Encountering Resistance – the time I took an abstract art course

When I decided I was going to take an abstract art course to keep pushing my artistic development, I fully expected I would love it and it would do great things for me. So what happened really surprised me and left me kind of baffled.

I specifically chose to do an in-person course. I’d tried a lot of online courses and found I lacked the motivation needed to keep going after the first week and to do the ‘homework’. By taking an in-person course that didn’t have any homework I thought I’d find it easier and that the social aspect would be motivating.

I've signed up for an abstract painting course. Had my first lesson tonight and it was lots of fun! Made 4 mini collages (these are business card size) paying attention to tone, value contrast and composition. Next week I will paint one of these large scale. I won't tell you yet which one I've chosen, but you tell me, which is the one you think I should paint? #abstract #paintingcourse #irisimpressionsart

I tried to be open to the fact that I might have to do some things I didn’t really like doing. For example in week 1 we started with collage. I don’t love collage, but I did my best and ended up enjoying myself. In week 2 we started with acrylic paint and I felt a lot more in my element.

As the weeks went on, I kept going to my lesson with an open mind, but when I was there I’d feel majorly resistant. I didn’t enjoy myself and didn’t want to do the assignments. The feeling was very interesting to me, because in my own painting I usually try to find a flow and I don’t plan what I create in advance, so resistance doesn’t come into the process. What was it about taking a course that made me so resistant?

If you played along last week guessing which collage I was going to paint, here is the answer all worked out in A2 size! No filter as the whole point of this painting was colour mixing and matching. #abstract #paintingcourse #artclass #londonartist #irisimpressionsart

I thought about it and came up with some really helpful discoveries!

Letting Go Of The Outcome

I’ve fought (and still fight my inner demons/critics) for the right to create art focussing solely on how it makes me feel. I focus on joy through the process, embracing imperfection and letting go of the outcome. Understandably, the structure of taking a formal class is about learning key concepts. There were a couple of weeks that focussed more on intuitive processes, but most of the lessons were about achieving specific outcomes. I never realised how much I’d managed to internalize the mindset of letting go of the outcome (if you ask me I’m still quite bad at it), but when I’m asked to achieve a certain outcome or to set up a painting in my head and then just create it on the outside on the canvas… it makes me very unhappy.

In progress abstract work. To be honest it was a bit of a labour so far. Loving the lime green but the whole process didn't feel enjoyable (or perhaps I was just grumpy lol, it's very possible). Curious to see where this will go next week. #abstract #londonartist #artclass #paintingcourse #citylit #irisimpressionsart

Funnily enough, I really love some of the pieces I’ve created aesthetically, but I remember that I didn’t enjoy creating them, so overall I don’t have a good feeling about them. It was amazing to discover how important it is for me to feel good while I’m painting. Painting something aesthetically pleasing isn’t good enough in itself. I’d rather feel good while painting and paint something ugly (although that hardly happens when I feel good about the process) than to feel badly and paint something pretty.

Mixed Media

We did some collage. We did acrylic painting. We did oil painting. We did charcoal drawings. I felt stifled. It didn’t occur to me until several weeks in: I’m a mixed media artist! If I limit myself to one medium I feel restricted, caged. So I started mixing it up, acrylic paint, conte crayons, oil pastels. That felt much better!

Abstract painting course tonight. I realised I absolutely hate working with brushes lol. This was my third painting of the night and done with brayer, fingers, bubble wrap and bottle caps. #abstract #intuitiveart #artcourse #citylit #londonartist #irisimpressionsart

Sensory Painting

Similarly to needing mixed media, I also realized how unhappy the stiff bristly brushes made me. I didn’t have the control I wanted. Only towards the end of the course where I basically said I was no longer going to use brushes did I start to experience joy again. Out with the brushes! Finger painting, bubble wrap, drips, splats and brayers, that’s where it’s at for me!

Missing The Faces

Before taking the course I’d sometimes try abstract at home. I’d see people on YouTube/Pinterest making awesome abstract art journal pages and I felt like I wanted to do that to. Then I discovered that for me the faces are where it’s at. It’s where I find my joy. I haven’t fully explored why yet, but when I try to hold myself back from the faces I start feeling that horrible resistance in the pit of my stomach. Drawing and painting faces is like breathing a huge sigh of relief!

Final abstract painting class tonight. Sooooo happy with this piece. Last week when I started it I loved it, when I finished last week I hated it, then today I was able to finish it and just feel it again! #abstract #paintingcourse #artcourse #intuitiveart #mixedmedia #irisimpressionsart #citylit

A Learning Experience

Initially I felt like what this course taught me was about all the things I didn’t like (and I felt badly for not liking the experience!). And then I realized that at the same time it was teaching me about all the things I already knew I liked, but never really thought about before. A hugely valuable experience!

Apart from that what I did find hugely helpful was the portion on colour theory and colour mixing we did. It has absolutely increased my confidence in handling colour and adding to that ‘intuitive’ knowledge of feeling what is right for a painting.

In the end I’m so glad I let myself have this experience, even if it wasn’t what I expected. I love looking at abstract art and I know that what I have learned on the course has already influenced my art. I might not become an abstract artist though!

The class I took is called Ways Into Abstract Painting and it runs at City Lit in London.

In this post you see pictures of the pieces I created on the course. Some are finished some are not. I’d love to know which one speaks to you most and why! Let me know in the comments below.

7 thoughts on “Encountering Resistance – the time I took an abstract art course”

  1. I really love the last one, but I’m not exactly sure why. I think it’s the colours and textures, the dark and brights, and somehow it feels to me like there is movement and life in that one. I also like the second-last one but to me it feels not quite done.

    • Really interesting to hear your thoughts on them Sue! Love how you thought about why you might like it and the technical aspect of the painting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I adored reading your blogpost Iris! Very helpful. I have experienced something similar when I took that illustration course I have told you about. At first it felt so good. But than I too felt so much resistance. After reading your blog I now have a clearer vision about why I felt it. I too struggled with the too limited supplies. It was not abstract but drawing realistically. And I did not enjoy that at all. I much rather draw from intuition and fantasy. Thanks!

    • It’s so interesting that doing a course actually makes you come back to the things you know you already like, and then build on that with maybe some extra knowledge from the course. Thanks for sharing your views Marieke!

  3. Iris, I really enjoyed reading this blog post. It is really interesting to read about someone’s experiences with art classes, either online or in real life. As much as I like online classes I also find it hard to motivate myself to complete all the tutorials. I also find myself often drifting off in just doing my own thing that makes me feel happy at the time. Making art for me is also very much a way of experiencing joy. I have done structured art classes in real life in the past and have also felt the resistance you talk about. I think it was the fact that they were so structured. But looking back now, I realise that I have learned from them. Everything teaches you something. What is great, that in the end you will take something away from it that you will start using intuitively when you create for the joy of it. It is like learning to drive a car. There is so much to think about at first. In the end we can drive from A to B without even thinking about it. We do it automatically and just enjoy the ride.

    • Yes that’s so well put about the car driving analogy! We’re the sum of so many experiences and it’s easy to forget that we learned them in the first place. Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s good to know I’m not alone in this!

  4. I like the second to the last one the best. It has a wonderful calmness to it. The other one I like is the last one. It has a boldness that jumps out at you. Quite the opposite of the other but I really like them both.

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