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TELL ME A STORY
 

Creating an abstract painting that evolves from  a written narrative into a visual representation of that story is an extraordinary process. It allows me to translate words and actions into shapes, colors, and textures. Unlike painting from an emotional or healing perspective, this approach focuses on storytelling through visual elements. Creating an abstract painting in this way is not just about the visual outcome; it's about the process of transforming personal narratives into something universal. 

 

When creating an abstract painting that begins with a written narrative embedded in the work, I have a unique opportunity to explore the interplay between language, symbolism, and pure visual expression. The written word or phrase serves as a starting point, a kind of anchor that grounds the composition while also providing a catalyst for the development of a distinct visual language.

 

The first step in this process is selecting the narrative or word(s) to be embedded in the painting. It is sometimes a personal mantra, a quote that resonates with me, or even a stream-of-consciousness piece of writing. The meaning behind the chosen text is less important than the visual potential it offers - interesting letterforms, the potential for expressive brushstrokes, and the possibility of layering and obscuring the text to create intriguing textures and depths.

 

Once the text is embedded in the painting, I can begin to build upon it, allowing a visual language to emerge organically. This language might include specific colors, gestural marks, and compositional structures that reflect the mood and essence of the original narrative. The text itself becomes abstracted, obscured, a graphic element among others, as the painting evolves.

 

Through this process, I walk a fine line between preserving the essence of the initial narrative and allowing the painting to take on a life of its own. The most compelling works will strike a balance, maintaining the emotional resonance of the starting point while also showcasing the expressive possibilities of an abstract visual language.

 

 Ultimately, beginning an abstract painting with embedded text offers a fascinating avenue for exploring the complex relationship between language and image. It challenges me to translate the literal into the visceral, creating works that engage the viewer on multiple levels. As I continue to develop my vocabulary, I find that the role of text in my work evolves, becoming more or less prominent as my unique voice emerges.


HERE ARE SOME STEPS TO GET STARTED ON YOUR VISUAL NARRATIVE

 

STEP 1 • CHOOSE YOUR STORY

Select a story that has personal significance to you. The emotional connection to the content will translate into your artwork.

Your narrative can be anything—a myth, a personal memory, a scene from a book, a poem, written work, or even a moment from a movie. Select a story that intrigues you and has strong visual elements.

 

STEP 2 • PREPARE YOUR CANVAS

Choose a canvas size that feels comfortable for you to work on. Prepare the canvas by applying a layer of gesso if it's not already primed. This will help the paint and ink to adhere better to the surface.

 

STEP 3 • WRITE YOUR STORY

Using a pencil, pen, or brush with thinned paint, (in my demo, I am using thinned out oil paint and cold wax oil on cradle panel) begin writing your story on the canvas. Write it out as many times as you can, overlaying the text, until the canvas is filled. The writing does not need to be legible; it's the act of writing and the layers that will contribute to the final piece.

 

STEP 4 • OBSERVE & REFLECT

Step back and observe the patterns, textures, and shapes that have emerged from the overlapping text. You may start to see figures, shapes, or forms that stand out to you. Reflect on what these shapes might represent in the context of your story.

 

STEP 5 • ENHANCE THE SHAPES (THIS STEP IS OPTIONAL)

If you choose to, using a lighter pencil or a thin brush, outline any shapes or figures that you want to develop further. This may help these areas to stand out as you begin to add color. (I usually go straight to painting and omit this step)

 

STEP 6 • INTRODUCE COLOR

Choose a color palette that resonates with the mood and theme of your story. For instance, a character's passion might be symbolized by a fiery red swirl, or a tranquil scene could be shown through soft blue strokes. Colors carry meanings and can set the mood of your painting. Textures can add depth and interest. If your story is intense and dramatic, sharp contrasts and heavy textures might work well. A softer narrative might call for pastel colors and smooth transitions. 

To apply color to your canvas, work into the shapes and figures you've outlined. Use brushes, sponges, or even your fingers to apply the paint, allowing your intuition to guide your choices.

 

 

STEP 7 • DEVELOP THE COMPOSITION

As you add color, pay attention to the balance and composition of the piece. Adjust your shapes and the intensity of your colors to create a harmonious composition that feels right to you.

 

STEP 8 • LAYER & TEXTURE

Continue to layer the paint, adding texture and depth to the painting. You can use different techniques such as dripping, splattering, sgrafitto, or scraping to add interest and dimension.

 

STEP 9 • ELIMINATE THE WORDS

Work over the canvas until the initial words you wrote are no longer visible. Your painting should now be moving away from a literal narrative and towards a visual representation of your story.

 

STEP 10 • FINALIZE YOUIR VISUAL NARRATIVE

Step back from your work frequently to assess the overall effect. Make any final adjustments to ensure that the painting feels complete to you. Your story is now told in a visual language that is unique to you.

 

STEP 11 • REFLECT ON YOUR JOURNEY

• Once you feel your painting is complete, spend some time with it.

• Step back from your work.

• Does the painting evoke the narrative?

• If a stranger looked at your painting, you wouldn't expect them to know the story, but you would hope they feel a sense of it.

• Make adjustments as needed to enhance the storytelling.

Remember, abstract art from a narrative is not about painting a clear picture but about creating a visual experience that echoes the essence of the story. Embrace the freedom of interpretation

and enjoy the process of translating words into your unique visual language.

Reflect on the journey you took from the written word to the abstract visual. - Melissa Erlenbach

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