“For an artist, greatness happens when you can take something organized and make it feel like it was improvised,” says dance teacher Helena St. Rogers in the drama series, Pose. In painting, you may wonder how to do this without ending up with an aimless jumble. Improvisation, the act of composing without a plan, unfurls in real time but rests on an armature of known structures and experiences, with the goal of getting to a breakthrough. Just as a jazz musician takes a solo over a grid of eight or twelve bars, your improvisation should have a beginning, middle and end. “I will keep playing until I get something interesting going and manage to reach some kind of climax before I end my solo,” says American vibraphonist Gary Burton. Gary also recommends starting strong. An exclamatory phrase, he says, introduces your style and serves as a jumping off point for the development of your ideas.
Improvisation needs to be nothing more than a series of experiments. Set out a dozen prepared grounds and, without planning anything, drop, lay or drag your brush as if you were attacking a solo, knowing your band is holding it down behind you. The secret is to avoid meandering around while waiting for inspiration, but to instead hit hard with something exciting enough to play with and expand upon for a few minutes.
For this exercise, resist the temptation to change tools. Keep your palette simple and don’t forget to leave spaces between your runs and within your dynamics. Your textures should come from what’s in your hand now. Remember that what you don’t play is as important as what you play.
If you’re struggling with sameness, go up a brush size. Liquify your colour. Punch in with intensity. Harness the power of “strong and wrong” — the musical idea that it’s better to blow a strong note off key than to produce a wimpy one that doesn’t get noticed.
In order to get new ideas, you have to be in the practice of summoning them. When returning to your regular work flow, keep in mind the access point to surprise. Improvising your way through an existing plan or subject, colour story or composition puts you in a position to offer the viewer the feeling of wildly inspired and spontaneously-made art — it puts you on the dance floor.
PS: “The true method of knowledge is experiment.” (William Blake)
Esoterica: During dance class, Helen St. Rogers’ students rehearse the choreography to their new piece. In French, the word for “rehearse” is répéter, or “repeat.” Ms. St. Rogers notices one of her students absorbed in the music and movement, present in his experience as opposed to thinking through the steps. “You were not rehearsing,” she says, “you were dancing.” Painting, while not usually a performing art, is still an act of creation in real time that demands the same exertion and human expression as dancing. The difference in what we do is that we’re also simultaneously creating a physical record of a creative event —- that thing we call “a painting.” How much of it was improvised is up to the artist — our work carrying the potential to feel as immediate and unique as if it were.
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“Most people learn to improvise on their own, listening to records, endless hours of noodling on their instrument in the bedroom with all their spare time. That’s traditionally how people learn.” (Gary Burton)
So you want to create abstracts but you haven’t a clue where to start.
Abstracts From the Ground Up takes you from the very beginning…how to find your designs, so you are NEVER without a design, then how to develop this design into a finished painting that is totally yours.
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August 17 – 20, 2020, Location….Online
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Los Angeles-based artist Lisa Chakrabarti works in a variety of media: oils, acrylics, pastels, watercolors, graphite and colored pencils. Focusing on a style she calls “romantic naturalism” – impressionism based largely on subjects in the natural world – her works have found their way into galleries in Los Angeles, Florida, Colorado and New York. In 1995, after being introduced to sumi-e and Chinese ink painting by Asian friends, Lisa became captivated by the apparent freedom and subtlety of this ancient medium. This shift in focus has informed her work ever since.