• malcolm jarvis

"Abstract painting is easy". It's time to debunk the myth.

Abstract painting mystifies many people, including many representational artists. We have all heard people say things like:

“That looks easy to paint”

“My child could do better than that!”

“Who would anyone pay good money for that?”

There seems to be a mistaken belief that abstract painting is easy. The artist simply throws paint at the canvas and a wonderful painting appears as if by magic. Sadly this delusion is perpetuated through hundreds, if not thousands, of “easy abstract painting demonstration” or similarly titled videos to be found throughout Pinterest and Youtube. No wonder there is so much bad, so called ‘abstract art’ out there.

The truth is that abstract painting is much more challenging, much more rigorous than traditional forms of painting. As Kandinsky, the great Russian artist who pioneered abstract art, said:

“Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colour, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.”

I know there will be those who will probably disagree – but I speak from my own experience and the experience of many fellow abstract artists and can tell you that Kandinsky was right.

Abstract painting is painting with the subject matter removed. The subject matter is, of course, what gives traditional painting it's structure and compositional organization. Without the structure from subject matter to organize the composition, abstract painting relies on design fundamentals to organize and give structure to the painting. In that respect, abstract painting is just like any other kind of painting: it demands consideration of all the elements of ‘traditional” painting - such as shape, value, colour, edges, centre of interest - as well as the core principles of design such as contrast and dominance. .

You can, of course, choose not to use any design fundamentals. There are plenty of painters out there who don't design anything - again the evidence is all over Pinterest and Youtube.. They think they can do anything, call it art, and it will be great. While there are few hard and fast rules in art, those who create the best paintings utilize design fundamentals to make their paintings the best they can - and you can see it in their work. Just look at some of the acknowledged current greats of the genre like Robert Burridge, Dean Nimmer, Marie Masson or Hiroshi Matsumoto’s miniature abstracts.

Even though I paint in a spontaneous manner with no pre-planning, I always utilize the design fundamentals to organize my own abstract compositions. These design fundamentals provide the structure that my paintings require to be the best I can make them.

I urge you to do the same.





I'm Malcolm, a painter, tutor, lecturer and workshop instructor living in South Norfolk.

My years of painting experience have taught me to loosen-up, let go of fear and paint spontaneously.

My philosophy is ‘less is more’.

  • Fewer brushes for livelier, quicker painting.

  • Fewer paints for easy, straightforward colour mixing.

  • Fewer techniques for optimal results.​

But that doesn’t mean I ignore the basic fundamentals and principles upon which I believe all good painting should be based: shape, value, colour, edges and centre of interest.

​These foundations underpin all my work. If you want to paint portraits, abstracts, still life or landscapes, the same foundations apply; they will give you a solid basis for anything you choose to paint, regardless of subject or medium.

It is my intention to talk about these fundamentals in a straight-forward, no-nonsense, jargon-free way in this blog and to encourage you incorporate them into your work.

Thank you for visiting!

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