Ask the Art Professor: How Can I Approach Creating Abstract Art?


Arshile Gorky

“How can I approach creating abstract art?”

I believe that abstract art is most powerful when it naturally evolves in one’s creative process.  Many abstract artists arrive at abstraction after long periods of experimentation with other styles and approaches.  While it’s fine to have an eventual goal of working abstractly, don’t try to force it on yourself prematurely. It’s important that you’re working abstractly because abstraction is the method of working that will effectively support your concepts.

This abstract ink drawing below was done by one of my freshman drawing students at RISD. The concept behind the work was based on the highly contrasting educational experiences she had had at RISD and in China.  She visually represented the rigidity and structure of her education in China with the checkerboard pattern, while her education at RISD was depicted as explosive, spontaneous ink marks in the center of the work. The most exciting part of this piece is how she visually transitioned from one style to the other, creating a smooth bridge from the sharp, graphic quality of the checkerboard to the fluid style of the ink marks. In this case, abstraction beautifully communicates her idea in a simple, direct manner.


I would recommend starting with some kind of visual reference for your idea if you don’t know where to begin.  This reference acts as a departure point for your work.  Most likely, your final destination will not even remotely resemble your initial reference, as you want to process and transform your reference as much as possible.

Anything can work as a reference, but if you’re really lacking where to start, nature is always a good place to begin.  I find nature particularly effective as a resource because it is endlessly fascinating with it’s distinctive structures and patterns. Even something as simple as a trip to a natural history museum to look at specimens like rocks and animals can stimulate some kind of thought as a reference. In addition, take the time to analyze works by notable abstract artists throughout history, and see how they approached creating their work.


This lithographic crayon drawing above was by another freshman drawing student at RISD, and was based on a nature object from the RISD Nature Lab. You can see that she pushed and manipulated the form so that the drawing has aspects that are reminiscent of forms in nature.  However, she never gets specific enough that you can figure out exactly what it is you’re looking at. The drawing is beautifully suggestive of forms in nature without being representational.

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