My Secret Process for Making Abstracts?

Updated: Mar 26

A SIMPLE ABSTRACT "When the Ocean Sings"

Making a complex abstract artwork is a process that is exciting and yet obscure to the audience and the artist. We can try to describe it, but in doing so, in my opinion, we get only a small insight into what really goes on for the artist

When we artists are asked what our abstract artwork means, our typical response is to say something vague, believing that a person can learn more just looking at the art. You and I can feel an abstract's qualities, but are less likely to understand the evolution of its content.

I am uncomfortable stonewalling people who care about art and ask to know more. For that reason, in this blog I will try to inform you how the abstract artwork below evolves. But keep in mind that my explanation is hazy and I am probably unaware of the many subtle cues that impact me.


Sample of A Chaotic Mode

The artwork I'm discussing is this new rather complex one titled "Martial Weather". It is from my EarthAirSea project that has recently focused with more intensity on Earth's phenomenal energy processes. Energies are chaotic. They are subject to unexpected outcomes as the various components react, causing even more complex chaotic modes.

As usual, I started with an ambition. I wanted to experiment by imagining forces in the atmosphere that reacted at sharp angles to each other. I was also imagining how the horizontal lines are energized in part by winds in the rotation of the Earth. Of course, the vertical ones are influenced by gravity. To get this component right, I experimented with a lot of interpretations of how these opposing forces might fit into the composition. I had to think about the difference in their densities, thicknesses, textures and other visual formalities with the intention of making something that could stand alone as an artwork, if need be. After three hours of work, I got it to where I was satisfied. I put it aside for several weeks, waiting for an additional inspiration that would be combined with this conception of bands of light and forms.

Earlier Work With Opposing Lines

The muse eventually appeared by forming a question in my head that was "besides each other, what else will these energies impact?" Obviously, everything in a tiny way, but in a larger sense those energies would certainly impact what the atmosphere was doing.

My style is to include some elements, however minimalized, to provide something slightly recognizable. I chose clouds, whose substance consists of moisture sublimating on to particles of dust. An earlier work further inspired the concept.

Expanding a picture formed in my head promoted the idea that the moisture was both vague and illuminated, and the perspective was as if seen from above the clouds.

Abstracted Clouds from Above - West of Zurich - note the contradictory sharp white edges

Putting intuition and most other considerations aside I had to depend on raw feeling and some kind of aha moment to decide which of my thousands of recognizable images should work its way into this creation. The plan was to have indications of human conflict beyond nature. I was agonizing over the terrible stuff happening in the Ukraine, and at the same time thinking that nature without is a glorious thing so why don't we enjoy that rather then engage in destruction? I chose slight airplane references as the representations of what I was feeling. Clouds and airplanes share similar energies in the atmosphere, a small cue that came to me in a silent moment.

Graceful Glider Soars in the Stunning Sky

My back story was during my pilot training I came to that time, just before getting my license, when I was required to make a long 300 mile triangular trip across the country by stopping at two other airports along the way. Once you have done this you are ready to take the final test for your pilot’s license, and I was intent on reaching that conclusion soon. A flight time for the first week of March was set up, hoping for good weather, a big variable in the upper Midwest of America. The day came, there were mild numbers of clouds in the sky, the weather should have been stable and I was ready to go. The first two 100 mile legs were routine. Only the 100 mile leg back to my home airport was left, it was the middle of the day, things look good, I felt like I was competent, and for the third time I took off. Most of the flight was conducted several thousand feet above the ground. Then, halfway to my airport, a thin layer of constant clouds gathered a thousand feet below me which I didn't have any concern for, because they were transparent enough for me to descend safely and legally as I approached my airport. But there was a moment or two when I had some little doubts about the safety aspect. I recognized it was snowing. In fact it was snowing pretty hard, though not enough to impact the visibility much. I thought about the possibility of icing on my wings. Then I realized I could discard that threat because I was flying in the beginning of a high pressure system running over the top of a lower pressure cold front. In other words, at the altitude was flying it was a normal day and I only had to be attentive to the moisture-driven energies swirling below me.

At that moment I knew I had a wonderful special experience enjoying this inversion of weather firsthand and in my face. It's really a spectacular thing to observe and even more so with some sensitivity for the energies involved and cautions you must consider. That memory instigated the placement of the clouds and the relationship of the competing lines in the composition’s earlier construction followed by the airplane elements. These combined bits of whole original images became the core of the expression.

I wanted this artwork also to imply the feelings of haze, pollution, and the interactions of the cool and warm layers. For that, I introduced more layers of images that seemed to float around the space, especially towards the top of the artwork. This finished the basic composition, and I moved on to the next phase, refining it until it felt completed.

1. It was time for me to think about how the colors related to each other as well as their ability to define the feelings about energy that had driven the composition to start with.

2. I asked myself how I felt about the textures and edges of the shapes. What did I want to modify and what would making those modifications do to the feelings I was after?

3. How did the size relationships of the forms, such as the cloud parts, impact the artwork, and what did I want to change?

4. Since much of this competition was about things that are hardly solid, what did I want to do to play on these densities?

5. I also had to consider how the sense of space forward and back could contribute to the success or failure of this artwork.

That ends this anatomy of a complex abstraction made from ordinary photographs. I love making those artworks, But I also love making single images which are complex or minimal. Both directions appeal to me as you can see in this pastel image below.

Lawrence D’Attilio, March 2022, San Pedro, LA, California

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