Letting the “abstraction” shine through (Overpainting, Part II)

My goal in painting is to stay as abstract as possible. However I do enjoy having an element of realism in my work. One method I use regularly to trick my left brain is to begin with an abstract underpainting and hope it works well as an abstract. This seems to work better for me than to start with a realistic image and then try to abstract it. See my blog on overpainting to bring back the abstract.

When it works as a true abstract I sign it and leave it alone. Creating a true abstract is not always easy (even though to the uninitiated it would seem simple to slap on some paint). This is how I left Melting the Stars (shown below). It has light and dark values, depth, movement and interesting textures.

Melting the Stars, 30 x 24 in, mixed media collage

If I think the painting needs something more, or if I lack the courage to leave it as an abstract, I will let it sit for a few days or weeks. Occasionally I hang it in my living room where I can peruse it several times a day. When I look up from reading a novel, I might decide it needs something more. At that point, I continue with the work, sometimes superimposing an image on top. This image is frequently a woman. Sometimes it is a man. More and more often recently it is an animal.

I paint in thin layers on top. Or, if I need to bring back the highlights, I use white gesso or white acrylic ink, both of which are good “coverers”.  I try not to apply the paint opaquely, or in too many layers in too many places. Thus the figure on top is just barely there. The underpainting is still very visible and adds an air of mystery to the piece. I love this look!

Rainbow Gazing, 12 x 9 in, watercolour

Rainbow Gazing, 12 x 9 in, watercolour

In Rainbow Gazing, I show a woman carrying her child. Indian children are rarely put down to walk on their own. With such a large population I believe mothers worry that the child will get trampled underfoot in the crowds. A very real possibility. In this piece, I successfully let the underpainting show through creating movement, mystery and the dramatic effect of a turbulent rainbow-infused sky.

The Third Eye, 36 x 30 in, acrylic

Indians are avid readers. In spite of his broken eyeglasses, the subject in The Third Eye continues to read! In this one I have successfully left in the drawing marks as well as letting the underpainting remain obvious. Check out the undercolours in the fabric of his left leg. Check out also the accidental human (?) face in the upper left of the canvas.

This technique enhances and creates a lot of mystery. This is one method I use regularly and one with which I think I have some success. I am still not totally satisfied however and would like to remain even more abstract.

Can you help? Join the conversation. Share your secrets of painting and staying abstract with me.

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