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Today’s featured artist is Jo Toye, author of the new book, Abstract Explorations in Acrylic Painting: Fun, Creative and Innovative Techniques. Stay tuned at ArtistsNetwork–Jo will be joining our team of expert artists as a guest blogger!
How to Make Abstract Art: A Tip for Beginners
by Jo Toye
As an experimental artist, it is easy to take off in some exciting new direction every time a new inspiration comes my way. For the first few years that I painted, this was exactly what I did and in many ways it served me well. I explored a wide variety of materials, experimented with many exciting techniques and taught myself quite a bit about what did and did not work. Yet, it seemed that although I had a lot of good starts, and some decent middles, I consistently found my paintings lacking by the time I reached the end.
Experimentation by its very nature implies a degree of failure. Think of Thomas Edison and his legendary thousands of tries at a light bulb. Yet, even before he had succeeded, he is quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”Failure in this sense has great value as it is a means of instruction and learning. Still, as artists we tend to get discouraged if, after hours at a painting, we have only discovered what doesn’t work. This got me to thinking, if I’m always experimenting, how can I increase my chances of reaching successful finishes in my paintings? Yes, we all know that painting is a process and we shouldn’t be tied to outcomes–but really, who doesn’t want to finish a day or week (or even a year) in the studio and have at least one painting that has us saying to ourselves, “Oh wow, I painted that!”
So here’s my little secret: Each time you start a new painting, make yourself change one and only one thing. You see, our brain is a predictable creature, and the little guy is really into the “familiar.” When you want to coax him into doing something new, he responds best if you lure him with a bit of the familiar that he likes so much. If you change only one thing in your next painting, you are building on something you have already learned–whether it does or doesn’t work.
In working this way, you are increasing your chances of success because you’re going to move only one step away from something you have already done–the familiar. On the other hand, if every time you paint, you brave new territories where no one has gone before, you most likely will meet some pretty steep challenges along the way. Not that challenges aren’t useful, but if you want to increase your learning and your chances of successful completions, making one change at a time will serve you well.
In addition, when you work this way, you slowly build a cohesive body of work without getting bored or falling into the rut of repeating your past successes. Building on the familiar while changing one thing will allow you to develop a personal style that will be identifiable from one painting to the next, even as your work evolves. Every technique in my new book, Abstract Explorations in Acrylic Painting, was developed as I followed this practice of “changing only one thing.” ~Jo