-or How to Compose a Representational Geometric Abstract Painting
Geometricist (jee-uh-me-tri-sist) –adj. 1. An abstract style of artwork that is characterized by intense geometric shapes and linear designations; often incorporating not only reflections, translations, and near-symmetries/asymmetries but iconic and representational imagery as well.
I apologize for making up a word for this tutorial, but in all of my art history and English studies I have not encountered a word to suitably describe my style of artwork, other than the rather blanket term “abstract,” which I feel is not sufficiently descriptive.
Note: Although you will probably not take as long with your painting as me, do not give up or get discouraged if it doesn’t look like much right away. It takes A LONG TIME to complete a work such as this. After I had finished my painting, I went back and added up all of the time I spent on it; an average of 32 hours a week over 16 weeks (some weeks I painted more, some weeks not at all) for about 512 hours in total!
Although I mentioned earlier that I had never done a painting of this style and scale before, I am extremely happy and proud of the results, and will definitely continue to challenge myself in this manner and push the extents of what I’m capable of. I hope you have the same satisfaction that I do. Good luck, and let me know what you think and how yours goes!
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You Will Need
Choose a subject: With geometricist artwork, you are given a lot of freedom in terms of subject matter; even if you’re completely uninspired you can just start putting down random lines and shapes and just build off of it from there. I usually find no lack of inspiration, however.
For this painting, I decided to do a nude on an intensely complex and detailed geometric background, with no real place for the eye to rest. Each time the viewer attempts to study any particular detail there are a multitude of similar elements around the work that strive to keep the viewer’s gaze darting. The goal was to make a painting where the subject matter was blatant, but not the main focal point for the viewer, almost secondary or even inconsequential.
With an idea in mind, now is the time to take the optional step of sketching a rough proof of your idea in a sketchbook to get a general idea for the composition of the major shapes. I took this step in this instance (though I do not always) because my previous experience with projects of this style and magnitude is with pen and paper, not paint.
Prepare the canvas: Once you have a subject, and are ready to begin, it’s time to take a few basic steps to get started. If you do not already have a canvas, they can be found at a variety of art and craft stores, but can get very pricey the larger they get. I advise checking local thrift stores for any large canvases that they may have, as I did for this piece. It is very economical, and lets you re-use, one of the (it may sound lame but it’s important) three “r”s that we must heed in order to protect the atmosphere and environment.
After a canvas has been procured, you take the simple step of priming it with gesso if it is not already primed, or if it comes from the thrift store with somebody else’s paint on it. Apply a thin but full coverage coat, and it will provide a flat, neutral white space upon which to begin your painting.
Background: After the canvas is ready to paint on, decide what your dominant background color will be. As this color will have all of the other colors that you use layered on top of it, it’s depth as a background color will be exaggerated, so I recommend using a cooler color. For my painting the background color is black. It’s important to use a rather easily reproducible color, if you mix your own colors custom for each piece, as you will use the background color a lot at the beginning but not again until touch-ups at the end of the project. Don’t forget to paint the sides of the canvas!
Blocking: The background has dried, so now it’s time to lay down the lines which will define your subject matter. For my nude, I chose an exaggerated arms-lifted, head-raised pose to accentuate both length and the hourglass figure of the female form. As this is a rather abstract piece, and I am striving to paint more than just a nude, I chose to put iconic symbols into the geometric background panels that allude to my love for my girlfriend, women in general, and my predisposition towards the unadorned female body. To this end my panels contain a host of icons referencing these things, such as abstracted hearts, breasts, brains, backsides, and vaginas.
In order to ensure that my colors showed up vibrantly on the black background, I painted all of the positive spaces first in white, despite the fact that the vast majority of this positive space would be a shade of green, purple, or pink.
I chose simple, thick, mostly soft lines and shapes such as triangles and crescents for the nude, rather than more thin and sophisticated lines I would use if I were striving for realism with this painting. For the background outside your primary subject matter, make numerous long, squiggly, intersecting lines. These lines will serve to define all of the individual geometric panels that comprise your background. Make sure to also paint in any geometric or iconic detail within the panel that will become positive, colorful space. As I did with the black background negative space, I continued painting select background positive space onto the sides of the canvas.
Color: Once your white positive space has dried, it’s time to start coloring it in. Although your painting when all is said and done will probably look chaotic, it is important to set a few compositional rules for yourself to adhere to throughout the painting to keep things from becoming a complete cluster…
For me, I decided that the colors used in my subject would be completely independent of the colors that I used in the background. I decided that the background lines which defined each individual background panel would be a solid color, one of each of the four colors besides black and white that I was using in the background. The color of these background lines would change each time it reached the boundary of a new panel, or at each intersection point with another background line. Furthermore, no segment of background line could be adjacent to any other segment of the same color, nor could any background panel’s positive space be the same color as its boundary line if the positive space in the panel abuts the boundary line.
As long as you can keep straight in your head the rules of the piece that you have set out for yourself, it is now a matter of putting the correct color in its proper place, then waiting for it to dry and continuing with the next color. Despite both trying to be careful and making up lots of each of the two pinks, two purples, gold, gray, copper, and green for this piece, I had to go in several times with each color, sometimes days later, to touch up details.
Once you’re all done with coloring your subject and positive background spaces, go back in with a fine brush and the black paint to ensure that all of the foreground and background negative space’s integrity has been preserved. In areas where you colored outside the lines, so to speak, use the black to refine the shapes and detail. After all of the touch-ups are made to your satisfaction, sign the back, hang it up, and view your work proudly! You have just painted a beautiful piece of art.