A Visual Design Experiment: Abstract Painting in Photoshop

My Experimental Composition – Julie Anderson

I always thought that abstract artists just create anything they feel in the moment. Well, they do… However, there’s a lot more that goes into the composition than just placing paint onto a canvas. There’s a sort of freedom that comes with abstraction – the style and approach is completely up to the artist; but, to make a piece of work unified, there are necessary elements and principles to consider.

On my journey to discover more about graphic design solutions, I’ve started by assessing abstract art and have made an attempt to recreate an artist’s style while analyzing the components typically used within their work. 

The abstract artist I found myself most drawn to is Christine Ay Tjoe. Interestingly enough, she graduated with a graphic design and printmaking degree at the Bandung Institute of Technology in 1997! So, her knowledge of creating compositions while using design solutions is not new to her, and it shows

To See the White Land, 2012, Christine Ay Tjoe

Once I felt comfortable with Ay Tjoe’s abstract style, I chose one painting – To See the White Landto focus on for my own creation.

I became instantly drawn to this work because she uses bold colors, but balanced her composition with negative space from the foreground and between the organic shapes and lines. Ay Tjoe successfully uses both active whitespace, and passive whitespace to make sure the distribution of elements in the composition has necessary visual weight, which brings balance. 

Active Whitespace – Space used to move the eye from one element to another.

Passive Whitespace – Space used to bring breathing room to the work, creating balance and space that’s easier to look at. 

My attempts to mimic Ay Tjoe’s style began by drawing back to the design elements – line, shape, figures versus ground, texture, and pattern defined in Graphic Design Solutions by Robin Landa. Of course, elements aren’t the only thing that bring a composition to its final stage. Design principles like hierarchy, alignment, unity, and – like I’ve already mentioned – space. 

As far as elements and artistic styling go – I used photoshop’s tools with different brushes to create visual textures, opacities, and layers to ensure I achieved the depth of colors and figures necessary to accomplish Christine’s technique. To See the White Land is an oil painting on canvas, so creating a paint-like look – digitally – was essential for me with the organic shapes, lines, and blending of colors that Ay Tjoe uses in hers. 

While focusing on design principles, I noticed that her balance with negative space also influences hierarchy within the work, creating a focal point. This can be done with triangle hierarchy, or the golden mean. What I really wanted to do was create movement within the composition by doing the same. 

Triangle Hierarchy – Used to control the viewer’s eye – what they see first, second, third, and so on.

The Golden Mean – A mathematical equation that creates proportions for an overall progression of sight lines.

My Experimental Composition with the Golden Mean

While this was my first attempt of this study, I didn’t quite achieve the golden mean to its entirety (it is an equation after all), but you can see what I was going for here with movement, and focal points. 

This experiment has truly helped me to understand first-hand how design elements and principles are used in creating design work. What do you think, is there anything that you see in my composition that I missed addressing?! After all, art and design can be unique to the viewer as much as I can try to persuade a particular view.

2 thoughts on “A Visual Design Experiment: Abstract Painting in Photoshop

  1. Hi Julie, I love your abstract composition!

    I totally agree that while there’s a freedom that comes with abstraction, there are still more formal elements and principles the artist has to keep in mind. Before I started taking this class, I don’t think I ever would have realized how much thought can be put into making an abstract painting. I always thought the artist just sort of operated on instinct alone without thinking too much about it. Now I know that this is not true, and abstract artists have to put just as much thought into the design of their pieces as other artists do.

    For your abstract composition, I could tell you put a lot of thought into its design before I even read what you wrote about creating it. While it’s abstract, it clearly also has a structure. I think you did a great job incorporating the Golden Mean, because that’s the first thing I noticed when I looked at your composition. My eye was drawn inwards to that white circle, which definitely serves as the focal point of the piece.

    Another design element I want to point out that I see in your piece is that it’s asymmetrically balanced as opposed to symmetrically balanced. You did a good job with the balance—I don’t feel like any part of the composition holds too much more visual weight than another. Even though your composition is most dense starting from the bottom left corner, the way it spreads out and reaches out to the other side makes it appear nicely balanced despite the white space on the right side of the composition. You did an awesome job creating a dynamic piece that is very eye-catching! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Julie – your composition is beautiful, I honestly would expect something like it to be in a museum. Your technical skills seem to be great, but the way you analyzed Tjoe’s original painting and expressed those same principles in your own composition makes it clear that you have a strong understanding of design principles

    My favorite part about both of these pieces is the whitespace as you have mentioned. The amount of movement that is implied in having whitespace on one side that becomes less and less present the closer to the center of the golden mean makes it so dynamic and alive.

    Besides the principles of design that you mentioned in your post, what stood out to me in your piece is the contrast between the sharpness of the lines and the softness of the colorful clouds (or blobs? whatever they are I like them). It adds an element of depth to the composition by making a sort of “aerial perspective”. It is a bit of a stretch to call it that since there are not actual objects in the image, but the lines definitely pop out more and seem “closer” to the viewer.

    Finally, the way your blog post is written is wonderful! It is friendly and casual-esque while clearly explaining everything the reader would need to know. The way you added definitions and added a photo of the golden mean on top of your composition added even more to this already well-written post.

    Great job, can’t wait to see what you do next!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s