Interpreting Experience: Abstract Approaches

Episode 264 · October 18th, 2023 · 35 mins 1 sec

About this Episode

We may think of abstract painting as exploring the visual elements and the process of painting strictly for their own sakes, but that’s only one kind of abstract work. Many abstract artists have a more personal approach, in which aspects of their lives, memories and experiences fuel their work. They want to feel a direct connection between their inner lives and what they create. But finding ways to interpret these personal sources in abstract terms is a big challenge. Without obvious subject matter, how can you express an experience, tell a personal story, or evoke a memory? Today we’ll talk about some approaches to abstraction when very personal expression is the goal.

if you are an artist seeking this kind of personal involvement with your abstract work, a key is developing a meaningful visual language that feels connected to your own experiences. Personal visual language means the way you use the visual elements and composition that are most expressive to you. This can include certain color combinations or textural effects, kinds of mark-making, and considerations of scale or format. This is the result of lot of practice, building up aspects of it over time.

Working in a personal way with abstraction has limitations in how specific you can be in conveying your ideas. You might think of the process as setting a stage that invites your viewer into a certain evocative realm, for example something organic or nature-related, or a something that seems architectural. But a challenge in developing abstraction with personal meaning includes avoiding literal depiction and insisting on a particular interpretation. It's very easy to slide into imagery even if you decide you want to avoid that; finding a context for your ideas that is consistent in its degree of abstraction is important.

Finding the essence of experiences, places, objects, or other subject matter is an important aspect of personally expressive abstraction. Essence means the most basic and pervasive qualities of something, the distillation of an idea. It’s typically the motivation behind wanting your work to be more abstract, because it helps your own responses to your subject be more powerful. You can express essence via any of the visual elements that seem related, and you can use them freely in compositions that are not literal in their depiction.

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What's new at Cold Wax Academy?
Fall quarter is now underway with sessions on Texture, Materiality and Process, Finding Time for your Work, a return visit with Gamblin representative Mary Tevlin, a painting clinic for works in progress, and the quarterly member critique. As always, Members are encouraged to take part in the online sessions, where lively discussions take place as Rebecca and Jerry respond in real time, But if you can't make it to the live sessions, remember that Cold Wax Academy Members have unlimited streaming access to over 100 previously recorded sessions --and now you can navigate the extensive range of topics with an index to easily find what you need.

By the way, you don't have to use cold wax medium to benefit from the content in these recordings. Artists who use other painting media will also find a wealth of valuable information --including effective use of the visual elements and composition, personal voice and intentions, mentoring topics like procrastination and work/life balance--and much, much more. For more info and to join CWA please visit

Please visit for more information as well as basic information about using cold wax medium.

Here is what a member named Sandy has to say about her own experience with Cold Wax Academy:
"Rebecca and Jerry have presented the most professional, authentic and structured approach to a creative activity I have ever come across. Their selfless sharing of all their knowledge and encouragement is a gift in my life unsurpassed."

Also-- please visit to learn about Rebecca and Jerry's newest project, Espacio, dedicated to providing beautiful living and working spaces for artists and writers. Espacio's first offering is Casa Clavel, a modern, fully equipped house opening this September in the beautiful cultural city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. A few booking openings are still available in 2023, so please incquire if you are interested.

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