Creating good macro level composition in SA-based abstract art

I've noticed something about my SA work which I'd like to improve upon. (I should preface this by saying I almost always strive for abstraction).

I'm a strong believer in the philosophy of allowing/encouraging accidents and exploration which lead to unimagined visual directions. I've never read a better description of this philosophy than how Jean Detheux described it in his DMN interview:

In fact running across this interview was a trip, because I had not run across any kind of intellectual foundation for what I was doing in SA, and this is the closest to my thinking that I've seen.

And as luck would have it, most of the time this approach works extremely well for me, at least at the micro (100% onscreen) and full-size (i.e.. viewed as you would in a gallery setting) scales. When I say it "works out", I mean I'm super-pleased with the textures, colors, shapes and look. However the "look" at the macro level often leaves me wishing for more. By "macro" scale I mean when you step back from it several steps, or when the artwork is reduced down to an icon size. My profile icon is a good example of what I mean. You can see the original artwork that the icon was shrunk from at
Of course my profile piece is not 100% abstract as I wanted to leave a little smidgen of human form in it.

How I've tried to address this problem is by layering on some big bold strokes at the end (of getting the micro/full-size scales how I like them). That has not worked very well, but it could just be I'm not grokking macro composition (actually in my profile icon artwork I didn't try this step.) Or maybe the SA brush is seeking some texture in the source image which is not a good pattern for the macro composition.

To the best of my knowledge, this problem can be avoided by using the approach of designing a composition before starting the first paintbrush stroke. Plenty of artists whose abstract art appeals to me do this, but some use the un-planned approach too.

However I'd be interested if anyone else has this problem when creating abstract art, and what you do about it, if anything.



Views: 130

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

It would be cool to have a reduce size image operation that would be smart enough to extrapolate the style of a high res painting into a small icon in the way you describe. I'll think about it. It would need to work very differently than the normal reduce an image approaches.
That would be cool, however I didn't even think of a technical solution when I started this discussion.

I realize now that the core of my topic may not be clearly communicated so I will try to provide a better explanation tomorrow.

I think you explained it pretty well. With a large image you can get away with a lot of fine details, textures, etc that will vanish when the image is downsized. Or if you are talking about paint strokes, you'd want a few salient ones that convey the overall image to be in the intelligent small icon for the painting while the larger original painting could also have much more detailed strokes.
There are many approaches to this but a question to ask oneself (and that could lead to various answers) is this: do I want to start from a "structure," or arrive (possibly!) at one?
So much great art is misunderstood because viewers (who are often artists themselves) praise the intelligence, the control, the skills, while they ought to "praise" the abandon, the "little deaths!"
Much of the better art work is done by artists who, occasionally, arrive at a point at which they no longer know what they are doing, but proceed anyway (by way of "little deaths").
So often, one can tell, at a glance, that an image's underlying structure is canned, that the "improvisation" is actually mere surface "fluff," mannerism, and that in the process, nothing was ventured, nothing was gained.
This is an essential question though, and it does indeed go way beyond technical matters, way way beyond them.
My take on this is to work on one's willingness to lose the structure in the process, to allow it to come and go just as our consciousness does, from "Where is it?" to "Aha, there it is!", and back, and forth, and back, and forth, for as long as one can sustain it.
There is a marvelous little book, "A Giacometti Portrait," by James Lord, in which the author sits for Giacometti and records what he is experiencing, including taking photos, of the evolution of the portrait for a period of several weeks.
In it, he becomes aware of the process of "birth - death" Giacometti's work undergoes, so much so that he actually manages to stop it all (the author that is) at a stage when the image was somehow set, just before Giacometti was about to destroy/undo it again.
When working that way, the piece then becomes no longer the result of an intentional composition, it becomes the leftovers of a battle, the corpses, the ashes, in the true sense of the word, a "gift."
And the issues of work become much more issues of attitude and strategies for making possible that battle, rather than issues of plotting a sure path to a predictable result!
There are a lot of fakes out there, people who "know" enough about this to mimic it, but very few who can actually live and do it.
But again, how many Cézanne or Giacometti can we be granted in the course of a generation?
Thank you for adding so many interesting thoughts to the discussion. Really helps me to focus on the frames for looking at it and critical factors involved.

I love your descriptions of this point in the creative process where the artist more or less loses control and then if you are lucky (or 'save as' often), amazing art occurs. These moments are God-like in their wonder, and yet for me they seem to happen often with Studio Artist, that the application seems like an engine for accidental fusions of beauty amongst the infinite nodal points of possible arrangements. I may never succeed in selling anything I've created, but at those moments, I truly do not care. They are worth every misery that has accompanied me to this point.

To me one of the prime drawbacks of intentional composition is that the thing you compose seems more likely to be layered on the sum total of everything you've ever seen or learned. Whereas letting go of all that opens the doors wider to more original art, if we could only recognize it as such.

Thanks for the book reference, I'm going to check it out.

To better explain my initial message, I’ll start with describing the macro effect that I sometimes experience at museums/galleries. Upon entering a chamber, I’ll scan the room and in an instant absorb the gestalt of maybe a dozen or more works. If I’m lucky, one piece of art will be so compelling that I have no choice but to approach it immediately (some might say the same thing happens when people scan a page of “icons” or thumbnails of artwork. However there is some "presence" that art has in a museum setting which somehow doesn't happen on a webpage. )

That for me is the essence of a superior macro view.

My opinion is the most interesting artwork rewards the viewer with the initial delight at macro level, and then again upon closer examination, and possibly a third time upon micro-level observation.

Edward Tufte devotes a chapter to micro/macro readings (with relation to information design) in his book Envisioning Information. A few Tufte quotes: Micro/macro designs enforce both local and global comparisons and, at the same time, avoid the disruption of context switching.“
“The deepest reasons for displays that portray complexity and intricacy is that the worlds we seek to understand are complex and intricate. ‘God is in the details’ said Mies can der Rohe, capturing the essential quality of micro/macro performances. “

It may seem like a stretch to invoke Edward Tufte, but the connection I see is this: in many of the best artworks, the artist succeeds in creating an alternate reality or vision, one that is so compelling that the viewer wants to delve into it and explore it more. So while Tufte is referring to designing authentic information displays about the real world, the same macro/micro principles might be applicable for drawing people into an imagined world.

So while Tufte is referring to designing authentic information displays about the real world, the same macro/micro principles might be applicable for drawing people into an imagined world.

Where does one draw the line between "real" and "imagined" world(s)?
Especially when painting?
To be an artist is to totally, passionately, be willing to be "confused" by, to dive in, any world that makes itself visible "through" us/me.

Whether one looks at an "imagined" or "real" world, one is perceiving it, and it is precisely in perception itself that lies a key, it is "constitutive!" Again, that constant switch between the large and the small, the whole and the parts, the "Where is it?" and the "Aha, there it is!" is a key.)

I am convinced that the paintings that work best for us are the ones that were experienced, by their maker, as "real" (in the sense of being totally credible, believable).
And the intensity of that experience, the presence of that belief, is what is given to the viewer,through the viewing of piece, over and above techniques and such.

One has to see a Vermeer, Rembrandt, Cézanne or Giacometti "in the flesh" to realize how magical those things can be, so unsettling, so threatening to our notion of "reality."

So many great painters have talked well about this, this moment of grace when the painting ceases to be ("only") a painting, and becomes ("also") a "real world," while one remains conscious of it being a painting (which may be what keeps us fro going totally insane?).

But that's beyond the sphere of words, this is something to experience, to go through and recognize.

You're possibly looking for a "how to" where there is none? (This is a genuine question.)

The artists that succeed in doing what you talk above do not "create" that world as much as they "allow" themselves to experience it, while working.
To reply to just one question you bring up, "Where does one draw the line between "real" and "imagined" world(s)?" I was referring to the difference between what a graphic designer does in creating an information graphic whose intent is to illuminate the nature of some aspect of the real world (i.e. Tufte's audience), and an artist whose intent spans a number of ideas and/or emotions, none or at most one of which are likely to include the former). I recognize that whatever the artist is doing, the result is more of an imagined world.

When I have more time, I'll grapple with the other excellent questions you bring up.

One of the approaches I see people use frequently (perhaps to get around the problem) is they do not post a thumbnail/icon that is the entire painting shrunken down, but instead is a cropped section of one of the more interesting areas of the painting.

This seems like a good workaround, but what do you all think of this approach?

About 40 years ago, I was reviewing my work with my drawing teacher (Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts de Liège, in Belgium, his name was Joseph Louis, a genius), and as I was expressing how dissatisfied I was with my work, he took me to the art history lecture hall, where we looked at many of my drawings, projected onto a very large screen with the help of an opaque projector. He made a cache wit a few pieces of paper, and proceeded to show me, really enlarged, sections of my own work which appeared to me as totally unknown, as if they had been done by somebody else. He had a knack for seeing, in his students work, that which had been done without the control of the student, that which had been done without the student knowing what he was doing.
Invariably, those were the best sections, in my, or anybody else's work.
It took me several decades to be able to find/create, in my work as a whole, that which my teacher had given me a glimpse of in sections of the work I did as a student.
Here's my point: if you find that a section of your work "looks better" to you than the piece as a whole (that happens a lot with thumbnails), strive so that, eventually, subsequent pieces will work like that section.
The question could then be: how does one do that?
I finally found a description that perhaps better describes the problem/issue:

In this blog post, read the 50-5-5 rule.



Latest Activity

Alan posted photos
15 hours ago
Paul Perlow posted a photo
Farshore updated their profile
Farshore posted photos
Alan posted photos
Farshore left a comment for Alan
"Thanks. I've got half a dozen or more themes I am working on to get posted on the website, all using that linear drawing style. I'll start dropping a few more here on the forum."
Alan left a comment for Farshore
"Nice photos on your website. I like the modern buildings ones much!"
Farshore replied to Synthetik Software's discussion Spammer booted from user forum
"I've got a ton on images I am working on using modifications of the original preset. The best are going up on my web gallery (, but I have so far only thinned the herd down to two galleries.…"

© 2020   Created by Synthetik Software.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service