Abstract Art by Hilma af Klint, with Sinead O’Neill Nicholl

This week artist Sinead O’Neill Nicholl explores the work of abstract art pioneer Hilma af Klint, whose huge, dazzling paintings were hidden and almost forgotten for many years. This workshop is part of our series of online workshops exploring important techniques in the history of contemporary art, supported by Halifax Foundation NI.

Abstract painting is art which does not try to represent people or objects as they actually appear but instead uses colour, line and shape to create interesting images. For hundreds of years, from the time of the Renaissance up until the middle of the 19th century, most artists in Europe created art that portrayed real people, places, animals and objects as they appeared – the aim of artists was usually to try to create as beautiful or exact an illusion of reality as possible.

But towards the end of the 19th century the world was changing very quickly, with revolutions, huge transformations and new ideas in science, technology, politics, work, health, religion and how people thought about the world. Many artists began to look for ways to reflect these huge shifts and changes in their art. One of them was Hilma af Klint.

Hilma Af Klint (1862-1944) was a Swedish artist who created some of the very first large-scale abstract paintings. They were “like little that had been seen before: bold, colourful, and untethered from any recognizable references to the physical world. Yet her work has only been recognised for its huge importance and influence in that last few decades. Why?

Well, even though Hilma was making colourful and abstract work many years before artists who became famous for ‘inventing’ abstract art, like Mondrian or Kandinsky, she kept most of her work private. When she was alive, Hilma herself had asked that her paintings were not shown in public until at least 20 years after her death. She did not believe that people would understand or accept her artworks.

Hilma was very much influenced by her spiritual beliefs and her paintings were created as a result of this. Examples of the work that she made can be seen below.

Detail Hilma af Klint, Courtesy of Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Ve
Image available at https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/8490/decoding-the-spiritual-symbolism-of-artist-hilma-af-klint

Let’s Get Started!

To make abstract art you will need : –

Paper of any size or colour

Something to draw with

Paints, felt tip pens, crayons, chalk, pencils are all suitable

  • Spend some time looking at abstract art, in this instance, I have chosen the artist Hilma Af Klint but you can take inspiration from any abstract artist that you like.  If you are able to print the artworks, this will give you plenty of time to look at them repeatedly, but don’t worry if you can’t print them.  You aren’t trying to make a copy of what the artist has created.  You are going to make your own unique art and are simply taking inspiration from the techniques that another artist has used.
  • To help you get started, you might want to think of techniques like ‘taking your pencil for a walk’.  Guide your pencil around the page without giving too much thought to what you are drawing, after a while you might find an opportunity to create a shape or pattern for your abstract art.
  • Alternatively, you could begin by sketching some random shapes, draw lightly with a pencil to begin with.  Decide how the shapes will appear on the page, remember you don’t have to start in centre of the page or at the bottom.  Add more shapes as you go.  You might want to pause briefly to consider the layout of your artwork.  Make any changes that you want to, add more shapes and stop when you are happy.
  • Next, you should begin adding colour to the different parts of your abstract drawing.  Consider what colours you would like to use.
  • Sometimes it helps to limit the colour palette you are using.  This means instead of using any or all of the colours you have, just choose 3 or 4 that you like.  Limiting your palette helps to connect the different shapes and can create a kind of ‘theme’ within the art.
  • You can try drawing your abstract pictures on different surfaces.  Use tracing paper and felt tip pens to make an image that you can place on a window to create a stained-glass window effect.

Don’t forget to send us pictures of your wonderful abstract creations! Email us at [email protected]

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