Monday, 5 April 2010

Abstracting from photos

Our second March meeting was a small one. I think perhaps the topic scared some people away! We did some drawing exercises, working from photos to create abstract images. Only three of us did the exercises and one is too embarrassed by her work to share it. I think we all know how that feels.

Nola drew up an activity sheet, with some thoughts about abstraction and some drawing tasks. The tasks were pretty easy ones, since drawing is so scary for many people. There was no central organisation: people just worked on whichever exercises interested them.

Here’s one way of thinking about Abstract vs Non-Objective shapes:
Abstract shapes share a relationship with a realistic object. A shape can be various levels of abstractions, from almost representational through to barely representational at all. Non-objective shapes have no connection to a representative shape, though they may be inspired by a shape, colour or mood. We’re working with abstracting – i.e. we began with a photo of something specific.

Before you start drawing, you could consider some basic design elements.
• Decide whether you are working in portrait or landscape. You don’t have to use the same orientation as your photo or even the same orientation each time.
• Choose a focal point for your design. High on the page, low on the page; central or offset.
• What movement might you want in your drawing? Horizontal movement is calm and restful, vertical movement suggests growth and change.
• How will balance feature in your design? Balance has a strong influence on the mood of a composition. Designs with symmetrical balance or repeated similar shapes, colours, tones, lines are stable, calm, even rigid, and can organise many busy elements. Informal or asymmetrical balanced designs have dissimilar shapes, with unequal visual weight, which can feel casual or natural, or even unsettled. Circular or radial balance from the centre of a composition feels stable, while the same kind of balance from an offset point feels informal or unsettling. “Crystallographic” balance uses all-over pattern without a focal point, with equal emphasis over the whole composition, and a balance between positive and negative space.

Shape exercises:
1. Draw or trace outlines of shapes from your photo, without any interior details.
• Isolate one shape and doodle it into something else, by adding more exterior lines
• Isolate one shape and repeat it in a pattern. Make your pattern dense. Draw it again with a less dense layout.
• Mirror your shape.(If you don’t have confidence in your drawing skills and you don’t want to fold your paper, you can do this by holding the paper up to the window and tracing it onto the back of your sheet, tracing this copy onto another sheet and then tracing from that one onto the front side of your paper.)
• Rotate the shape
• Draw the shape as a circular repeat
2. Look at where the light falls on the main shapes in your photo. Draw contour lines to show the brightest areas and the darkest areas. (Can’t see it? Try squinting – it often helps to see tonal values. It’s also easier to see on a black and white image.) Make sure your contours are whole shapes, not just lines. Erase any lines that are not shapes. Play with your contour shapes – pattern them, colour them, interlock them.
3. Look at the negative space in your photo. Draw or trace these shapes a couple of times
• Pattern the shapes with doodles.
• Colour the negative space. One colour? Adjacent colours on the colour wheel? Will your shapes have an outline (which brings back the object more)?
• Use the same shape, without a strong outline, and add outlines in successive colours or tones to make contours in the negative shapes. Try different shaped outlines – ones that mimic the shape, ones that accentuate it, ones that are unrelated to the shape.
4. Use the dominant lines in your photo to make geometric shapes
• Look at where the strongest lines are on your image. Draw these on a piece of paper.
• Turn the lines into geometric planes.
• Add colour to the planes
5. Silhouettes – use the shapes from an image as silhouettes against a different background. Doodle a patterned background or use one of your earlier pages. Make your silhouette dark to contrast with a lighter, more open background. Try a light silhouette against a denser, darker patterned background.
1. Focus on a small part of your image. Draw it in large scale, taking up the whole page. Don’t worry too much if your shape isn’t exact.
• Add pattern elements within the shapes.
• Experiment with different patterns – swirling and geometric, patterns that mimic the overall shape, patterns that contrast, small patterns and larger ones.
2. Use the shapes of your image and miniaturise them.
• Repeat the shapes in a regular pattern.
• Repeat the shapes in an irregular pattern.
• Experiment with closer and further apart spacing.
1. Using some of your earlier shapes, work with unexpected colours. Try to establish a specific mood – excited, sombre, spooky…
2. Try shading colours from one to another.
3. Use different tones of a hue to suggest depth, but in a different way to the shades in your photo.

Nola worked from this photo:
The obvious element was the flower shape.
First she drew the outline and doodled it into a butterfly.
“This was really a warm-up exercise, just to get my head into a drawing place.”
Then, with two L-shaped scraps of paper, she isolated a small part of the photo...
… and drew the main design lines. Then she extended the design lines beyond the original shape (marked with a rectangle) and added some internal lines and pattern.
This one took elements from this image and rotated them around a central point. It still looks very flower-like, though. Interesting twist happening...
This one was from the contoured activity, using the original base shape, but the image was quite small and it was too hard to work with.
"I can see this has possibilities,  drawn larger and with the original lines removed."
This one uses the negative shapes around the original flower shape.
"They all look like weird bats! But interesting shapes..."
“This one was colouring contour lines and it’s pretty uninteresting. None of my drawings will set the world on fire, but it was a fun exercise and gave me some interesting things to think about.” Maz's drawing to follow...
Show and tell:
Meanwhile our members have been abstracting in other ways.
Maz took a class in screen printing with Marie-Therese Wisniozski and she brought her class work to show us. Her first prints were made using a circle, which was torn apart and used as positive and negative screen stencils.
"These were really to get us used to the process of printing."
Each student had taken along a prepared stencil. Maz’s was based on a garbage bin design she had done previously. Isn't it fascinating how the most mundane things give really interesting patterns? She pulled repeat screens, putting two colours, blue and green, in the well and allowing them to mix as she pulled the print.
In this print, she printed the screen area in black several times, and allowed it to dry. Then she positioned a simple stencil on the screen over the top and pulled prints with several colours in the well, allowing them to blend.
This screen used torn pieces of masking tape as the stencil. The lower sample was printed several times with the same screen and different colours.
This sample used multiple layers of screens – first without a stencil, then with positive and negative versions of the same few stencils. Some printing inks were opaque, so they were unaffected by the colours underneath, while others were transparent and changed according to the colour previously printed.

Isn’t it wonderful? Maz really recommends Marie-Therese as a tutor! You can see how she built up the complexity of the tasks, until, by the end, the students were making really complex pieces of printed cloth.

Meanwhile, Beverley took a dyeing workshop - pictures please, Beverley? (Since our official photographer was too busy admiring them!) Tricia was working with pattern of a different kind with her beautiful crochet scarf.
Can you see the way the colour of the variegated yarn works perfectly with the design?
Our next meeting will be delayed by Fibre Forum at Orange. Expect to see the results of wonderful workshops here, after April 19.

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