Priceless: A Representational Artist Who Understands Abstraction

Delphinium by Sherrie McGraw, oil painting, 8 x 10.
Delphinium by Sherrie McGraw, oil painting, 8 x 10.

Oil Painting Abstraction & Representation

Sherrie McGraw’s work always surprises me because she doesn’t allow the objects she is painting to dictate how she paints. Instead, McGraw paints to articulate form, masses, and her own ideas or concepts. The result of this approach is a painting that stirs the mind, because no matter what it is you are looking at, the artist brings something more to the objects that makes the work worthwhile.

For example, when McGraw begins a still life oil painting, she starts with her concept. The concept isn’t about the objects—or at least it doesn’t have to be. It’s more about the idea you want to communicate or the abstract visual interpretation you make of the objects in front of you. This is crucial because in that concept are all the answers to the questions an artist is going to be faced with during the process of painting. Questions that I often ask myself include:

What objects tell the story I want to tell?

How do I incorporate the way I paint into my message? 

Where do I want quiet passages and where do I want the visual intense ones?

Ranunculas and Lilacs by Sherrie McGraw, oil painting, 18 x 14.
Ranunculas and Lilacs
by Sherrie McGraw,
oil painting, 18 x 14.

McGraw pushes herself to answer her own questions from the start of a painting, essentially knowing the end result and doing everything she can along the way to get there. In a way, working like this gives you focus. You can remind yourself of your concept when you feel bogged down or uncertain about the next step. And with oil paintings, a still life can teach you a lot about how to get what you want as an artist. You can explore color, negative and positive space, texture, and lights and darks. If you take it to the next level and approach still life painting as McGraw does, you are setting yourself on the path of a real artist. It has nothing to do with the objects you choose to paint, but the skill and focus to paint them the way you want to.

If you have the desire to explore abstraction further, take a look at all the inspiring abstract painting resources from Debora Stewart. You’ll find top quality instruction so you can head to the studio equipped and ready to go, hopefully as inspired by the “abstract” approach as I am. Enjoy!


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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