If I draw or paint something recognizable from what’s out there in the world, that’s realism. The more I capture and replicate an exact likeness of a person, place, or thing, the more realistic my drawing or painting is said to be. For instance, here’s a realistically drawn face:
I love drawing people in a realistic way. For this one I first primed the page with an acrylic wash. Then I drew with pencil and added highlights with white gouache.
But, I also love abstraction. Abstraction can start as a representation of the real world, or it can be entirely imagined. The more I remove details, reduce the perceived depth and perspective, simplify, step away from realistic color, and/or pay attention to the elements of composition on the page, the more I step into abstraction. And then, of course, there is the non-objective, when there is no subject— out there— which I am trying to capture on the page.
I think it was an art professor who taught me one interesting process for pulling abstract ideas out of reality. I’ve done it many times and enjoy every step.
First, you select a few photographs or images from a magazine. Then you cut them into pieces (I photocopy the precious ones and cut the copies up). Then, reassemble the pieces into a new array. Here, I cut up and reassembled some landscape and architectural imagery:
Then I made a pencil drawing from the collage:
The collage was an abstraction in and of itself. While drawing, I chose lines, shapes, and patterns that I wanted to be part of my composition. I wanted more continuity between the light and dark strips in the collage, so extended some of the elements between them in the drawing.
This one has been really interesting to me. I think I’ll do it again. Maybe this time I’ll draw from the drawing and abstract it further. Or maybe I’ll go back to the collage and see what else I can pull from it.
There’s an excellent article on about.com that explains how abstract art is created, using a music analogy. It’s got some ideas for getting started making abstractions, if you’re so inclined.