Gallery of past work

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Abstraction and getting less like a tree? Update #1

A comment by Olga Norris on my last post that said that she found it interesting that, despite much manipulation, the images I showed (originals to be found here) still looked like trees. She was absolutely right and, as I love a challenge, her remark provoked an enjoyable half hour with Photoshop and those images as I explored what it was that made them so obviously still suggestive of trees and what would happen if I changed certain variables.

Cropping still further, rotating, changing the colours, removing some of the small side branches, straightening and firming up the lines a little all seemed to do it to a greater or lesser extent. Choosing a simpler image was particularly useful and got me to the intended end point much more quickly.

The first image has some side branches removed, the line simplified somewhat and colour choice minimised ... but still is very much 'of trees'.

Cropped still further, rotated to the right and colours altered ... not trees at all? (though there is something very unsatisfying about the resulting image).

Free Transforming and Skewing slightly seemed to help.

Then I took the other simpler image (where I had in any case abstracted further in the original drawing) and I played with colour and line but little else ...

Then I changed the colour accent ... further from the original?

And still further and not trees at all? Here I rotated through 180ยบ, applied Free Transform and changed the colours yet again. 

Thank you, Olga. this was a most entertaining exercise which taught me much about line quality and its associations and about positioning colour to distract the eye. I found it especially interesting how a particular curved and slightly wobbly or random quality of line can be so suggestive of organic growth ...

There is also something else that is true about abstracting in this way. The image you begin with is a great help. Drawing with an end result in mind and taking care to ensure that the lines and marks are all interesting makes life easier.

So my last thought on this is that my favourite abstraction is the red and black image at the top of this post. Trees still obvious (though much more simply than in the previous post), and, to me at least, line quality the most pleasing and colour most striking.

I'd be most interested to know what you think!

Update #1 Following a comment below from Margaret Cooter, I played with the unsatisfactory second and third images, rotating again and applying Free Transform. As she suggested, I then swapped the bright green and the grey. After that, I used the same red, black, white colourway as the first image.

As suggested by Olga Norris, changing the colours on some of the vertical lines was also interesting. 

There were surprising changes all round, I think. and, for me, interesting lessons about changing line colours and using glaringly bright colour contrasts sparingly!


  1. Oh my gosh, this is great....the possibilities these pieces mind is a-whirl.....what fun you are having and how great to have the skills to 'freely transform' your thoughts!!! Bravo!

    1. The Pixeladies courses are really so useful for this sort of thing. They were great teachers and showed that changing colour and shape isn't tricky. Not sure where this is going, if anywhere, but that doesn't matter. Playing like this doesn't have to have any immediately realisable end point for me. If nothing else, it's got me back into work again which is what I wanted from it ... and it's such fun!

  2. The last three and the first are my favorites. The color is not so important to me...maybe if they were now all the same color a true favorite could be picked? I like this pulling abstraction so much!

    1. Thanks, Mary Ann - a good thought that will draw attention towards shape and quality of line rather than colour. I will give it a try!

  3. The second image manipulations at the end take on the look of an aerial view and I like them a lot. I too really like the first version shown at the top and probably for the same reasons as you. Funny though - when first viewed it did still read very much as trees but after seeing the ones at the end that read aerial view to me, when I scrolled back to the top, now thar first one looks less tree-like and more like landscape viewed from above. Not too keen on the middle manipulations, I think mainly the colors and thickness of the lines are putting me off - but they definitely have lost any hint of their tree origin.

    1. The idea of aerial views is very interesting indeed. It shows that abstract images so often prompt the making of such different links in the individual viewer.

  4. I'm glad that my comment led to your further experiments. It was not meant as a criticism, but reflected my interest in how much it takes to abstract from a realistic source. Of course Mondrian started with trees too.

    Of your manipulations above I would say that all verticals with the laterals pointing up rather than down still retain a tree memory. And keeping the outlines of the trees in the same colour makes it seem more tree-like. The last pic is the most un-tree-like from a vertical point of view. Strangely enough the horizontal versions remind me of photographs of stomata - at the beginning of my publishing career I was a copy editor of biology textbooks - so your abstract has captured another organic form!

    The top image is my favourite too.

    1. Thank you, Olga. I took no criticism at all from your comment and understood what you were saying. I took it instead as support and the issuing of the very pleasant challenge of seeing how far I had to take things to break the visual link to trees!

      The answer is - a long way, I think. Your comments about the laterals pointing up rather than down and the retention of the outlines in the same colour are both interesting and something to bear in mind for the future.

      It's also interesting that the horizontal versions prompt you to think of stomata. I think it shows the predisposition we all have to impose our own perspective when we view abstract images.

  5. Looking at the second image ... I wonder what simply changing the green to black and vice versa would do. At the moment the brightness seems to swallow u p everything else.

    What a fun way to play. I'mdoing something similar I take the ipad to the coffee shop and "improve" on some of the ipad drawings, trying to discover what works and why.

    1. Thank you as always for your helpful comments. The light went on when I read your suggestion on colour reversal. I will give it a try and post the results here. At the time of doing these, I was in something of a hurry and didn't have time to probe alternatives.

      It is a fun way to play (and usually that's all it is). Surprisingly though, it seems to free me up and set me working productively when all seems 'frozen'. As it is so useful, I'm really keen to draw with my iPad when out and about but have not found anything I really like. Following your blog postings, I downloaded Brushes Redux to try the other day - though so far I've not got beyond opening the app. Why is it that new apps at first glance seem so impenetrable?

      25 June 2016 at 10:50


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