AAA: Abstraction Is an Asset to Your Art

30 Sep 2014

Abstraction is a key part of how you paint or draw anything. It is seeing completely with the eye, and not allowing the brain to contextualize what we are seeing. But turning off the brain is no small task! I've found that painting with acrylics has given me a bit of insight into abstraction for two reasons: when painting with acrylics, each layer dries fast--so I can practice seeing (and painting) abstractly over and over again in a fairly short period of time. Also, the paints are opaque, so gesture comes more strongly to the fore in any work because it is much less about blending than about making successive layers work together.

Earth and Shade II by John Harrell, acrylic painting.
Earth and Shade II by John Harrell, acrylic painting.

As I've confessed before, I'm usually a slowpoke ditherer when it comes to painting, largely due to the intimidation factor. When painting with acrylics, I found my speed because those paints dry fast! But that means that as soon as they do, I can go in again. I really enjoy the fact if I try to paint a figure or aspect of the landscape too literally, I can wait a few minutes, assess what I've done, and experiment more abstractly right then and there.

Sun Lovers by John Harrell, acrylic painting.
Sun Lovers by John Harrell, acrylic painting.
We all know that acrylic paints dry opaque unless you add a medium to make them more transparent. This solidity or opacity has proven helpful to a lot of artists who want to build up their abstraction chops. That's because you can see your gesture completely in every stroke you put on the canvas, as opposed to brushwork that layers on in a more transparent way. Exploring gesture in an acrylic painting is especially exciting if I use a palette knife because the entire surface of the painting is looser, more textural, and all about big shapes and color.

Artists featured in the latest issue of Acrylic Artist put abstraction and acrylic painting techniques together in compelling ways. They explore how to take aspects of art that are the most interesting and merge them to create appealing compositions and beautifully painted surfaces that can be appreciated abstractly and on the basis of representation. Enjoy!

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The Fall 2014 special issue of Acrylic Artist features acrylic painting step-by-step demonstrations, creative acrylic and mixed-media painting ideas, artist interviews, and inspirational artwork. Order your copy today!


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Donna McGee wrote
on 26 Jun 2012 9:06 PM

Hi Courtney,

I`d have to disagree with you about your statement that all acrylics dry opaque. There are many pigments that are transparent, such as Hansa yellow or the quinacrridones, just to mention a few. Liquitex marks the tube of paint letting artists know if the pigment is transparent, opaque or semi-transparent. Paints like Jo Sonja are acrylic gouache, therefore designed to be opaque, and craft paints like Delta, Americana and Folkart are also desgned to be opaque generally so that yes, you need a medium to render them more transparent.

In my work, I use the transparency of some pigments to create layers, much like watercolour, so that you can see the colours underneath. Try them, if you haven`t already. You might like them!

Donna from Montreal

on 27 Jun 2012 5:00 PM

Hey Donna,

Good point! And my bad for that blanket statement. Thanks for the recommendations! I like them already!!