Woodland abstracts

Oak leaves

I don’t do people in my art, and while I love animals I am not drawn to representing them either, still life rarely moves me. Instead I tend to focus on nature and landscape, details, and, more recently, abstracts.

But it’s hard to know where to start with an abstract sometimes and harder still to know where to stop. So, when I saw that Judy Woods was doing one element of her stARTs course for free, I jumped at the chance to see how an abstract artist works close up. I will admit that, actually, I don’t particularly like most of Judy’s abstracts; they certainly don’t offend me, but neither do they inspire me. What does inspire me is her understanding of her process and how she has developed a methodology to get past the various problems that can block an artist in their work. I may not want to create art that looks like hers, but I can certainly learn from how she makes it.

Sycamore leaves

Interestingly, one of her core lessons is also one that I learned from Sandy Allnock with respect to creating Copic scenes: art goes through ugly stages (or looks like a hot mess in Sandy’s words) and that is not a reason to stop and abandon the work. Working with acrylics and collage, you can always add another layer and change the things that you don’t like.

Working on multiple pieces at once is a fundamental part of Judy’s method, using similar but not identical processes on each painting and reacting to how they develop. I needed a focal element for each — I could have kept them completely abstract, but it’s easier for me to have a recognisable element to build on at the moment — and I chose leaves. The oak leaves, in particular, were fun to draw.

Horse chestnut leaves

As for recognising when to stop, well, I’m still working on that. There’s a balance between being happy with what is on the canvas, there not being any elements that feel out of place, wanting to add more, and being honest about whether a piece has reached its potential without drastic reworking. When I finished these, I was tempted to take the extra step of adding some gilding, but I stopped myself because, although it would have been fun to do, it wouldn’t have improved them. And so I called them finished.

I became more confident in developing layers and stopped being precious about what was there in early layers, looking instead at what it could become. And I like two out of the three (and may even frame them), so I’m calling that time well spent.

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