Something fascinating was going on – no  longer starkly outlined branches but more ethereal, underwater fronds with glints of reflected light.

I decided to try to take the simplified version of this image and create an acrylic painting from it. Not an easy task as the subject matter lent itself more to the flowing nature of the inks but I wanted to try.

Stages to final abstract acrylic painting.



abstract-nature-final-low res

Spectral figure with giant squid stage (reminds me of Hokusai’s Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife!)



Abstract 1 (final) – acrylic and enamel paint






The final is a different painting to my earlier ink version. That was always going to be the case because of the change of medium.

I felt I had lost the long languid marks and interesting intersections in the earlier stage above so I used signwriter’s enamel paint and my chisel ended brush to recreate the fronds. The enamel paint costs a small fortune but it is wonderful because you can pull the brush around the whole canvas without losing the density of the line. Jackson Pollock used enamel paint I believe and I now understand why.

I am not at all pleased with the finished painting but I gained a lot from the process. Although the painting has layers and light and is enigmatic it doesn’t capture the fronds and surreal underwater feel of my sketchbook painting. The best outcomes from this exercise (which was a lot of fun by the way) are my photos above. Combining photography with painting is something that interests me… the camera lens is a way of focusing differently and seeing in an altered way.


Abstract 1 – crop



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